Who will ever forget the brilliant performance that Jack Wild gave as the Artful Dodger in Lionel Bart's Musical 'Oliver!' and how many 15 year olds can boast having an Oscar Nomination?
Born in September 1952, in Royton, near Oldham, Manchester, Jack Wild was discovered by talent agent June Collins (mother of Phil) whilst playing football in a London park with his brother, Arthur. The boys were enrolled into an actors school, and at the tender age of 11, Jack was sent on auditions. His break happened , when, like many other boys, he was sent to audition for the stage version of 'Oliver!' in London. The Artful Dodger role went to Davy Jones (later to join 'the Monkees'), but when those same boys went to the casting of the Film, the plum role went to Jack. This part won the young 15 year old actor an Oscar nomination for Best Suporting Actor.
At the Hollywood premiere of the film, Jack was introduced to US puppeteers Sid and Marty Croft, who then offered him the lead role in their Saturday morning TV show 'H.R. Pufnstuf'. Jack and his brother moved to the US and lived with the Crofts and their family, whilst they filmed the 17 episodes, and went onto produce a film version based on the show. Jack became the darling of the teen magazines, went on to produce 3 albums, and appeared in other films, including Alan Parke's first film 'Melody' in 1971. However by 1972, his popularity was beginning to wane, and he was reduced to becoming a supporting actor in 'The Pied Piper', gradually fading from the limelight altogether.
He became plagued with a life of obscurity, depression and alcohol abuse, as explained by this heartfelt piece, written years later in August 2000, to the new young hopeful, Daniel Radcliffe:
What to do about Harry Potter
by Jack Wild
"Congratulations to Daniel Radcliffe, the 11 year old British boy chosen to play Harry Potter in what seems likely to be one of the great movie and marketing sensations of the decade.
Overnight, Daniel has been thrust into the international limelight, although he did play the part of David Copperfield in last year's BBC adaption of the novel.
By the time the Harry Potter film is released, he will be a world-class star, hyped to high heaven--just as I was in 1968 when the brilliant Lionel Bart/Carol Reed film Oliver! came out to such popular acclaim. I was 15 when I was given the chance to be the Artful Dodger. I was lucky to play such a fantastic character, one which the public took to heart. And, with so much going for me, you might have thought I could hardly go wrong.
But I achieved the impossible. Like other child stars, I paid a high price for my instant success. I hope and believe that Daniel can avoid my mistakes. I do not complain about my lot. My failed marriage is well behind me and, at 47, I am no longer an alcoholic. I live modestly, but happily with my girlfriend, the actress Claire Harding, and I am writing my autobiography. I earn a perfectly good living with film and television work, often in America.
Yet, 32 years ago, at an age when most youngsters are preparing for their GCSEs, I was suddenly a jet setter, briefly the toast of Hollywood and London's West End. My immature wishes and naive opinions were treated with respect. It was all so flattering and seductive that if you were not careful, you came to believe that you really deserved instant superstar treatment. That was part of my problem. That, and an addictive craving for booze, which was to do me and my family so much harm.
So, at an even earlier age than I was when my life was transformed, Daniel is going to have to cope with the wonderful opportunities as well as the tremendous strains and temptations of stardom. On the one hand, I still remember the sheer excitement of flying first class, seeing New York and Hollywood, meeting world-famous people, and having more than enough money to look after my parents, who were originally mill workers from Manchester. After moving to London, my dad became a laborer and my mum was, for a while, a butcher. They had sacrificed everything to send me to stage school and I wanted to do my best for them.
But I think of the world into which I was catapulted. 'You want booze? You want drugs? You want girls? No problem, Jack. Whatever you want we can fix it.' I can remember going to parties where the 'nibbles' were great bowls of LSD, marijuana, cocaine, uppers and downers. I remember my jaw dropping when I saw for the first time the stunningly sexy young ladies who were hanging on my every word. Suddenly I thought I was Jack The Lad.
As an inexperienced teenager from Hounslow, West London, it took me some time to realize that these charming creatures were professional hookers, there only to flatter and to do anything I wanted. In fact, I was a traditional working-class lad and I stuck to the booze. But down the years I paid a heavy price for my old-fashioned, some would say these days, 'rather tame' addiction.
Because I needed somebody I trusted, and whose only interest was my well-being, I hired my father as my agent. He did brilliantly and I can never thank him enough for trying to protect me from myself--and from the sharks who circled around all instant stars. But the trouble was that Dad was not experienced in the ways of the showbiz world and we made mistakes. For example, it is often said that I made $2 million in 1969 from two American television series. Well, somebody did, but the money did not come to me. I don't know what happened to it.
With luck, Daniel will avoid such problems because his mother is a casting agent and his father a literary agent. They surely know infinitely more about the wicked ways of the showbiz world. But another problem for Daniel is going to be the sheer power he will exercise on set and off. In theory all I needed to do was throw a tantrum and anyone could have been thrown off the set. Not, as I hasten to add, that I ever behaved that way. But he should take care. That sort of thing does not make many friends, and you must always remember that the people you meet on your way up are often those you meet again on your way down.
Finally, Daniel must beware of the famous people who will queue for his attention and hang on his every word. I can tell him now that there are plenty of successful people who are sad and lonely and insecure enough to grovel for a moment of his time once he becomes a star. He must ignore their blandishments.
So I wish him well and I would not for one moment deny him his wonderful opportunity in the sun. But I hope he can learn from the downs as well as the wonderful ups of my career.
Steer clear of temptations. Keep your feet on the ground. Don't believe all the hype. And, above all, enjoy fame and fortune while they last, for they can be fickle.
I know, I learned the hard way."
Jack in late 2005 (AP Photo/Cancer Research UK)
Jack now clean and sober, started to rebuild his life, with a new partner, actress Claire Harding, small roles in films such as 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves' in 1991 and 'Basil' in 1998, and appearances in stage productions and Pantomime. He also started the process of writing his autobiography. The years of drinking took their toll on Jacks' health however, as he became diabetic, and in 2000 he was diagnosed with throat cancer. In 2004 he had to have emergency surgery to remove his tongue and voice box, due to a returning cancerous growth found in his mouth. In 2005 he gave an interview about his cancer, citing his hard drinking and heavy smoking as being the cause, and describing his disease as being a 'walking time bomb'.
Jack died peacefully in his sleep, in March 2006, after a long battle with oral cancer.