Equally talented and prolific as an actor, singer, and songwriter, Anthony Newley (b. Hackney, London, England, September 24, 1931; d. Jensen Beach, FL, USA, April 14, 1999) in his heyday had fans all over the globe, for his performances in musical and legitimate theatre (Stop the World – I Want To Get Off) as well as in films and rock-‘n’-roll. He never, however, shed his Cockney accent or his working-class persona.
Born to a single mother in London’s working-class East End, Anthony George Newley was evacuated during the Blitz and received his early education from a tutor, a former music-hall entertainer. He was never much interested in school, and when he returned to London after the War, he answered an ad for “boy actors.” He was given a job that included free tuition at the Italia Conti Stage School and soon was appearing in films – his first big role was Dusty Bates (1947) in a series of cliffhanger shorts, followed by Dick Bultitude in Peter Ustinov’s Vice Versa (1948) and the Artful Dodger in David Lean’s 1948 version of Oliver Twist.
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. Among these were Highly Dangerous (1950), The Blue Peter (1954), Fire Down Below (1957), How to Murder a Rich Uncle (1957), and Idle on Parade (1959). The 1960s brought another kind of transition, to pop crooner and songwriter. He collaborated with writer Leslie Bricusse to turn out hits for Sammy Davis Jr., Shirley Bassey, and Tony Bennett, while his own performances climbed the British singles charts: “I’ve Waited So Long” (1959), “Personality” (1959), “Why?” (1960), “Do You Mind?” (1960), “Strawberry Fair” (1960), “What Kind Of Fool Am I” (1961), “Who Can I Turn To?” (1965). Studio albums and compilations, too, were selling very well.
Meanwhile Newley’s star was rising in the musical theatre: he had first appeared in Cranks in 1955, a revue that traveled to Broadway for forty performances. His next project was Stop the World – I Want to Get Off, with music, book, and lyrics by Anthony Newley, starring and directed by the same. When it arrived on Broadway in 1962 after fifteen months in London’s West End, it enjoyed 555 performances and was nominated for seven Tony Awards®. Newley followed this with The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, which came to Broadway in 1965 and garnered three Tony Award®nominations.
Newley had signal successes as Matthew Mugg in the 1967 film Doctor Doolittle with Rex Harrison, and in Sweet November (1968) with Sandy Dennis, though his own personal tongue-in-cheek vehicle, Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969), written, directed, and starring himself and his then wife Joan Collins, befuddled audiences.
After starring as Quilp in The Old Curiosity Shop (1975), Newley spent several years on the American casino circuit and the Borscht Belt and did not return to the screen until the late ’80s (The Garbage Pail Kids 1987, Boris and Natasha: The Movie 1992). But he was not able to recapture the triumphal popularity that had been his two decades before.
In all, Newley recorded seventeen studio albums and twenty-four compilations, over half of which have been issued posthumously. Newley was also the lyricist for “The Candy Man,” and “Goldfinger.” He and Bricusse created the songs for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (nominated for a 1972 Oscar®); they were both inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1989.
Anthony Newley was married and divorced three times: to dancer Ann Lynn from 1956 to 1963, to Joan Collins from 1963 to 1971 (a daughter Tara and a son Sasha), and to former air hostess Dareth Rich from 1971 to 1989 (two children, Shelby and Christopher).
Newley had begun to suffer from ill health and in 1985 was diagnosed with cancer of the kidneys. His last television appearance was as a used car salesman in EastEnders the same year. After twenty-two years of living in the U.S., in 1992 he moved in with his aging mother in Surrey. The cancer returned in 1997, having spread to his lungs and liver, and Newley moved to Florida for the last few months of his life to work on a musical version of Shakespeare’s Richard III. His mother, at ninety-six, survived him, as did four children and a granddaughter. A biography by Garth Bardsley, Stop the World, was published in London in 2003.