Sometimes talent slips from memory. This does not imply that the talent wasn’t rightfully recognized with all appropriate accolades during a certain generation, but that, with the thousands of newbies breaking into the entertainment industry each year, it follows naturally that some “greats” fall through the cracks of time. It always makes me sad that so many colossi are forgotten, mostly due to the dying out of their aging fans.
When Shirley Bassey stepped on stage during the 2013 Oscars to belt out her iconic Bond theme, Goldfinger, few people were probably thinking, “Thank god for Anthony Newley!” Which is a damn shame, as he was the genius that penned the lyrics to that little ditty, among a myriad of other amazing tunes.
I had a girlhood crush on Anthony Newley. I fondly recall watching Dr Dolittle (the 1967 version, which any connoisseur knows is the only version worth watching) and thinking that Matthew Mugg was wonderful. I had no idea who Tony Newley was at that time, that he was one of the most talented triple threats of his generation, that his sultry crooner voice influenced David Bowie’s own or that he was a brilliant songwriter. To me he was cute. He could sing songs that touched me. I adored his cockney lilt. He made me laugh. It took a number of years before I learned that Anthony was one of the most prodigious triple threats of his generation (for those not in the know, triple threat refers to the ability to achieve greatness in singing, dancing and acting, though Newley also wrote, composed and directed).
Whether you realize it or not, you probably know the melody and lyrics to at least one of Newley’s vast repertoire of songs whether they were written for Broadway, a film score, or for himself or another performer (Sammy Davis, Jr, Shirley Bassey, Tony Bennett,…) many of which he composed with longtime collaborator Leslie Bricusse.
Anothony George Newley was born in a musical family in London’s East End, September 24, 1931. Anthony’s mother, Gracie, sang with the Salavation Army choir. His grandfather, Albert Newley, played the oboe and was an amateur clog dancer. His grandmother, Frances, danced and sang. His great-uncle, Bob Morris, was a comedian. During the Blitz, while in Lancashire, he was fostered by George Pescud, a former music hall performer.1
After the war, when Anthony was 14, he was discovered while taking classes at the Italia Conti stage school, and was offered the lead in the film The Adventures of Dusty Bates. His most notable role, during his youth, was at the Artful Dodger in David Leans’s 1948 film Oliver Twist. His career took off from there and, in 1956, at the age of 17, Newley made his U.S. debut. He appeared in six films that very year. Everything was coming up roses for Tony Newley.
While participating in the film Idol On Parade, in 1959, playing the role of Jeep Jackson, an Elvis spoof, Newley sang the ballad I’ve Waited So Long. This song hit number three in the UK charts.2 Newley stayed on top of the charts with hit after hit during the next three years. Quoted years later, Newley stated, "So overnight I had this incredible power, I was a rock and roll singer and and it lasted for ten wonderful years."3
More films and shows followed success after success: Doctor Dolittle, The Cockleshell Heroes, Stop the World-I Want to Get Off, The Roar of the Greasepaint-The Smell of the Crowd... The same was the case for his top of the chart hits, whether he penned the lyrics for himself or another singer: 1963 Grammy Award Song of the Year What Kind of Fool Am I?, Gonna Build a Mountain, The Joker, Feeling Good,…There are over 150 songs in the BMI database for which Newley is cited as having written either the music or the lyrics. He also wrote the music and lyrics for Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, among other soundtracks. Anthony appeared in 44 films, wrote and performed in 9 musicals, recorded 17 studio albums, released 21 singles and 4 Eps.
While acting in Stop the World-I Want to Get Off, the musical he co-wrote with Bricusse, Newley was nominated for a Tony for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. Stop the World-I Want to Get Off was also nominated for three other Tonys. He was nominated twice more for Tonys, but never won.
Besides his music and acting, Tony was a ladies man. He had three wives. The most famous among them was Joan Collins. Their marriage lasted from 1963 until 1971. One can only imagine that their love story was a passionate one, based on what they have said about each other. “She described him at the time as ‘A half Jewish Cockney git’ and herself as a ‘Half Jewish princess from Bayswater via Sunset Boulevard’.”4 He remarked, “To the unwashed public, Joan Collins is a star. But to those who know her, she's a commodity who would sell her own bowel movement".5
In the U.S., Anthony was one of the few British crooners on the cabaret circuit to achieve similar stardom to the likes of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. America loved everything about him. In 1977, he was voted the male Musical Star of the Year in Las Vegas.
Newley influenced many performers. David Bowie is said to have imitated Anthony’s singing style of maintaining a “distinctively British voice”.6
Anthony died of cancer in 1999.
His online fan club is active and can be found at http://www.anthonynewley.com/Welcome.html. They host an annual Newley Night and will keep you abreast of Newley news.