Anthony Newley was a talented, versatile actor, singer and songwriter. As a teenager, he was the star of a popular British film serial. This part led to a featured role in a 1946 film production of Oliver Twist, placing him as “The Artful Dodger” alongside Alec Guinness as “Fagin.” Later, he topped the British charts with recordings of the Lloyd Price tune “Personality” and “Why,” originally a hit for Frankie Avalon. He earned multiple Tony nominations for the musical Stop the World — I Want to Get Off. Anthony co-wrote the libretto, the songs and starred in the show on the London Stage, as well as its Broadway run. He won a Grammy in 1963 for “What Kind of Fool Am I,” the song he introduced as the show’s finale. He followed his success with another favored musical — The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd. He appeared in dozens of movies, including a co-starring part in Dr. Doolittle. In addition he co-wrote the title song for the James Bond film Goldfinger and all the songs for the beloved Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
In 1970, Universal Pictures sunk half a million dollars into new musical from the golden pen of wunderkind Anthony Newley. The film — Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? — was a self-indulgent, psychedelic mish-mash that proved to be a financial and critical failure for the studio. With Anthony as producer, director, music director, composer and star, he led the cast down a confusing road of fantasy-charged, sexually-rampant, nonsensical scenarios for a bewildering 107 minutes. Due to its content, the movie was given an “X” rating and a lot of newspapers refused to carry its advertising for that reason.
In the very loose autobiographical film, Anthony plays the titular “Heironymus Merkin,” a respected musical performer approaching middle age and questioning his relevance as presented in a series of erotic production numbers. He cast his his then-wife Joan Collins as the suggestively-named “Polyester Poontang,” Milton Berle as a dapper devil-like character called “Goodtime Eddie Filth” and George Jessel as an unnamed messenger from Heaven. Rounding out the cast was 22-year old Connie Kreski, as the “Mercy Humppe” mentioned in the film’s elongated title. Hand-picked by Anthony on recommendation by his pal Hugh Hefner, Connie was making her film debut. Her only previous “before the camera” experience was posing nude in Playboy, earning the title of 1969’s “Playmate of the Year.” The film was fraught with innuendo and overt symbolism, weird sets and outlandish costumes and featured Anthony taking on the dual role as main character and the film’s on-screen director, depicted in harlequin makeup and often breaking the “fourth wall.” Joan Collins noted in her 1978 memoir that this film was a major factor in her divorce from Anthony Newley.
Despite the film’s miserable performance, Anthony remained active. He was often seen on television, variety shows, special programming, night clubs and even an appearance on the popular game show Hollywood Squares. He continued to write songs and ideas for musicals. He was working on a musical take on Richard III when he died of renal cancer in 1999 at the age of 67.
Connie Kreski enjoyed a modestly successful acting career, with roles in a few films and episodic television. She was close friends with actress Sharon Tate and was devastated by her brutal murder. Connie wrote a lovely heartfelt memorial piece about Tate for the Detroit Free Press. Connie passed away in 1995 from a previously undetected blockage in her carotid artery. She was 48 years old.