Every body has a story.
Every body has a story.
Jack Wild Attribution: Joost Evers / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
September 30, 1952—March 1, 2006
Jack Wild was born in Royton, Lancashire, United Kingdom, on September 30, 1952, to Jack and Vera Wild. For eleven-ish years he lived with his parents and older brother, Arthur, in Royton, which is located in the general central-England area, near Manchester. In 1963 (some sources say 1960), his family relocated to Hounslow in west London, about 165 miles/266 km away. He had already picked up cigarette smoking by 1963. I included that last fact only because it comes into play later in his story.
Jack seemed to enjoy London life, going to school (I presume, since he was only eleven, although no sources mention it specifically), playing football (what we call soccer in America), and earning a modest bit of change as a milkman’s helper. Better than a plumber’s helper, I say.
According to Wild’s memoir, he often played football-soccer in the local park with, among others, his brother and Phil Collins, a lad who lived on the same street. One day Collins’s mother stopped by to collect him to head home. Mrs. Collins, first name June, happened to have been a talent agent, and she determined on the spot that both Wild brothers would make boffo entertainers if given the opportunity. She asked if they wanted to try for acting careers and earn some good money. They informed her that they were already getting good money from their milkman employer. She gently pointed out that movie stars generally brought in a few more shillings a week than milk deliverers.
At the time, Wild was contemplating a future as either a footballer or a doctor, but with Mrs. Collins’s encouragement, he and his brother decided to give show business a try. Mrs. Collins had the two brothers, along with her son, make the rounds of auditions in London’s theater district (affectionately referred to as the geographically accurate “West End”). Mrs. Collins obviously knew her stuff, because in 1964 all three boys landed roles in the long-running hit musical “Oliver!” Phil was cast as The Artful Dodger (the second-biggest child role), and Jack as “one of the boys” (one of the many, many nameless boys in the play). Arthur was cast as Oliver! himself. Jack had hoped for The Artful Dodger role, but was passed by because he was too short. (I’m 100% sure that wasn’t the last time he heard that.) Mrs. Collins enrolled them (for sure) in the independent Barbara Speake Stage School in Acton, west London. For the next few months, every school day the three boys traveled from home to school for classes, then from school to the New Theatre (now the Noel Coward Theatre) for rehearsals, and then back home to get ready to do it all again twelve hours later. On a good day, the round trip took about two hours. On top of all that, for good measure Wild sandwiched in some work as a television stand-in, extra, talent show participant (including Opportunity Knocks in a group with Phil Collins, Danny Grover, and Philip Harris), and actor of mostly teeny tiny television roles. He stated that he also filmed some commercials as well, but Who Knows Where or When? (Sorry, wrong musical.)
During his stint in “Oliver!” Wild slowly assumed larger roles, eventually playing a character with an actual name, Dodger’s “right-hand man,” Charlie Bates. He kept up his hectic routine until mid-1966, when he decided to leave “Oliver!” (just a few months before it closed in September of 1966) —allegedly to play one of the leads in a children’s television mini-series called Danny the Dinosaur. Wild went on to play several more small parts in various television series, including Z Cars. Not too long after that, he auditioned for the planned movie version of “Oliver!” and finally achieved his life-long goal (or, more accurately, his three-years-long goal) when he was selected to play The Artful Dodger in the film.
Most of Wild’s 1967 was spent learning his role and filming the movie. That’s not to say he didn’t involve himself in some unspecified down-time hi-jinks with a few of his youthful coworkers. The boy who played Oliver in the film, Mark Lester (of “is he or isn’t he the biological father of one, two, or three of Michael Jackson’s kids?” fame), wasn’t allowed to participate for fear that he would get a scratch, bruise, or sunburn, any of which could have disrupted the filming schedule.
Oliver! (the film) was released on September 26, 1968, in London (October 9 in Japan; December 10 in the US, et cetera). It was a hit with critics and moviegoers alike (most of them, anyway), and eventually grossed over $77,000,000.00 and earned over three dozen major award nominations (winning 12). Wild himself was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, the British Academy Film Award (BAFTA) for Most Promising Newcomer to a Leading Film Role, and the Golden Globe for Most Promising Male Newcomer. No wins, but he was bested by (respectively) Jack Albertson (The Subject was Roses), Dustin Hoffman (The Graduate), and Leonard Whiting (Romeo and Juliet), so no shame in that. It probably should go without saying that around this same time, Wild was gracing the covers of teen-centric fan magazines, right along with the similar-looking David Cassidy.
David Cassidy Attribution: Allan warren, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
————Right after the successes of both the movie and the actor, Wild was invited to guest on seemingly every UK and US talk show and variety show in production at the time, and he eventually appeared on most of them.
Meanwhile, Wild’s agent, John Daly (presumably not the golfer or the What’s My Line? host), was cleverly following the old adage, “strike while the iron is hot,” enthusiastically reaching out across two continents to secure another superstar gig for his client. (Wild was already 16 when Oliver! was released, and despite his diminutive stature, wasn’t going to look like a kid for much longer.)
One day, Wild got a call from Daly, who told him he (Daly) was in discussions with American television-producer brothers Sid and Marty Krofft, who were considering him (Wild) for the lead in a new children’s series, H. R. Pufnstuf. It was one of the Krofft brothers’ first forays into whatever it is you call what they do. The Wild/Daly duo flew to Los Angeles, California, and met the Kroffts. The Kroffts must have liked what they saw (not unlike the majority of ‘tween-age girls of the day), because they offered Wild a five-year, $1 million contract. The only stipulation was that he get his teeth “done.” (During production they allegedly also requested that he put an American accent on his English accent so American kids could understand him.)
Wild/his rep signed on the dotted line, and the rest was surreal, psychedelic history. Though Pufnstuf only lasted on television for 17 episodes (1969), it continued to live on through stage shows, puppet shows, and a 1970 film. [Side note: the film’s budget was “under $1 million;” its gross was under $300,000.] I don’t know if Wild participated in any of the puppet shows, but he did reprise his television role in the movie and in the 1973 television special The World of Sid & Marty Krofft at the Hollywood Bowl (sometimes referred to as H.R. Pufnstuf and The Brady Kids Live at the Hollywood Bowl). Eh, it’s a living.
Wild also signed a contract with Capitol Records in 1969, allegedly also for $1 million. He released a total of three albums, one in each year from 1970 through 1972. None of them did particularly well, but he still managed to land two 1970 appearances on Top of the Pops, a long-running, top 40-type televised music series in the UK.
After Pufnstuf, Wild’s acting career took a nosedive. While it didn’t exactly come to a grinding halt, it was far from his heady post-Oliver! days. It must have been painful for him, going from the Academy Awards to a Sigmund and the Sea Monsters guest spot in four short years (he was probably cast in Sigmund, which was yet another Krofft creation, so they could try to recoup a little more of their million-dollar payout.) His fall from grace could have been attributed to his height, lack of range as an actor, and/or loss of his youthful cuteness. At least some of the fault can be placed on his drinking, which he admitted had reached the level of full-blown alcoholism by the time he was in his early twenties.
Wild moved back to the UK, probably not too long after Pufnstuf wrapped up production. After Puf, Wild’s next television appearance—and virtually every one after that—were on British shows.
Although around this time Wild’s career was cooling down, his love life was warming up. On February 14, 1976, he married actress Gaynor Jones, whom he had met way back in his Speake School days. (They had lost touch after Wild had left school, but reconnected in 1970.) Jones was a backup singer for, among others, singers David Essex, Kim Wilde, and Suzi Quatro. Unfortunately, the timing of Wild’s wedding coincided with the acceleration of his drinking—with quantities reaching half a bottle of vodka and two bottles of wine a day, by his own admission.
In 1979 Wild was in Poland filming Alicja, a movie very loosely based on Alice in Wonderland characters. Wild played the role of a trivia-obsessed motorcycle buff called Turtle (obviously based on AIW’s The Mock Turtle). Other actors who have played The Mock Turtle include Cary Grant (1933), John Gielgud (1966), Donald O’Connor (1983), Ringo Starr (1985), and Gene Wilder (1996). Impressive company.
My mini (amateur, biased) review of Alicja: the acting ranged from very good to all right. Wild was very good—although it sounded like his singing was dubbed for some reason. Some of the non-Wild scenes were bizarre. For the most part, I’d give the overall movie-watching experience a solid “not awful.”
While filming in Poland, Wild entertained himself during much of his free time by hanging out at his hotel’s bar. He thoroughly enjoyed their extra-strong and extra-large vodka shots, and the barkeeper kept them coming. Sometime in the midst of production, Wild developed an excruciating pain in his stomach. It turned out to be acute pancreatitis, and he had to be rushed to the UK for emergency treatment. Apparently Wild recovered sufficiently to return to Poland and complete his scenes in the movie.
Several sources report that in 1981 he was slated to star with Suzi Quatro in a Bonnie and Clyde-inspired television series, but the show was unceremoniously dumped because of Wild’ s erratic and unprofessional behavior. Too bad it didn’t work out—I bet it would have been a fun show to watch.
In 1981-1982 Wild performed on stage in a production of “Cinderella” (probably a Christmastime run). Alicja was released in 1982. That was when Wild’s career came to a grinding halt. From the early to late 1980’s, Wild was unemployed. He admitted that his constant state of drunkenness made it virtually impossible for him to work. He was also suffering from many other health issues, including diabetes and heart problems—including three cardiac arrests—which resulted in many hospital stays. He suffered yet another blow when his mother died in 1987, aged 59. (The cause of death has not been publicly reported.) Wild ended up being so broke and unemployable, he had to move in with his father.
The order in which some of the following events happened is unclear, but that’s unsurprising considering Wild said much of this time frame was just a blur to him later.
Sometime during the late 1970’s to late 1980’s, Wild tried a few stints in rehabilitation clinics (once courtesy of Pete Townsend, guitarist for The Who, who ran a charity that provided treatment to drug addicts and alcoholics). Wild successfully completed the six-week program and headed home. Before the end of the day, he went to an off-license to buy a bottle of champagne with which to celebrate his sobriety.
His wife stuck with him for almost ten years, but in the end she could no longer bear to watch him self-destruct. They divorced in 1985.
Finally, sometime in the very late 1980’s, a friend offered to take Wild to an Alcoholics Victorious meeting (AV sounds almost identical to Alcoholics Anonymous, but the two do not appear to be affiliated). Wild went, and the program worked for him (he claimed that part of it was the timing). As of March 6, 1989, Wild was finished with drinking alcohol.
Slowly, his career picked up steam. He had a few minor film roles, including Much in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Durgen Fleece in Moussaka & Chips (which starred his friend and Oliver! co-star, the multi-talented Ron Moody). However, the area in which his career rebounded the best was on the stage. He played many solid runs in pantomime, which is a British theater specialty comprised of comedy, music, dancing, and audience interaction, but, thankfully, no miming. If you’re familiar with The Rocky Horror Picture Show phenomenon, it’s similar to that, only live (and no toast). Some of his work included roles in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Aladdin,” “Cinderella” (three times), and “Jack and the Beanstalk” (spoiler alert: it was during this 1995-1996 production when he met his second wife, Claire Harding).
In 2001 Wild was diagnosed with oral cancer. Sometimes 40 years of smoking will do that to you. His decades of abusing alcohol probably didn’t help. (Don’t come after me; Wild himself said the same thing.) To his credit, he didn’t blame his circumstances on his youthful fame. He said in his autobiography, “I believed I’d have been a heavy drinker in any case. My brother Arthur also drank too much and ended up in hospital because of the booze.
“Rather than my success unbalancing me, I think it balanced me out. Without it I would have been capable of anything, even murder. Some of my family ended up on the wrong side of the law, and I think I would have been there too if it hadn’t been for my success; my success did not destroy me, it saved me.”
He reportedly went through chemotherapy treatments, and lived a relatively normal life for the next few years. Then, in July 2004, doctors determined that he needed to have some/all of his tongue and voice box removed. That operation left him mute for the rest of his life, and he had to rely on Harding to help him communicate with others. However…that didn’t stop him from acting in a “Cinderella” pantomime later that year. His part in the play was rewritten to make his role (Baron Hardup) a silent one. (In this case, the miming is excused.)
2005 was an eventful year for Wild. His father died, and doctors informed him his cancer had returned. (It’s unclear in which order these two events happened.) One good thing that happened for him in 2005 was his September marriage to long-time love Harding in Bedford, Bedfordshire, UK (about 50 miles/80 km north of London).
In the late hours of March 1, 2006, Wild died at his home.
Though many people would have lamented about the unfairness of it all, Wild seemed accepting of his life’s journey. One thing he commented on often was how much fun he’d had in his life.
Wild is buried beneath a tasteful headstone in Toddington Parish Cemetery, Toddington, Bedfordshire, UK.
If you’re wondering what happened to Arthur Wild, see below. If you’re wondering what happened to Phil Collins, you’re obviously not a pop music fan.
September 8, 1951—September 20, 2000
Arthur Wild was born in Royton, Lancashire, United Kingdom, on September 8, 1951, to Jack and Vera Wild. One year and three weeks later, his brother, Jack, was welcomed into the family. The Wilds stayed in Royton until 1963 (or possibly 1960), when they relocated to Hounslow in west London, UK.
One day he and his brother were playing football/soccer in the local park when a teammate’s mother offered them the opportunity to get both fame and fortune. Sounds sketchy, I know, but the mom in question was talent agent June Collins, and the teammate in question was superstar musician and singer Phil Collins (well, he wasn’t a superstar at that time, but just a few years later….) Long story short (the long story is above if you want to read/re-read it), Wild auditioned for a part in the stage musical “Oliver!” and ended up scoring the lead role. Phil Collins was selected to play The Artful Dodger. Jack Wild was also chosen to play a part, but it was way down the list of sought-after roles.
For the next one or two years, Wild’s life became a whirlwind of classes (at the independent Barbara Speake Stage School in Acton, London), and rehearsals (at the New Theatre, now the Noel Coward Theatre, also in London). Wild also performed in a few television shows, the first credited one being in a series called The Wednesday Play, in which he appeared with his brother.
“Oliver!” closed in September 1966. (It had had a long run, starting on June 30, 1960—well before the Wild brothers were on the radar of anyone in show business.) It’s likely that Wild stayed in the play until its run ended. Based on the information available to the general public (me), Wild hadn’t received any tempting acting offers to lure him away from the stage the way his brother had.
There is no indication that Wild was ever offered another theater role. His television career didn’t really go anywhere either. He acted in a few more guest roles on various shows (including a two-part episode on The Doctors, two two-part episodes on Z Cars, and, allegedly, a two-month stint on Coronation Street in the summer of 1967.) His last credited role was a last-on the-credit-list part in an episode of Dixon of Dock Green in 1972.
When Wild’s younger brother hit the big time in 1968 and moved to Los Angeles to star in H. R. Pufnstuf, older brother Wild went along for the ride. He recorded a single (on a vinyl 45 r.p.m. record) for Capitol Records in 1970. There are rumors that he recorded other records as well, but there is no definitive online record of them.
Wild was reportedly also on the short list for a role in the Sid and Marty Krofft television series The Bugaloos in 1972, but he lost out to an actor I’ve never heard of before. I don’t know which role he was up for, but I’ve never heard of any of the show’s kid stars before. [Another rumor is that Phil Collins was on an even shorter short list for a role, but was passed by as well. If so, it didn’t seem to hamper his career much.]
Apparently Wild never scored a job an an American television show or stage play, despite living in LA, being the brother of the hotter-than-hot-at-the-time Jack Wild, having been the star of a hugely successful West End play, having the indirect support of the Krofft brothers, and actually having some talent.
Presumably, Wild moved back to the UK around the same time his brother did, which was probably around 1970-71.
There is not much published about Wild’s life after this. Actually, there’s nothing…except: on September 20, 2000, Wild was at his father’s house (it’s unclear whether Arthur Wild was living in the house with his father at the time) watching a football match. When the younger Wild went into the kitchen to make some tea for his dad, he collapsed. He was rushed to hospital and was diagnosed with a pancreatic abscess. He died the same day, 12 days after his 49th birthday. It was later reported that for many years he was in the habit of drinking 10 cans of “a malty brew” a day.
Wild is buried in Toddington Parish Cemetery, Toddington, Bedfordshire, UK, likely near his brother.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction or depression, please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s 24/7 National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
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