Sonny Tufts

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Sonny Tufts
Sonny Tufts.jpg
Tufts ca. 1955
Born Bowen Charlton Tufts III
(1911-07-16)July 16, 1911
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died June 4, 1970(1970-06-04) (aged 58)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Cause of death Pneumonia
Resting place Munroe Cemetery
Education Phillips Exeter Academy
Alma mater Yale University
Occupation Actor, opera singer
Years active 1939–1968
Spouse(s) Barbara Dare (m. 1938; div. 1953)
Relatives Charles Tufts (great uncle)

Bowen Charlton "Sonny" Tufts III (July 16, 1911 – June 4, 1970) was an American stage, film and television actor and opera singer.

Early life and family[edit]

Bowen Charlton Tufts III (some sources give "Charleston"[1][2]) (nicknamed "Sonny") was born in Boston, Massachusetts into a prominent banking family. The Tufts family patriarch, Peter Tufts, sailed to America from Wilby, Norfolk, England in 1638. His great uncle was businessman and philanthropist Charles Tufts, for whom Tufts University is named.[3]

Tufts attended the Phillips Exeter Academy and later broke with the family banking tradition by studying opera at Yale University, where he was an editor of campus humor magazine The Yale Record.[3][4] He was also a member of the Skull and Bones society and played for the Yale football team. Tufts also performed in a musical group, the Whiffenpoofs, and toured with the group in Europe. While touring in Naples, Tufts decided to study opera. He studied opera in Paris for a year and in the United States for three.[5]


After graduating from Yale in 1935, Tufts auditioned with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City but eventually worked on the Broadway stage. He appeared in the stage show Who's Who and Sing for Your Supper. Tufts then began singing in hotels and nightclubs. A Yale classmate of Tufts' later convinced him to move to Hollywood to begin a career as an actor. Upon arriving in Hollywood, Tufts' friend, hotel manager Jack Donnelly, accompanied Tufts to Paramount Pictures and introduced him to a casting director Joe Egli. Egli shot a screen test with Tufts who was then signed to Paramount. His first role was as Kansas, an affable Marine and love interest of Paulette Goddard in the 1943 World War II romantic drama So Proudly We Hail!.[5] The film was a critical and box office hit, largely due to the three female leads: Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake.[6] Tufts' performance was praised by critics and the role served as a launching pad for Tufts' career. After the release of the film, Tufts received 1700 fan letters a week and was named "The Find of 1943."[7] The following year, Tufts was cast opposite Olivia de Havilland in the comedy Government Girl.[5] That same year, he was voted the number one "Star of Tomorrow" by exhibitors.[8]

Before filming of So Proudly We Hail! was complete, director Mark Sandrich commissioned So Proudly's screenwriter Allan Scott to write a vehicle for Tufts and his co-star Paulette Goddard.[7] That film, entitled I Love a Soldier, was released in 1945. During World War II, Tufts' popularity continued to rise principally because, due to an old college football injury, he was one of the few male actors not serving overseas in the war.[9] By the early 1950s, Tufts' popularity began to wane and his career began to decline. In 1953, Tufts was cast opposite Barbara Payton in the low budget comedy film Run for the Hills. Later that year, he co-starred in another low budget film, Cat-Women of the Moon. Tufts' career briefly rebounded when he was cast in a small role in the comedy The Seven Year Itch, starring Tom Ewell and Marilyn Monroe. In 1956, Tufts had a supporting role in drama Come Next Spring for Republic Pictures.

Tuft's career decline was compounded by his alcoholism and his off-screen antics.[9] In February 1954, a 19-year-old dancer named Margarie Von accused Tufts of biting her on the right thigh while she was relaxing aboard a yacht docked off the coast of Balboa Peninsula, Newport Beach. Von sued Tufts for $26,000 claiming the bite left a three-inch scar. Von later settled for $600.[10] In March 1954, a stripper named Barbara Gray Atkins sued Tufts for $25,000 in damages after she claimed he bit her left thigh while he and two friends were visiting her home.[11] Atkins later dropped the lawsuit against Tufts.[10]

After filming The Parson and the Outlaw in 1957, Tufts retreated to a ranch in Texas. He returned to acting in 1963 with a guest appearance on The Virginian. His final onscreen role was in the 1968 television movie Land's End.

Personal life[edit]

In 1938, Tufts married Spanish dancer Barbara Dare.[12] They separated in 1949, and Dare filed for divorce in 1951, citing Tufts' excessive drinking as the reason for the breakup of their marriage.[12][13] Dare was granted an interlocutory divorce on October 21, 1951 which was finalized the following year.[13]


On June 4, 1970, Tufts died of pneumonia at age 58 at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California.[14] Tufts' private funeral was held on June 7 in Beverly Hills after which he was buried in Munroe Cemetery in Lexington, Massachusetts.[15]

In popular culture[edit]

In a non sequitur on the cartoon show Rocky and His Friends, in the Jet Fuel Formula story arc, Bullwinkle J. Moose becomes very upset when Boris Badenov steals his autographed picture of Sonny Tufts. Tufts is mentioned in the last sentence of the third sketch of the 48th show of the second season of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, first aired on May 13, 1961.

In an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Rob sees a flying saucer that makes a noise "Uhny Uftz", which Rob mis-hears as "Sonny Tufts"[16]

In an episode of My Mother the Car titled "And Leave the Drive-In to Us," Mother wants to go to a drive-in to see Sonny Tufts for her birthday; Tufts himself makes an appearance at the end of the episode.

In the November 26, 1966 episode of The Monkees, "I've Got a Little Song Here", Micky Dolenz, posing as a Hollywood studio head, says he's making a blockbuster movie, starring, "... Gregory Peck, Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, and Sonny Tufts." To which the other person exclaims incredulously, "Sonny T---?? What a production!".

Tufts is the subject of an urban legend, that he had been selected to host a well-known radio show as a last-minute replacement for a better known celebrity. The week before Tufts's episode was scheduled, the previous host introduced him with a combination of surprise and outrage, shocked that a relatively unknown actor would succeed him as host. There is no evidence, however, that such an incident occurred.[17] Tufts himself parodied this legend in frequent appearances on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In: seated in a director's chair with his name printed on it, he would turn around to face the camera and utter a word or phrase relevant to the previous bit, in mock contempt.

The lyrics of "Monk’s Aria from Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice", by professor Peter Schickele's character P.D.Q. Bach, at one point reference "Mea culpa kyrie elei-Sonny Tufts et Allah in Pompeii".[18]

Tufts soon became known as one of the semi-random people and places that TV host Johnny Carson used in his jokes on The Tonight Show.


Year Title Role Notes
1943 So Proudly We Hail! Kansas
1944 Government Girl E.H. 'Ed' Browne
1944 I Love a Soldier Dan Kilgore
1944 Here Come the Waves Windy "Pinetop" Windhurst
1945 Bring on the Girls Phil North
1945 Duffy's Tavern Sonny Tufts Cameo role
1945 Miss Susie Slagle's Pug Prentiss
1946 The Virginian Steve Andrews
1946 The Well-Groomed Bride Lt. Torchy McNeil
1946 Swell Guy Jim Duncan
1946 Cross My Heart Oliver Clarke
1947 Easy Come, Easy Go Kevin O'Connor
1947 Blaze of Noon Roland McDonald
1947 Variety Girl Sonny Tufts
1948 The Untamed Breed Tom Kilpatrick
1949 The Crooked Way Vince Alexander
1949 Easy Living Tim "Pappy" McCarr
1953 Glory at Sea Ordinary Seaman 'Yank' Flanagan Alternative title: Gift Horse
1953 Run for the Hills Charlie Johnson
1953 No Escape Det. Simon Shayne Alternative title: City on a Hunt
1953 Cat-Women of the Moon Laird Grainger
1954 Serpent Island Pete Mason
1955 The Seven Year Itch Tom MacKenzie
1956 Come Next Spring Leroy Hightower
1957 The Parson and the Outlaw Jack Slade Alternative titles: The Killer and 21 Men
Return of the Outlaw
1965 Town Tamer Carmichael
1967 Cottonpickin' Chickenpickers Cousin Urie
Year Title Role Notes
1955 Damon Runyon Theater Sam Episode: "A Tale of Two Citizens"
1963 The Virginian Frank Trampas Episode: "Ride a Dark Trail"
1964 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Monk Episode: "Have Girls, Will Travel"
1965 The Loner Barney Windom Segment: "The Ordeal of Bud Windom"
1965 My Mother The Car Himself Episode: "And Leave The Drive-In to Us"
1968 Land's End Hal Television movie
1968 Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In Himself Various Episodes


  1. ^ "Sonny Tufts". Chicago Sunday Tribune. 12 January 1947. p. 14. 
  2. ^ Joseph F. Clarke (1977). Pseudonyms. BCA. p. 156. 
  3. ^ a b Lamparski, Richard (1968). Whatever Became Of--?: Second Series. Crown Publishers. p. 146. 
  4. ^ "Sonny Tufts, Boston And Yale Scion, Makes Good In Movies". Miami Daily News. July 7, 1943. p. 21.
  5. ^ a b c Graham, Sheliah. "Sonny Tufts, Boston and Yale Scion, Makes Good In Movies". The Miami News. pp. 7–C. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  6. ^ Nixon, Rob. "So Proudly We Hail!". Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "Sonny Tufts Sets Hollywood Record". Lewiston Evening Journal. December 8, 1944. pp. A–5. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Saga of the High Seas". The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954). Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia. November 11, 1944. p. 9. Retrieved April 24, 2012. 
  9. ^ a b Thomas, Bob (November 28, 1979). "And Whatever Happened To Sonny Tufts Anyway?". Toledo Blade. p. P–2. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  10. ^ a b "Dancer's Biting Claim Settled For $600". Reading Eagle. January 8, 1955. p. 8. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  11. ^ "Tufts Puts "The Bite" On Stripper". The Miami News. March 31, 1954. p. 7–B. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  12. ^ a b Lamparski 1968 p.147
  13. ^ a b "Divorce Due For Actor". Eugene Register-Guard. September 17, 1952. p. 8–G. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Sonny Tufts, Noted Actor, Dead at 58". The Telegraph. June 6, 1970. p. 3. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Sonny Tufts' Rites". Lodi News-Sentinel. June 8, 1960. p. 1. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  16. ^ Sonny Tufts on IMDb
  17. ^ "Sonny Tufts?". March 16, 2010. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  18. ^ Monk's Aria from Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice by P.D.Q. Bach

External links[edit]