Sonny Tufts: His Bite Was Worse Than His Bark

Today Sonny Tufts (1911-1970) may best be known as a punchline. In the 1960s, many years after he had ceased to be a marquee name, joking references to Tufts were made on Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Dick Van Dyke Show, My Mother the Car, The Monkees, and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The Golden Turkey Awards have given him his own category. Yet, though most of his two-dozen-movies have been forgotten, for a time in the 1940s Tufts  was a heart throb.

Van Johnson, Doodles Weaver...the rich WASP thing was popular for a time. And so it was that operatically trained Yale grad Bowen Charlton Tufts III, of the Boston banking Tufts, and the nephew of the guy for whom Tufts University is named, made his way into the limelight. From singing in nightclubs, he arrived on Broadway in Sing for Your Supper (1939). His start in Hollywood came in World War II vehicles: So Proudly We Hail (1943), Government Girl (1943), I Love a Soldier (1944), and Here Come the Waves (1945). He played Steve in the 1946 version of The Virginian. He has a small part in The Seven Year Itch (1955). His most notorious films are undoubtedly Cat-Women on the Moon (1953) and Cottonpickin’  Chickenpickers (1967).

Tuft’s career began to fade around 1950, mostly due to a serious drinking problem. His wife off 11 years left him in 1949. His parts got scarcer. In March and April of 1955 he was sued by two different exotic dancers for damages sustained during two separate incidents in which he injured them by BITING THEIR INNER THIGHS. The following year he was sued yet again after beating up his date in a restaurant. In 1957 he was arrested for public drunkeness.

A series of spots on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In in 1968 were his last professional credits. He died two years later of pneumonia at the age of 58.