Anthony Newley
Newley in 1967
Anthony Newley[1]

(1931-09-24)24 September 1931
Homerton, London, England
Died14 April 1999(1999-04-14) (aged 67)
Resting placeForest Hills Memorial Park and Mausoleum
Alma materItalia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts
  • Actor
  • singer
  • songwriter
  • filmmaker
Years active1947–1999
(m. 1956; div. 1963)
(m. 1963; div. 1970)
Dareth Rich
(m. 1971; div. 1989)
PartnerGina Fratini
Children5, including Tara and Alexander

Anthony Newley (24 September 1931 – 14 April 1999)[2] was an English actor, singer, songwriter, and filmmaker. A "latter-day British Al Jolson", he achieved widespread success in song, and on stage and screen.[3] "One of Broadway's greatest leading men", from 1959 to 1962 he scored a dozen entries on the UK Top 40 chart, including two number one hits.[4] Newley won the 1963 Grammy Award for Song of the Year for "What Kind of Fool Am I?", sung by Sammy Davis Jr.,[5] and wrote "Feeling Good", which became a signature hit for Nina Simone. His songs have been sung by a wide variety of singers including Fiona Apple, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, Michael Bublé and Mariah Carey.

With songwriting partner Leslie Bricusse, Newley was nominated for an Academy Award for the film score of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971), featuring "Pure Imagination", which has been recorded by dozens of singers.[6] He collaborated with John Barry on the title song for the James Bond film Goldfinger (1964), sung by Shirley Bassey. An "icon of the early 1960s", his TV series The Strange World of Gurney Slade "continues to have a cult following due to its advanced postmodern premise that [he] is trapped inside a television programme."[5][7]

Described by The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles & Albums as "among the most innovative UK acts of the early rock years before moving into musicals and cabaret",[8] Newley was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1989.[9]

Early life

Newley was born on 24 September 1931 in the London district of Hackney to Frances Grace Newley and George Kirby, who were not married and separated soon after his birth. As "the son of a single mother, who waited on him hand and foot – even after he was married", Newley "mourned the absence of his real father, until, at 82, a jobbing builder made himself known."[7][10] He was of Jewish descent through his maternal grandmother.[11][12][13]

When his parents separated, his aunt and uncle brought him up through unofficial adoption.[10] During the Second World War, he was evacuated to a foster home in the countryside safe from the Blitz aerial bombing attacks on London.[14] For a time, he stayed with George Pescud, a retired music hall performer whom he later credited with inspiring his freedom of self-expression.[3]

Newley attended Clapton Park Lower School,[15] now named Mandeville Primary School, which today recognises him as an alumnus with an official plaque.[16] Although recognised as very bright by his teachers, by the age of fourteen he had left education and was working as an office boy for an advertising agency in Fleet Street called Hannaford and Goodman.

Prompted by an advertisement in The Daily Telegraph entitled "Boy Actors Urgently Wanted", he applied to the Italia Conti Stage School, only to discover that the fees were too high. Nevertheless, after a brief audition, he was offered a job as an office boy on a salary of 30 shillings a week plus tuition at the school. While serving tea one afternoon he caught the eye of producer Geoffrey de Barkus, who cast Newley as the title character in the children's film serial, Dusty Bates (aka, The Adventures of Dusty Bates, 1947).[14]


Early career

Newley followed Dusty Bates with an appearance as Dick Bultitude in Peter Ustinov's Vice Versa (1948). One of the stars of the film was Kay Walsh, whose ex-husband David Lean was about to direct a screen version of Oliver Twist. Walsh rang Lean and told him, "I've found your Artful Dodger".[9] During the 1950s, Newley made twenty-seven movies for J. Arthur Rank, many of them in the United States, "comfortably transitioning from child to adult actor".[17] At this time he also performed national service. During the decade, Newley appeared in many British radio programmes, including as Cyril in Floggits, which starred Elsie and Doris Waters, and also "became increasingly involved with the theatre."[3]

Mainstream successes

Newley starred in the 1958 film No Time to Die (also known as Tank Force). The following year, "[a] turning point came with a literally star-making role in the low-budget musical film", Idol on Parade.[9] Newley was cast as a rock singer called up for national service in a story which was somewhat inspired by Elvis Presley, who had recently been drafted for army service in the United States. The performance cemented Newley's position as a leading man.[18][14] The film also launched his career as a pop singer, with the song "I've Waited So Long" – which featured in the soundtrack – reaching number 3 in the UK charts. This was quickly followed by his number 6 hit "Personality" and then two number 1 hits in early 1960: "Why" (originally a 1959 US hit for Frankie Avalon) and "Do You Mind?" (written by Lionel Bart).[19]

TV work, music stardom

The ATV series The Strange World of Gurney Slade (1960) starred Newley, who was also its creator. A comedy series of six half-hour programmes, it develops from a premise established in the opening scene, Newley's character escapes from a television programme which is Gurney Slade itself. Now considered ahead of its time, the series was quickly moved from a peak-time slot.[20]

His career both as a singer and a songwriter quickly went from strength to strength. In 1963, Newley won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year for having penned "What Kind of Fool Am I?" That year he also had a hit comedy album called Fool Britannia! the result of improvisational satires of the British Profumo scandal of the time by a team of Newley, his then wife Joan Collins, and Peter Sellers. It peaked at number 10 in the UK Albums Chart in October 1963.[21] Newley sang "Gonna Build a Mountain", "Once in a Lifetime", "On a Wonderful Day Like Today", "Who Can I Turn To?," "The Joker," and comic novelty songs such as "That Noise", "The Oompa-Loompa Song" and his version of "Pop Goes the Weasel". Newley also released a successful rendition of "Strawberry Fair", featuring his trademark cockney accent.

Among the many hit songs Newley wrote for others made hits are "Goldfinger" (the title song of the James Bond film, Goldfinger, music by John Barry), and "Feeling Good", which became a hit for Nina Simone and the rock band Muse, as well as a signature song for singer Michael Bublé. His songs have been recorded by artists as diverse as Harry Connick, Jr. and Mariah Carey. Some of the many ballads he wrote, usually with Leslie Bricusse, became signature hits for Sammy Davis Jr., Shirley Bassey and Tony Bennett. The two men referred to themselves as the team of "Brickman and Newburg", with "Newburg" concentrating mainly on the music and "Brickman" on the lyrics. Ian Fraser often devised their arrangements.

Despite the fact that such songs as "What Kind of Fool Am I?" and "The Candy Man" (a US Number One single for Sammy Davis Jr. and the Mike Curb Congregation in 1972) became international hits, Newley had less chart success in the United States as a recording artist, charting on the Billboard Hot 100 with four singles from 1960 to 1962, none reaching higher than number 67. However, he later had a number 12 hit on the Adult Contemporary charts in 1976 with "Teach the Children".

In 1967, Newley contacted renowned artist Cynthia Albritton, also known as Cynthia Plaster Caster, to see if she would like to cast him for her celebrity genitalia collection. Albritton was an admirer of Newley's Broadway plays. On June 7, 1967, she cast Newley in her Los Angeles apartment. Albritton's friend and fellow Newley fan Iva Turner was the 'plater' for the casting process. The cast is now part of Albritton's collection, which was acquired in 2023 by the Kinsey Institute.[22][23][citation needed]

Stage and screen

Throughout the 1960s, Newley enjoyed sustained success on London's West End theatre, on Broadway, in Hollywood films, and on British and American television. He and Bricusse also wrote musicals. Stop the World – I Want to Get Off, in which Newley also performed, earned him nomination for a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. A hit in London and on Broadway,[14] it was made into a film version in 1966,[24] in which Newley was unable to star owing to a schedule conflict. The other musicals for which he co-wrote music and lyrics with Bricusse included The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd (1965) and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971), based on the children's book by Roald Dahl.

Newley played Matthew Mugg in the original Doctor Dolittle (1967), a difficult experience in part because of the hostility he endured from the lead actor, Rex Harrison,[25] and he also played the repressed English businessman opposite Sandy Dennis in the original Sweet November (1968). He hosted Lucille Ball's character on a whirlwind tour of London in Lucy in London (1966). He performed in the autobiographical, Fellini-esque and X-rated Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969), which he also directed and co-wrote with Herman Raucher. The film is "a surrealist sex-drenched disaster that could only ever have been made in the more free-wheeling Sixties", and starred his then-wife, Joan Collins, who said that his self-serving behaviour prompted her to get a divorce.[26]

Newley also directed the 1971 film Summertree, starring Michael Douglas and Brenda Vaccaro. He appeared as Quilp in Mister Quilp (1975) (based on Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop), for which he composed some songs ('Love Has the Longest Memory of All'). His last feature role, in the cast of the long-running British TV soap opera EastEnders, was to have been a regular role, but Newley had to withdraw after a few months when his health began to fail.[27]

Newley's contributions to Christmas music are highlighted by his rendition of the "Coventry Carol" which appears on many anthologies. He also wrote and recorded a novelty Christmas song called "Santa Claus is Elvis", and recorded an album of spoken poetry.[28]

Later life

"In the early Seventies Newley became a tax exile and went to live in Florida."[29] He remained active throughout that decade, particularly as a Las Vegas and Catskills Borscht Belt resort performer, game show panelist (such as on Hollywood Squares) and talk show guest. Newley "was among the top five cabaret acts in America for some years", but gradually his career had begun to flounder.[29] He had taken risks that eventually led to his downfall in Hollywood. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he worked to achieve a comeback. In the summer of 1983, Newley was the lead in Chaplin, a Broadway-bound musical he co-wrote with Stanley Ralph Ross, that never made it out of previews in Los Angeles.[30] A planned Broadway opening was canceled after the production lost $4 million.[3]

He briefly appeared on Late Night with David Letterman (when in town to be inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame) to sing the theme to "Viewer Mail". He staged a successful American tour of his Stop The World – I Want To Get Off in 1986–87. The production co-starred a then unknown Suzie Plakson, whom Newley had discovered. The tour yielded her some strong notices and led to a steady career on stage and television. He was also featured as the Mad Hatter in Irwin Allen's all-star television adaptation of Alice in Wonderland (1985). That year he was diagnosed with cancer and had one kidney removed. Returning to England, he moved in with his mother Gracie in Esher, Surrey.[9]

With his cancer arrested, he continued to work, appearing as a car-dealer in the soap opera EastEnders and recording songs from Fiddler on the Roof and Scrooge. He enjoyed his final popular success onstage starring in the latter musical, which showed in London and toured British cities including Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester, in the 1990s. In 1996, Newley "made a rare nightclub appearance in New York at Rainbow and Stars, where the emotive force of his singing was undiminished". He summed up the previous two decades in remarks from the stage: "I went to Vegas for 22 years, married some absolutely charming women and gave them all my money. That's why I'm here."[3]

At the time of his death, Newley had been working on a musical of Shakespeare's Richard III. He died of renal cancer at the age of 67, soon after he had become a grandfather.

In recognition of his creative skills and body of work, Newley was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1989.[31]

Personal life

Newley was married three times; firstly, to Ann Lynn (1956–1963) with whom he had one son, Simon, who died in infancy from a congenital infirmity. Following their divorce, he married Joan Collins (1963–1970). The couple had two children, Tara Newley and Alexander (Sacha) Newley.[7] Tara became a broadcaster in Britain and Sacha is a portrait artist based in New York City.

His third marriage was to former air hostess Dareth Newly Dunn (née Rich) (1971–1989), with whom he also had a daughter and son, Shelby and Christopher.[3] In an episode of Angela and Friends (Sky One),[32] Tara Newley also mentioned another sister, a third living daughter of Newley. Newley's stepfather, Ronald Gardner, reportedly later lived in Beverly Hills working as a chauffeur.

Actress Anneke Wills "began a relationship with Anthony Newley" when she was 17 and working with him on the TV series The Strange World of Gurney Slade.[33] In an interview, she recalled moving in with Newley, and listening to The Goons together.[34]

With the help of a detective, Newley searched for and found his father, George Kirby. His mother then "began a correspondence with her long lost love."[35] Newley flew him out to Los Angeles and bought them a house, where they lived until George died.[citation needed]

Death and legacy

Newley died on 14 April 1999, in Jensen Beach, Florida, from renal cancer at the age of 67.[2] He had first been diagnosed with cancer in 1985, and it returned in 1997 and spread to his lungs and liver.[36] He was said to have died in the arms of his companion, the designer Gina Fratini.[37] He was survived by his five children, a granddaughter Miel, and his mother Grace, then aged 96. Since then two more grandchildren have been born: Weston (Tara's second child) and Ava Grace (Sacha's first, with his former wife Angela Tassoni).

Books, recordings, tributes

Newley's life is the subject of a biography by Garth Bardsley called Stop the World (London: Oberon, 2003). 2013 saw the publication of Dear Tony, a book about a long-lasting friendship with a young American woman with whom he fell in love.

Amongst the many compilations of his recordings are Anthony Newley: The Decca Years (1959–1964), Once in a Lifetime: The Anthony Newley Collection (1960–71), and Anthony Newley's Greatest Hits (Deram). In May 2010, Stage Door Records released a compilation of unreleased Newley recordings entitled Newley Discovered. Produced with the Anthony Newley Society and Newley's family, the album contains the concept recordings for Newley's self-penned film musicals Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and Mr. Quilp.

Pure Imagination: The World of Anthony Newley and Leslie Briccuse, devised and directed by Bruce Kimmel, opened at the Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice, California, on 7 December 2013.[38]

David Bowie

Newley was an early influence on the rock musician David Bowie, who was a fan of his. The producer of Bowie's first album, Mike Vernon, even described his first impression of Bowie as "a young Anthony Newley".[39] Rolling Stone noted that Bowie's singing on the album was "delivered in an overenunciating voice that was deeply indebted to popular English actor-singer Anthony Newley."[40]



Studio albums

Compilation albums



Recordings of musicals



Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Work Result
1963 Grammy Awards Song of the Year "What Kind of Fool Am I?" Won
Best Solo Vocal Performance, Male Nominated
Best Original Cast Show Album Stop the World – I Want to Get Off Nominated
Tony Awards Best Author (Musical) Nominated
Best Original Score Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical Nominated
1965 Best Original Score The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Nominated
Theatre World Award Best Original Score Nominated
Grammy Awards Song of the Year "Who Can I Turn To?" Nominated
1970 Writers' Guild of Great Britain Best British Original Screenplay Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? Won
1972 Academy Awards Best Scoring: Adaptation and Original Song Score Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Nominated


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