Cornel Wilde


Actor, Director
Cornel Wilde

About

Also Known As
Jefferson Pascal, Cornelius Louis Wilde
Birth Place
New York City, New York, USA
Born
October 13, 1912
Died
October 16, 1989
Cause of Death
Leukemia

Biography

Handsome leading men were hardly in short supply in Hollywood during the 1940s, but Cornel Wilde was a unique specimen. Fluent in several languages and good with accents, he was also highly athletic and often emphasized physicality in his performances. As a former member of the U.S. fencing team, he was able to utilize skills that made him a desirable lead for period swashbucklers, a la ...

Photos & Videos

Family & Companions

Patricia Knight
Wife
Actor. Married September 29, 1937; divorced 1951.
Jean Wallace
Wife
Actor, businesswoman. Married 1951, divorced 1981.

Biography

Handsome leading men were hardly in short supply in Hollywood during the 1940s, but Cornel Wilde was a unique specimen. Fluent in several languages and good with accents, he was also highly athletic and often emphasized physicality in his performances. As a former member of the U.S. fencing team, he was able to utilize skills that made him a desirable lead for period swashbucklers, a la Errol Flynn. It also did not hurt that he was an effective dramatic performer and proved it when he earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for "A Song to Remember" (1945) early on in his career. He also did laudable work in successful productions like "Leave Her to Heaven" (1945), "Forever Amber" (1947), and "Road House" (1948) during his tenure at 20th Century Fox. Wilde also carved out a successful second career behind the camera as a producer, director and sometime screenwriter. His later credits in this vein included such graphic, groundbreaking films as the jungle adventure "The Naked Prey" (1966), the Vietnam drama "Beach Red" (1967), and the post-apocalyptic thriller "No Blade of Grass" (1970). An intelligent and able performer, Wilde was a solid actor and also an unfairly overlooked directorial talent of that era.

Kornel Lajos Weisz was born in Prievidza, Hungary on Oct. 13, 1912 and adopted the anglicized name Cornelius Louis Wilde when his family immigrated to the United States a few years later. Interested in pursuing a performing career, Wilde studied under acting teacher Lee Strasberg and earned parts in Broadway productions like "Moon Over Mulberry Street" (1935-36) and "Having Wonderful Time" (1937-38). During this period, the tall, handsome, multilingual Wilde married aspiring actress Patricia Knight and got his first taste of the West Coast when he was offered a role in Laurence Olivier's forthcoming production of "Romeo and Juliet" (1940). As star Vivien Leigh was completing a movie, the company rehearsed in Los Angeles even though the show was to be staged on Broadway. While in California, Wilde was put under contract by Warner Bros., and after completing his role as Tybalt for Olivier, he played a handful of uncredited movie parts and scored his first significant role in the Humphrey Bogart/Ida Lupino thriller "High Sierra" (1941). He was subsequently cast in minor fare like "Knockout" (1941) and "Kisses for Breakfast" (1941) before being dropped by the studio after only half a year.

After several months of unemployment - during which he was told, among other things, that his skin was too yellow for color movies - Wilde was picked up by 20th Century Fox. While on loan out to Columbia, he starred as legendary composer Frédéric Chopin in "A Song to Remember" (1945) opposite Merle Oberon and earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his work. That notice and the film's significant financial success earned Wilde many roles in the years to come. He split his time between Columbia and Fox, appearing in notable films like the Gene Tierney hit drama "Leave Her to Heaven" (1945), "The Bandit of Sherwood Forest" (1946), "Forever Amber" (1947), the terrific film noir "Road House" (1948), and "Shockproof" (1949), the latter also featuring his wife. However, the couple's marriage had not fared well. Knight accused Wilde of excessive jealousy and being overly dominant in her life. They divorced in 1951. Not wasting any time, later that year Wilde wed actress Jean Wallace, who shared his gift for languages and would go on to appear in a number of his films.

Throughout his career, Wilde was one of the fittest actors in the business and his physical prowess earned him a role in Cecil B. DeMille's big-budget circus drama "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952). Wilde had to overcome a fear of heights in order to play trapeze artist The Great Sebastian, but acquitted himself well. While the film went on to win the Best Picture prize, it did not age well and, in later years, the plodding, dramatically unsound picture would be regarded as one of the worst productions to win the top Academy prize. Wilde was also able to display skills he gained two decades earlier while a member of the U.S. fencing team when cast as the Musketeer D'Artagnon in "At Sword's Point" (1952). The multi-talent also helped with the film's action choreography.

Wilde expanded his repertoire during the 1950s by earning his first directorial credit via an episode of "General Electric Theater" (CBS, 1953-1962) called "The Blond Dog," in which he co-starred with Wallace. It was unusual during this time for an actor to direct himself, but Wilde wished to take the next step into features. He persevered and formed Theodora Productions, making a deal with United Artists for distribution of the effective crime thriller "Storm Fear" (1955), which he both directed and produced from a screenplay by future Pulitzer Prize winner Horton Foote. As the project's leading man, Wilde also had a change of pace as he played a villain rather than the sort of conventional lead role the studios usually assigned him. In light of the picture's success, Wilde's directorial career was established and he would also write some of his future films, using the pseudonym Jefferson Pascal. His most important credit of this period, however, was the stylish and thrilling film noir "The Big Combo" (1955) from cult director Joseph H. Lewis.

Wilde went back to wearing multiple hats on "The Devil's Hairpin" (1957), "Maracaibo" (1958) and the British production "Sword of Lancelot" (1963), and also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In the mid-1960s, he produced, directed and starred in two remarkably vivid, ahead-of-their-time pictures. Shot on magnificent South Africa locations, "The Naked Prey" (1966) concerned a white safari guide (Wilde) forced to participate in "the most dangerous game" by a group of natives who wiped out his compatriots. A lean and exciting adventure with almost no dialogue, the film boasted remarkable visuals and surprisingly stark violence. One of the earliest films to document the horrors of the Vietnam conflict and the futility of war, the powerful "Beach Red" (1967) was also uncharacteristically bloody for the era.

After two such hard-hitting movies, Wilde took a supporting role in Carl Reiner's "The Comic" (1969), but was soon behind the camera once again. Impressed by the British science fiction novel "The Death of Grass," Wilde sought to turn it into a movie and was finally able to convince rights holder MGM to allow him to produce and direct. The resulting motion picture, entitled "No Blade of Grass" (1970), anticipated the wave of post-apocalyptic films that arrived a decade later. However, the studio did not know what to do with the bleak, violent movie and it was never widely distributed. He took a brief vacation from the big screen to star in the made-for-TV horror film "Gargoyles" (CBS, 1972), which developed a cult following despite suffering from the artistic limitations of such productions.

Wilde was soon back with "Shark's Treasure" (1975), in which he played the leader of some fortune-seeking adventurers who end up having more trouble from a group of convicts than the promised deep sea predators. Not one of Wilde's better efforts, the film also had the misfortune to open in U.S. theaters two and a half months before the Steven Spielberg smash "Jaws" (1975) and might have done more business had it rode on that blockbuster's coattails. In the wake of affairs by both parties, Wilde and Wallace ended their marriage in 1981 and the actor's career remained quiet, save for a role in "Flesh and Bullets" (1985) opposite fellow Golden Age vets Yvonne DeCarlo, Cesar Romero and Aldo Ray. The low-grade crime drama was not widely released and turned out to be Wilde's last film, a most undeserving swan song. The actor's final performance was in a 1987 episode of the Angela Lansbury perennial "Murder She Wrote" (CBS, 1984-1996). He died of leukemia two years later on Oct. 16, 1989.

By John Charles

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Shark's Treasure (1975)
Director
No Blade of Grass (1970)
Director
Beach Red (1967)
Director
The Naked Prey (1966)
Director
Maracaibo (1958)
Director
The Devil's Hairpin (1957)
Director
Storm Fear (1956)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Flesh and Bullets (1985)
The Fifth Musketeer (1979)
The Norseman (1978)
Ragnar
Shark's Treasure (1975)
Gargoyles (1972)
Mercer Boley
The Comic (1969)
Frank Powers
Beach Red (1967)
Captain MacDonald
The Naked Prey (1966)
Man
Sword of Lancelot (1963)
Sir Lancelot
Constantine and the Cross (1962)
Constantine
Edge of Eternity (1959)
Les Martin
Maracaibo (1958)
Vic Scott
The Devil's Hairpin (1957)
Nick Jargin
Omar Khayyam (1957)
Omar Khayyam
Beyond Mombasa (1957)
Matt Campbell
Hot Blood (1956)
Stephano Torino
Storm Fear (1956)
Charlie Blake
Star of India (1956)
Pierre St. Laurent
The Scarlet Coat (1955)
Maj. John Bolton
The Big Combo (1955)
Lt. Leonard Diamond
Saadia (1954)
Si Lahssen
Passion (1954)
Juan Obreon
Woman's World (1954)
Bill Baxter
Main Street to Broadway (1953)
Himself
Treasure of the Golden Condor (1953)
Jean-Paul
At Sword's Point (1952)
D'Artagnan
Operation Secret (1952)
Peter Forrester
California Conquest (1952)
Don Arturo Bordega
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
The Great Sebastian
Two Flags West (1950)
Capt. Mark Bradford
Shockproof (1949)
Griff Marat
Road House (1948)
Pete Morgan
The Walls of Jericho (1948)
Dave Connors
It Had to Be You (1947)
George McKesson/Johnny Blaine
Forever Amber (1947)
Bruce Carlton
The Homestretch (1947)
Jock Wallace
Leave Her to Heaven (1946)
Richard Harland
Centennial Summer (1946)
Philippe Lascalles
Stairway for a Star (1946)
Jimmy Banks
The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (1946)
Robert of Nottingham, the Son of Robin Hood
A Song to Remember (1945)
Frédéric Chopin
A Thousand and One Nights (1945)
Aladdin
Wintertime (1943)
Freddy Austin
Manila Calling (1942)
Jeff Bailey
Life Begins at Eight-Thirty (1942)
Robert Carter
High Sierra (1941)
Louis Mendoza
Kisses for Breakfast (1941)
Chet Oakley
Knockout (1941)
Tom Rosse
The Perfect Snob (1941)
Mike Lord
Lady with Red Hair (1940)
Man in boardinghouse

Writer (Feature Film)

Shark's Treasure (1975)
Screenplay
The Devil's Hairpin (1957)
Writer

Producer (Feature Film)

Shark's Treasure (1975)
Producer
No Blade of Grass (1970)
Producer
Beach Red (1967)
Producer
The Naked Prey (1966)
Producer
Sword of Lancelot (1963)
Executive prod-Director
Maracaibo (1958)
Producer
The Devil's Hairpin (1957)
Producer
Storm Fear (1956)
Producer

Music (Feature Film)

The Devil's Hairpin (1957)
Composer

Film Production - Main (Feature Film)

The Flying Fontaines (1959)
Aerialist tech adv

Cast (Special)

Your Choice For the Film Awards (1987)
Host

Life Events

1936

Quit US fencing team before Berlin Olympics

1940

Hired as fencing instructor and played Tybalt in Olivier's Broadway production of "Romeo and Juliet"

1940

Hired by Warner Bros.; Film acting debut in "The Lady with Red Hair"

1941

Signed with 20th Century-Fox

1955

Film directing and producing debut, (also actor), "Storm Fear" (screenplay by Horton Foote)

1955

Formed Theodora Productions; first film under Theodora banner, "Storm Fear"

Photo Collections

Leave Her to Heaven - Movie Posters
Here are a few original-release movie posters from Fox's Leave Her to Heaven (1946), starring Gene Tierney. This is an Insert poster, measuring 14 x 36 inches.
The Big Combo - Movie Posters
Here are a few original release American movie posters for The Big Combo (1955), starring Cornel Wilde.

Videos

Movie Clip

Hot Blood (1956) - Suspicion Of Being Gypsies Los Angeles gypsy Marco (Luther Adler) and gang at the police station where they spring guests Papa (Joseph Calleia), betrothed Annie (Jane Russell) and Xano (Russell's brother Jamie), then groom Sephano/Steve (Cornel Wilde) with his concurrent girlfriend (Helen Westcott), early in Nicholas Ray's Hot Blood, 1956.
Hot Blood (1956) - So, She Dances At her arranged wedding to L-A gypsy Stefan (Cornel Wilde), in-from-Chicago Annie (Jane Russell) has, of her own accord, abandoned their agreed-upon plan to call off the ceremony, instead beginning a traditional dance, with a whip, a wild scene from Nicholas Ray's Hot Blood, 1956.
Shockproof (1949) - Change Your Brand Of Men Nifty opening by director Douglas Sirk and co-screenwriters Helen Deutsch and Samuel Fuller, introducing female lead Patricia Knight, who joins her then-husband Cornel Wilde, who reveals the nature of their character's business, in Shockproof, 1949.
Forever Amber (1947) - I Make No Claim On Your Freedom In London to petition king Charles Stuart for privateering ships, noblemen Bruce (Cornel Wilde) and Harry (Richard Greene) are irritated to discover the impetuous Puritan girl they met in the countryside (Linda Darnell, the title character) in their rooms, in the extravagant Technicolor historical melodrama Forever Amber, 1947.
Forever Amber (1947) - Never Lead With The Ace Queen Summoned late at night to Whitehall by the king Charles Stuart (George Sanders), Carlton (Cornel Wilde), with sidekick Harry (Richard Greene), infers that the monarch has chosen to grant him the ships he wants, to keep him away from his own paramour Barbara (Natalie Draper), with whom he plays Piquet, in Otto Preminger’s Forever Amber, 1947.
Forever Amber (1947) - You Didn't Tell Me You Had An Uncle Clever shooting by director Otto Preminger, as Linda Darnell (title character) is now a London actress, pursued by wealthy Radcliffe (Richard Haydn), attended by her fellow former prisoner Nan (Jessica Tandy), thrilled to see old pal Harry (Richard Greene), who upsets her current sponsor Morgan (Glenn Langan), in Forever Amber, 1947.
Forever Amber (1947) - England Is Aflame Producer Darryl Zanuck and director Otto Preminger attempt the rare double-prologue, leading to the rural Puritan household of Leo G. Carroll, and top-billed Linda Darnell as the already rebellious title character, in the multi-million dollar 20th Century-Fox production from the Kathleen Winsor novel, Forever Amber, 1947.
Thousand And One Nights, A (1945) - No Man May Gaze Upon The Princess Following the opening in which they got in trouble in the market in Baghdad, Alladin (Cornel Wilde) and Abdullah (Phil Silvers) are hiding when the Princess Armina (Adele Jergens) happens to be carried along, wooing ensuing, in Columbia’s A Thousand And One Nights, 1945, also starring Evelyn Keyes.
Thousand And One Nights, A (1945) - I Can't Believe My Eyes Highly decorative Columbia stars, Adele Jergens as princess Armina, attended by the model and WWII pin-up Ruth “Dusty” Anderson as Novira, (who would soon retire from pictures and become Mrs. Jean Negulesco), pursued by Cornel Wilde as Alladin, with another song (vocal by Tom Clark) by Saul Chaplin and Eddie de Lange, in A Thousand And One Nights, 1945.
Thousand And One Nights, A (1945) - Is There Anything You Want? At last the introduction of sassy genie Babs (Evelyn Keyes, who shared top billing), well into the fourth reel, as Alladin (Cornel Wilde) and Abdullah (Phil Silvers) are stuck in a cave, left only with the lamp they fear is not magical, with more modern-day comic posturing, in Columbia’s big-budget A Thousand And One Nights, 1945.
Thousand And One Nights, A (1945) - I Could Have Sworn That Was Lana Turner Opening the pricey Columbia Technicolor feature, Phil Silvers is the bespectacled oddball Abdullah, the real Lana Turner in a cameo, then Cornel Wilde as the hunky Alladin, his vocal dubbed by Tom Clark, song by Saul Chaplin and Eddie de Lange, in A Thousand And One Nights, 1945, also starring Adele Jergens and Evelyn Keyes.
Naked Prey, The (1966) -- (Original Trailer) Original trailer for producer, director and star Cornel Wilde’s well-received African manhunt drama, The Naked Prey, 1966.

Trailer

Companions

Patricia Knight
Wife
Actor. Married September 29, 1937; divorced 1951.
Jean Wallace
Wife
Actor, businesswoman. Married 1951, divorced 1981.

Bibliography