Turhan Bey: Actor who worked with Hepburn and Montez

 

Turhan Bey was a screen heart-throb of the 1940s, whose slick black hair and exotically handsome features (often with a pencil moustache, which gave an added touch of suavity), made him a popular romantic lead.

Initially cast as mysterious or villainous supporting characters, his most prestigious role was that of Katharine Hepburn's husband in MGM's epic version of Pearl Buck's novel, Dragon Seed (1944). He will be most fondly remembered, though, for the dashing roles in played in the series of lavish, highly coloured Eastern adventures starring Maria Montez, which enchanted audiences during the austere days of the Second World War.

Born in Vienna in 1920, he was the son of a Turkish diplomat father and Czech Jewish mother. In 1938, when Austria was absorbed by Nazi Germany, his mother and grandmother (his parents had divorced) took him to America, where they initially settled in New Hampshire. In 1940 the three went to California, where Bey studied at Ben Bard's dramatic school. "Bard came up with my stage name," he recalled. "He knew that 'Bey' was a term of respect in Turkey so said, 'Why don't we just make it Turhan Bey?'"

Bard had a little theatre on Wilshire Boulevard where Bey was spotted by a talent scout and given a one-scene role in an Errol Flynn film, Footsteps in the Dark (1941). It was the first of several small parts, including the role of Raymond Chandler's character, Jules Amthor, in a screen version of Farewell, My Lovely refashioned as The Falcon Takes Over (1942).

He was in the lively thriller set in Turkey, Background to Danger (1942), playing the nefarious cohort of villain Peter Lorre. In the serial Junior G-Men of the Air (1942) he was the henchman of enemy agent Lionel Atwill, "Serials were great fun, but I enjoyed all my roles – European noblemen, Orientals, characters out of the Arabian nights – because I loved acting."

Bey also featured in two notable horror films, The Mummy's Hand (1942), in which he was the Egyptian high priest who journeys to America to ensure the mummy takes revenge on those who violated its tomb, and The Mad Ghoul (1943), in which he courted a young singer who is also wooed by a pianist turned zombie. One of the cast, Rose Hobart, was reported to have had a brief romance with Bey, She was one of many actresses linked with him, but he was devoted to his mother, who allegedly persuaded him to abandon plans to propose to Lana Turner.

His first film in the Maria Montez cycle was Arabian Nights (1943), as the Captain of the Guard who sells Scheherazade (Montez) into slavery. The first Universal film to be made in three-strip Technicolor, it looked sumptuous. Bey was in three more – White Savage (1943), Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1943) and Sudan (1945). "They were pure escapism, and there is nothing wrong with that," he said. "There was a war on, and films like this were great for morale."

In 1944 MGM borrowed Bey from Universal to play a Chinese political insurgent in Dragon Seed, which starred Katharine Hepburn as his wife: "Katharine was the most intelligent person I have ever known. One day she gave me a valuable tip. She told me quietly, 'Turhan, you are a very good actor but sometimes you don't listen. You have to listen to what your acting partner is saying.'"

At Universal, Bey was given romantic leading roles in three films featuring the studio's singing star, Susanna Foster – The Climax (1944), Bowery to Broadway (1944) and 'Frisco Sal (1945), but fantasies were losing favour, and Universal sold his contract to Eagle-Lion, where he was in an amusing screwball comedy, Out of the Blue (1946). After playing Aesop in A Night in Paradise (1946), he was drafted into the army for 18 months, after which he found it hard to re-establish his career. In 1953, after finishing Prisoners of the Casbah, he returned to Vienna and his first love, photography, but 40 years later he returned to Hollywood, with a role in Murder, She Wrote, plus a performance as an emperor in the TV series Babylon 5, for which he received an Emmy nomination.

When one of his finest films, The Climax, in which he rescues Susanna Foster from the designs of Boris Karloff, was first restored for video, Bey commented, "That was a large production for Universal. They had all these sets left over from The Phantom of the Opera. The colours are so rich and beautiful – the close-ups of Karloff are like Rembrandts. Being in a film like this is a form of immortality. There I am for all time, a young man of 22, and I am perfectly preserved."

Turhan Gilbert Salahettin Schultavey (Turhan Bey), actor and photographer: born Vienna 30 March 1920; died Vienna 30 September 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
Sport
footballLive: All the latest from today's Premier League matches
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee