Turner Classic Movies
Bey, Turhan
Written by James Colt Harrison   



Date of Birth:     March 30, 1922

Place of Birth:   Vienna, Austria

Date of Death:   September 30, 2012

Place of Death:  Vienna, Austria

Cause of Death: Parkinson's disease

With a name as difficult to pronounce as Turhan Gilbert Selahattin Sahultay, the future film star knew he would need something smaller for the marquee. His father was a Turkish diplomat and his mother hailed from Czechoslovakia. Because his mother was also Jewish, the Nazi take-over of his native Austria in 1938 during World War II forced the family to flee. When his parents divorced, his mother and grandmother took the now-16 year-old Turhan to America to escape the Nazi persecution.


The new immigrants first settled in New Hampshire. That didn't suit them, and the trio soon moved to California so Turhan could study English. After he enrolled in the Ben Bard dramatic school to improve his poise and use of the English language in 1940, Bard changed his last name to "Bey." The actor later explained "He knew that ‘Bey' was a term of respect in Turkey." So, Turhan Bey was created. 

Bard was a well-known and respected actor and drama teacher in Hollywood. Born in 1893, he had married silent film star Ruth Roland in 1929 and took over her acting school in 1939. Bard had an acting contract at Fox as well, where he frequently played heavies. Later, in the 1950s,Bard was made head of the New Talent Department at 20th Century Fox where he worked with such stars as Marilyn Monroe and Robert Wagner.


Footsteps In The Dark
Knowing young Bey had that "certain something" Hollywood was always looking for, Bard cast Bey in a small role at his Wilshire Boulevard theatre. Bey was spotted by a talent scout from Warner Bros. and immediately rushed into a small part as Ahmed in the Errol Flynn movie Footsteps In The Dark (1941). 

Because of his dark and mysterious good looks and his sleek black hair, he was the perfect choice as a romantic leading man, or an exotic. He was quickly cast in several minor pictures playing characters such as Hassen Mohammed in Raiders of the Desert (1941) and Captain Chundra in Bombay Clipper (1941).

He played in a thriller set in Turkey called Background to Danger with creepy Peter Lorre (1942) and an action picture Junior G-Men of the Air (1942). He made about 12 potboilers including two horror pictures, The Mummy's Hand (as an Egyptian high priest, 1942) and The Mad Ghoul (who deals with a zombie trying to steal his girl, 1943). Bey said about his acting in chillers and thrillers that "Serials were great fun, but I enjoyed all my roles---European noblemen, Orientals, characters out of the Arabian nights---because I loved acting."

He became highly popular in the sex and sand movies with Maria Montez. The spectacularly Technicolored Universal film Arabian Nights (1943) was a huge hit. Montez played Scheherizade and became a well-loved "camp" star. The studio paired them in several more escapist films such as White Savage (1943) Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1943), and Sudan (1945). Bey, himself, knew the films were strictly for entertainment when he said, "They were pure escapism, and there is nothing wrong with that. There was a war on, and films like this were great for morale."



Because he was so young, handsome and suavely elegant he was catnip to female stars in Hollywood. He dated many beautiful women, including Marilyn Maxwell (1941), Elyse Knox (1942-43, who later became TV star Mark Harmon's mother) Merle Oberon (1945), Lana Turner (1945-46), Linda Christian (1946,who later married Tyrone Power), Audrey Totter (1947), Ava Gardner (1947, who traded Bey in for Frank Sinatra) and Barbara Lawrence (1949). He was madly in love with Lana Turner and wanted to marry her. But his mother was against it and soon squashed the romance. Bey was reportedly heartbroken. It is not known if Mr. Bey ever married.



Dragon Seed
Meanwhile, his career took a turn for the better when MGM, the Tiffany of studios, borrowed him from Universal to co-star with Katharine Hepburn in Dragon Seed as a Chinese insurgent in 1944. 

Back at Universal, he played the romantic lead in several musical films starring singer Susanna Foster. The Climax (1944) had a good cast with Boris Karloff, Gale Sondergaard, and Foster. Bey later said, "That was a large production for Universal. They had all these sets left over from Phantom of the Opera. The colors are so rich and beautiful. 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." In Bowery To Broadway (1944) he was once again cast with Maria Montez, as well as Susanna Foster, Donald O'Connor and Ann Blyth. In Frisco Sal (1945), Bey frolicked with Foster as a singer trying to make it in the City by the Bay. He made one more picture at Universal in 1946, co-starring with Merle Oberon in Night in Paradise.

Bey's adventure and fantasy movies were on the wane, so Universal dumped him by selling his contract to the lesser studio Eagle-Lion. His star status more or less took a nosedive, but he soldiered on and continued to make popular films for the public. His first picture at Eagle-Lion was the fun and breezy Out of the Blue (1947) co-starring the beautiful and amusing Carole Landis and Virginia Mayo. 

Prisoners of the Casbah
Bey was drafted into military service in 1946 and spent 18 months in the Army. After his release, he found it hard to re-establish himself in Hollywood. He made made a few films during this period such as Parole, Inc.(1948) with Evelyn Ankers, Song of India (1949), and Prisoners of the Casbah (1953) with Gloria Grahame and Cesar Romero for the great producer of schlock pictures, Sam Katzman and Columbia Pictures.


Bey had had it in films and he returned to his native Vienna where he remained away from Hollywood for the next 50 years. He took up photography as a profession and earned his living. In 1993 he was invited to the American Cinema Awards banquet and decided to step in front of the movie cameras once again. He accepted Angela Lansbury's offer to appear in one of her TV episodes of Murder, She Wrote. He enjoyed doing television and subsequently appeared on SeaQuest DSV, VR5, Babylon 5,and a few other ventures until 1998 when he officially retired.



Mr. Bey lived a very long and happy life in his native city of Vienna. He passed away there at age 90 on September 30, 2012.

*All quotes of Mr. Bey were from an article written by Tom Vallance of The Independent, UK.




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