He seemed destined for stardom. What happened?
First, do you remember ever seeing a film starring Sonny Tufts? If not, we can’t blame you.
Tufts didn’t have an extensive career — just a little more than 30 credits over a quarter century — and is now best recalled as a male version of bad girl Barbara Payton (pictured below), his costar in a low-budget 1953 comedy, Run For The Hills.
That is, his private life was far more entertaining that his big screen work.
Things didn’t start out that way.
The actor was born Bowen Charlton Tufts III to an aristocratic Boston family of impeccable class credentials. After attending prep school Tufts enrolled at Yale where he studied opera. His studies turned serious, and in time Tufts auditioned for New York’s Metropolitan Opera company before opting instead for vocalizing on the Broadway stage.
Then the big guy (Tufts stood 6-foot-4) found himself auditioning for Paramount, which signed him up in the early Forties. His first outing, as the love interest of Paulette Goddard in 1943’s So Proudly We Hail, received favorable reviews, and his screen career was off and running. Tufts was welcomed in Hollywood by the wartime scarcity of leading men.
Tufts nursed an old college football injury, which relieved him of serving in World War II, and found himself loaned out to RKO for the 1944 comedy, Government Girl, starring Olivia DeHavilland. The movie has been savaged by critics over time but it was a hit, and put Tufts on course to be a leading man. He was voted in 1944 the number one “Star of Tomorrow” by movie theater exhibitors.
But then Tuft’s offscreen hijinks intruded. The actor drank like a fish, and his alcoholism got him into all sorts of troubling situations. In the late Forties he had been found drunk on a Hollywood sidewalk. In the mid Fifties, a stripper accused him of biting her left thigh while he and two friends visited her home. A 19-year-old dancer later claimed Tufts had allegedly bitten her, on the right thigh this time, while partying on a yacht in Newport Beach.
Tufts married only once — to Spanish dancer Barbara Dare — and his wife at one point had him jailed for drunkenness. The end of their 16-year marriage came in 1953. “He drinks too much and lives too lavishly,” said his ex.
But let’s not forget that Tufts despite all personal distractions he put some decent credits on the board. He appeared in 1944’s Here Come the Waves, a hit due largely to the presence of Bing Crosby and Betty Hutton. He sang a year later in the musical comedy Bring on the Girls, with Eddie Bracken and Veronica Lake. He tried a western, 1946’s The Virginian, landed a star part in 1946’s Swell Guy opposite Ann Blyth. John Farrow directed him in 1947’s Blaze of Noon, shortly after which Tufts left the Paramount fold.
Work then came increasingly hard to come by as a result of Tuft’s multiple drunken shenanigans although his career received a small boost when he was cast in a small supporting role in Billy Wilder’s 1955 comedy The Seven Year Itch starring Marilyn Monroe.
Perhaps Tuft’s most lasting screen legacy is Cat-Women of the Moon, a low budget, sci-fi B movie that has become a cult favorite of sorts. Two of our favorites, Marie Windsor and Victory Jory, costar with Tufts. There’s our man (below) goofing off with actress Brenda Hogan. Tufts died in 1970 at the relatively young age of 58.