25 January 2013

Tommy Steele

Entertainer Tommy Steele (1936) was Britain's first teen idol and rock 'n roll star. His cheeky Cockney image and boy-next-door looks won him success as a musician, singer and actor.

Tommy Steele
German postcard by ISV, no. H 14.

Tommy Steele
Vintage postcard.

Tommy Steele
Dutch postcard by Takken, Utrecht, no. 3248.

Tommy Steele
German postcard by Ufa, Berlin-Tempelhof, no. CK 345. Photo: Dezo Hoffman / UFA.

The British Answer to Elvis
Tommy Steele was born Thomas William Hicks in London, England, in 1936. He was the son of a tailor. Tommy had tried many odd jobs before he turned up at the famous 2 I's coffee bar in London. There he was 'discovered' by manager Larry Parnes and became one of Britain's first manufactured pop stars. Parnes believed he could be Britain's answer to Elvis Presley. Steele shot quickly to fame in the UK as the frontman for a rock and roll band, The Steelmen, after their first single, Rock With The Caveman, reached number 13 in the UK singles charts in 1956. His second single Singin' the Blues was a number 1 hit and, as a result, his sudden stardom was compressed quickly into a film as well (The Tommy Steele Story (1957, Gerard Bryant)) even before there was a story to tell. Most of Steele's 1950's recordings were covers of American hits, such as Singing the Blues and Knee Deep in the Blues. Steele co-wrote many of his early songs with Lionel Bart and Mike Pratt, but he used the pseudonym of Jimmy Bennett from 1958 onwards. And on film he played his Cockney self in such teen comedies as The Duke Wore Jeans (1958, Gerald Thomas) and Tommy the Toreador (1959, John Paddy Carstairs) with Janet Munro.

Tommy Steele
Dutch postcard by Takken, Utrecht, no. 3729.

Tommy Steele
Dutch postcard by Internationale Filmpers (I.F.P.), no. 1326.

Tommy Steele
Dutch postcard by N.V. v.h. Weenenk & Snel, Baarn, no. 161. Photo: Centra.

Tommy Steele
Dutch postcard by Gebr. Spanjersberg N.V., Rotterdam, no. 6083. Photo: Combi Press, Amsterdam.

Somewhat Overwhelming
During the 1960's Tommy Steele progressed to a career in stage and film musicals, leaving behind his pop idol identity. He appeared in such films as Light Up the Sky! (1960, Lewis Gilbert) with Ian Carmichael and Benny Hill, and in the West End in the title role of Hans Christian Andersen. He was nominated for Broadway's 1965 Tony Award as Best Actor (Musical) for Half a Sixpence in the role of Arthur Kipps - which he later recreated for the film version of the same name, Half A Sixpence (1967, George Sidney) with Julia Foster. One of his other co-stars was John Cleese. He played character roles in The Happiest Millionaire (1967, Norman Tokar) with Fred MacMurray and Greer Garson, and Where's Jack? (1969, James Clavell), although many critics found his personality to be somewhat overwhelming on screen.

Tommy Steele
Dutch postcard by Takken, Utrecht, no. 3280. Photo: Decca.

Tommy Steele, Elvis Presley, Lizabeth Scott
Dutch postcard by Uitgeverij Takken, Utrecht, no. 3823, 1958. The photo of Elvis with Lizabeth Scott was a publicity still for the film Loving You (1957, Hal Kanter).

Tommy Steele
Dutch postcard.

Tommy Steele
Dutch postcard by Gebr. Spanjersberg N.V., Rotterdam, no. 5194/1059.

Longest Running One-man Show
In Finian's Rainbow (1968, Francis Ford Coppola), co-starring with Petula Clark and Fred Astaire, he had his best known appearance in the movies. His one-man show, An Evening with Tommy Steele, ran for fourteen months in 1979-1980 and is in the Guinness Book of Theatre Facts and Feats as "the longest running one-man show in West End history”. In 1983, he directed and starred in the West End stage production of Singin' in the Rain and in 2003-2005 he had a triumphant return on the stage as Ebenezer Scrooge in Scrooge: The Musical. Tommy Steele married Ann Donoghue in 1960. They have one daughter, Emma.

Tommy Steele singing the blues. Source: Hellcat54 (YouTube).

Tommy Steele sings Elevator Rock. Source: eirebeldon (YouTube).

Tommy Steele sings Little White Bull in Tommy the Toreador (1959). The song is written by Lionel Bart. Source: aap 257 (YouTube).

Scene from Finian's Rainbow (1968). Source: Leighg5226 (YouTube).

Sources: IMDb and Wikipedia.

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