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Wilde, Cornel

WILDE, Cornel

Nationality: American. Born: Cornelius Louis Wilde in New York City, 13 October 1915. Education: Attended Townsend Harris High School, New York; studied art in Budapest; attended Columbia University, New York, briefly; College of the City of New York, premed degree; studied acting with Lee Strasberg. Family: Married 1) the actress Patricia Knight, 1938 (divorced 1951), one daughter; 2) the actress Jean Wallace, 1951 (divorced 1980), one son. Career: 1940—member of the U.S. Olympic training squad in saber; on stage in New York: debut in Moon over Mulberry Street, and in Olivier and Leigh's Romeo and Juliet on Broadway; film debut in The Lady with Red Hair: short contract with Warner Brothers; then contract with 20th Century-Fox; 1945—role in A Song to Remember brought national popularity and leading man status; 1955—formed Theodora Productions; first film directed was Storm Fear, 1956. Died: Of leukemia, in Los Angeles, 16 October 1989.

Films as Actor:


The Lady with Red Hair (Bernhardt) (bit role)


High Sierra (Walsh); Kisses for Breakfast (Seiler) (as Chet Oakley); The Perfect Snob (McCarey) (as Mike Lord)


Right to the Heart (Knockout) (Clemens); Life Begins at 8:30 (Pichel) (as Robert); Manila Calling (Leeds) (as Jeff Bailey)


Guest in the House (Brahm); Wintertime (Brahm) (as Freddie Austin)


A Thousand and One Nights (Green) (as Aladdin); A Song to Remember (Vidor) (as Chopin); Leave Her to Heaven (Stahl) (as Richard Harland)


The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (Sherman) (as Robin Hood); Centennial Summer (Preminger) (as Philippe Lascalles)


Forever Amber (Preminger) (as Bruce Carlton); It Had to Be You (Maté and Hartman) (as George/Johnny Blaine); Stairway for a Star (as Jimmy Banks); The Homestretch (Humberstone) (as Jock Wallace)


Road House (Negulesco) (as Pete Morgan); The Walls of Jericho (Stahl) (as Dave Connors)


Four Days Leave (Lindtberg) (as Stanley Robin); Shockproof (Sirk) (as Griff Marat)


Two Flags West (Wise) (as Captain Mark Bradford)


At Sword's Point (Sons of the Musketeers) (Allen) (as D'Artagnan); The Greatest Show on Earth (DeMille) (as Sebastian); Operation Secret (Seiler) (as Peter Forrester); California Conquest (Landers) (as Don Arturo Bordega)


Saadia (Lewin) (as Si Lahssen); Treasure of the Golden Condor (Daves) (as Jean-Paul); Main Street to Broadway (Garnett) (as himself); Star of India (Lewin) (as Pierre St. Laurent)


Passion (Dwan) (as Jean Obregon); Woman's World (Negulesco) (as Bill Baxter)


The Scarlet Coat (Sturges) (as Major John Bolton)


Hot Blood (Ray) (as Stephen Torino)


Omar Khayyam (Dieterle) (title role); Beyond Mombasa (Marshall) (as Matt Campbell)


Edge of Eternity (Siegel) (as Lee Martin)


Constantine the Great (Constantine and the Cross) (De Felice) (title role)


The Comic (Reiner and Ruben) (as Frank Powers)


Gargoyles (Norton—for TV) (as Mercer Boley)


The Norseman (Pierce) (as Raynar)


The Fifth Musketeer (Annakin) (as D'Artagnan, + co-sc)


Flesh and Bullets (Tobalina)

Films as Producer:


The Big Combo (Lewis) (+ ro as Diamond)


No Blade of Grass (+ d, ro as narrator)


Shark's Treasure (+ d, sc, ro as Jim)

Films as Director:


Storm Fear (+ ro as Charlie); The Devil's Hairpin (+ ro as Nick Jargin)


Maracaibo (+ ro as Bic Scott)


Lancelot and Guinevere (Sword of Lancelot) (+ ro as Lancelot)


The Naked Prey (+ title role)


Beach Red (+ ro as Captain MacDonald)


By WILDE: articles—

"Survival!," interview in Films and Filming (London), October 1970.

Interview in Film Reader (Evanston, Illinois), no. 2, January 1977.

On WILDE: books—

Parish, James Robert, and Don E. Stanke, The Swashbucklers, New Rochelle, New York, 1976.

Richards, Jeffrey, Swordsmen of the Screen: From Douglas Fairbanks to Michael York, London, 1977.

On WILDE: articles—

Coen, John, "Producer-Director Cornel Wilde," in Film Comment (New York), spring 1970.

Photoplay (London), February 1981.

Obituary in Variety (New York), 18 October 1989.

Krohn, B., "Cornel Wilde, cinéaste," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1989.

Brock, A., "Cornel Wilde—My Good Hungarian Friend," in Classic Images (Muscatine), April 1992.

Atkinson, Michael, "Naked Prey," in Film Comment (New York), November-December 1996.

* * *

In spite of an early Academy Award nomination for best actor in A Song to Remember, Cornel Wilde has been remembered as a reliable masculine presence in a series of half-remembered films. Occasionally, as in DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth, Wilde stood out. His vain trapeze artist who sees the light was a commentary on some of his earlier swashbuckling roles.

As an actor-director-producer, however, Cornel Wilde deserves a vote as the most neglected creator in film of the last quarter of a century. Wilde directed eight films, starring in all but one. He began his career as an independent producer with The Big Combo in 1955. In all of the films he controlled, Wilde's character had to face extreme natural and physical danger, and prove himself equal to them or be destroyed. As director and actor Wilde always chose to shoot on location, to experience the danger himself. On more than one occasion, Wilde, a former collegiate fencer, risked death to get a shot.

Wilde's commitment was so complete that Shark's Treasure may rank as one of the most dangerous movies ever made. During the filming, on a small island in the Caribbean, Wilde and his crew actually battled sharks in single takes with no help from the magic of editing. In another sequence, the cast has to make its way through surf which can best be described as terrifying. As in his other films, Wilde clearly tests himself and his cast as he does his fictional characters.

In The Naked Prey Wilde's concept of individuality, survival, and loyalty is clearly evident. The film contains only a few lines of English dialogue. It is virtually a silent tour de force for Wilde. The tactile element in Naked Prey is, perhaps, one of the most singular features. Death and torture are graphic, nightmarishly so. The natives—initially seen as loathesomely barbaric—club, bake, stab, and torment their victims. Wilde, running naked through the jungle, tastes a plant, eats a snake, tumbles down a rocky waterfall, dances wildly in a brush fire. One by one, his pursuers catch him, and fall in individual and personal combat. As they pursue and die, mourn and argue, fight and weep, they become personalized and human for the viewer. The question, "What is a villain?," is made uncertain, as it is when dealing with the Japanese in Beach Red, the murderous young man in No Blade of Grass, and Lobo in Shark's Treasure.

—Stuart M. Kaminsky

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