Jack Wild

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Jack Wild
Jack Wild, 1970
Born (1952-09-30)30 September 1952
Royton, Lancashire, England
Died 1 March 2006(2006-03-01) (aged 53)
Tebworth, Bedfordshire, England
Cause of death Cancer
Occupation Actor, singer
Years active 1964–2006
Spouse(s) Gaynor Jones (1976–1985)
Claire Harding (2005–2006 his death)

Jack Wild (30 September 1952 – 1 March 2006) was an English actor and singer, known for his teenage performances as the Artful Dodger in Oliver! (film) (1968) and as Jimmy in the NBC children's television series H.R. Pufnstuf (1969) and accompanying 1970 feature film. He played Much the Miller's Son in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991).

The film of Lionel Bart's musical, Oliver! earned him Golden Globe Award and BAFTA Award nominations, plus a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. As Jimmy, he was the protagonist of the television series and feature film about a boy befriended by a friendly dragon named H.R. Pufnstuf, produced by Sid and Marty Krofft.

Jack Wild (right) with Oliver! co-star Mark Lester at the 41st Annual Academy Awards, 14 April 1969.

Early life[edit]

Wild was born into a working class family in the small industrial town of Royton, Lancashire, to parents who worked in the local cotton mills.[1] Their family lived in a two bedroom cottage in the country, roughly twenty miles away from any commercial establishment. Wild moved to Hounslow with his parents and older brother Arthur (himself an actor, unfortunately not as popular as his younger brother) in 1960.[2] He was discovered whilst playing football by theatrical agent June Collins, the mother of one of Jack's team-mates, Phil Collins[1] (himself a child actor, who would go on to become a member of Genesis and a well-known solo vocal artist).

June Collins enrolled both Jack and Arthur at the Barbara Speake Stage School, an independent school in Acton in West London.

Entertainment career[edit]

Wild with the title character in the NBC children's series H.R. Pufnstuf, 1969

The Wild brothers sought acting roles to supplement their parents' income and, in the autumn of 1964, both were cast in a West End theatre production of Lionel Bart's Oliver!, Arthur in the title role, and Jack as a member of Fagin's gang, Charley Bates.[3] Although Jack auditioned as The Artful Dodger for several subsequent stage productions of Oliver!, he was always turned down because he was too short.[4] He stayed with the show until the spring of 1966, when he left to make the film serial Danny the Dragon for the Children's Film Foundation.[5] Wild's first speaking roles on TV were an episode of Out of the Unknown, and the third part of the BBC’s version of the Wesker Trilogy, I’m Talking About Jerusalem. By the time Wild was chosen to portray the Artful Dodger for the 1968 movie version of Oliver! he already had also appeared in episodes of Z Cars, The Newcomers (TV series), and George and the Dragon (TV series). He received critical acclaim and several nominations for his appearance as the Artful Dodger:

It was at the 1968 premiere of Oliver! that Wild met brothers Sid and Marty Krofft, who thought he would make a good lead for a show they were developing called H.R. Pufnstuf. Wild starred in this American family television series that launched in 1969. He was to be paid $1,000,000 to play "Jimmy", a boy washed up on "Living Island" (a magic island) with his best friend Freddy, a talking flute, although Jack stated in 2001 that he never received the money. He starred in the movie Pufnstuf (1970). Other roles followed, including the films Melody (1971) (with Oliver! co-star Mark Lester) and Flight of the Doves (1971). The latter film reunited him with Ron Moody, who had played Fagin in Oliver!.

Wild also embarked on a recording career, cutting one album for Capitol Records- containing the single "Some Beautiful" that received a lot of airplay on Radio Luxembourg, but didn't chart very highly - and two for Buddah Records in the early 1970s. The three albums were called The Jack Wild Album, Everything's Coming Up Roses and Beautiful World.[6]

At the height of his acting career, Jack usually acted younger than he was. For H.R. Pufnstuf, Wild was a seventeen-year-old playing a boy who was eleven.

"When I first entered in the show business," Jack said in 1999," Of course I didn't mind playing younger roles. However it did bug me when I would be twenty-one being offered the role of a thirteen-year-old. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy playing these roles; I had barrels of fun, I just wanted more serious and dramatic roles; it's that simple."

During the early 1970s, Wild was considered "one of the world's teen heartthrobs," alongside David Cassidy and Barry Williams. With large hazel eyes, a somewhat pug nose and freckles, Jack was loved and adored by many girls across the globe. "I received roughly 2,000 fan letters a week," he stated in 1989. "I never left any one of them blank. I always answered, even if I was exhausted. I really thought it was one of the most important things."

While Jack and Arthur were at Barbara Speake stage school, Jack met Welsh-born actress Gaynor Jones when they were around twelve years old. After he left the school in '68, he didn't see her again until Christmas of 1970, when she was hosting a Christmas party. Then, after seeing her for the first time in four years, he got her number and they were soon dating. They married on Valentine's Day 1976 (Wild was 23 years old and Jones was 22).


Wild struggled to make the transition to adult stardom. He had begun smoking at the age of 12, and by age 17 was drinking heavily.

At age 21 he was already an alcoholic and a diabetic. This did not help him find acting work, and by 1976 his film career was badly stalled. In 1981 he was supposed to star with Suzi Quatro in a series about a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde for British television, but it was cancelled at the last minute. His alcoholism ruined both his career and marriage to Gaynor, who left him in 1985 because of his excessive drinking.[3]

After exhausting his remaining fortune Wild lived with his retired father for a few years.[2] His alcoholism caused three cardiac arrests and resulted in several hospital stays until he stopped drinking in 1989.[2] Wild later admitted his alcoholism was so debilitating during this period that from the late 1970s until he went sober, he was incapable of doing any kind of work.[7]

Career restarts[edit]

Wild unsuccessfully attempted various alcoholism rehabilitation programmes and finally gave up drinking on 6 March 1989 after joining Alcoholics Victorious.[7] He returned to the big screen in a few minor roles, such as in the 1991 Kevin Costner film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and as a peddler in Basil (1998).[4] For the most part, Wild spent the remainder of his career working in theatre. His last major appearance was as the male lead, "Mouse", in Tayla Goodman's rock musical Virus. The show ran for two weeks at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham. For his final film appearance, Wild had a minor role in Moussaka & Chips (2000), where he once again worked with Ron Moody.[4]


Wild died on 1 March 2006 at age 53 after a long battle with mouth cancer, which he blamed on his drinking and/or smoking.[3][8] Diagnosed with the disease in 2000, he initially underwent chemotherapy, but later had part of his tongue and both vocal cords removed in July 2004.[3] Because of this surgery, he had lost his speech and had to communicate through his wife, Claire Harding, who he met when they were appearing in Jack and the Beanstalk in Worthing.[3] Wild was reportedly working on his autobiography, but died before it could be completed.[9]

Wild's body was buried in Toddington Parish Cemetery, Bedfordshire.[10]


At the time of his death, Wild and his widow, Claire Harding, had been working on his autobiography. It was completed by Claire, who explained: 'All the material was there when Jack died, it just needed rearranging, editing, and, in certain sections, writing out from transcripts Jack and I made as we recorded him talking about his life.'[11] In 2016, his autobiography, It's a Dodger's Life was finally published by Fantom Films (ISBN 978-1-78196-266-4) with a foreword by Pufnstuf co-star Billie Hayes, an afterword by Clive Francis, and an epilogue by Claire Harding.[12]


List of acting performances in film and television
Title Year Alternate titles Role Notes
Oliver! 1968 The Artful Dodger 1st film to co-star with Mark Lester[3] and Ron Moody.
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated – BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer
H.R. Pufnstuf 1969 Jimmy TV series
Pufnstuf 1970 Pufnstuf Zaps the World Jimmy
Melody 1971 S.W.A.L.K. Ornshaw 2nd and last film to co-star with Mark Lester.[3]
Flight of the Doves 1971 Finn Dove 2nd film to co-star with Ron Moody.
Pied Piper, TheThe Pied Piper 1972 Gavin
14, TheThe 14 1973 Existence (USA)
The Wild Little Bunch (USA)
Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1973 Himself Guest Appearance
Keep It Up Downstairs 1976 Peregrine Cockshute
Alicja 1982 Mock Turtle
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves 1991 Much the Miller's Son
Basil 1998 Peddler
Moussaka & Chips 2005 Durgen Fleece 3rd and last film to co-star with Ron Moody. Last film




List of singles, with selected chart positions
Title Year Peak chart positions
UK[13] US
"Some Beautiful" 1970 46 92
"Wait For Summer" 1970 115
"(Holy Moses!) Everything's Coming Up Roses" 1971 107
"—" denotes releases that did not chart.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Child star Jack Wild, the Artful Dodger, dies of cancer aged 53". The Guardian. London. 3 March 2006. 
  2. ^ a b c "Jack Wild". The Daily Telegraph. London. 3 March 2006. ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 5 September 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Jack Wild". The Independent. 3 March 2006. 
  4. ^ a b c "Jack Wild - Biography". IMDb. Amazon.com. Retrieved 24 December 2013. 
  5. ^ "Official Jack Wild Website - Theatre Work". 
  6. ^ "Jack Wild: Albums". CMT.com. MTV Networks. Retrieved 5 September 2010. 
  7. ^ a b Ian Wylie (29 December 2004). "Jack's Wild life | Manchester Evening News". menmedia.co.uk. Retrieved 30 April 2012. 
  8. ^ "My lifestyle caused my mouth cancer". BBC News, Health. BBC. 16 November 2005. Retrieved 5 September 2010. 
  9. ^ "Oliver! star Jack Wild dies at 53". BBC. 2006-03-02. Retrieved 2016-04-10. 
  10. ^ "Jack Wild (1952 - 2006)". Find A Grave. 2 March 2006. Retrieved 5 September 2010. 
  11. ^ Wild, Jack (2016). It’s a Dodger’s Life. Fantom Publishing. ISBN 978-1-78196-266-4.
  12. ^ Published by Fantom Films (ISBN 978-1-78196-266-4)
  13. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 601. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 


  • Wild, Jack. Autobiography: It's A Dodger's Life, Fantom Films 2016. Hardback edition ISBN 978-1-78196-266-4
  • Holmstrom, John. The Moving Picture Boy: An International Encyclopaedia from 1895 to 1995, Norwich, Michael Russell, 1996, p. 296.
  • Dye, David. Child and Youth Actors: Filmography of Their Entire Careers, 1914-1985. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1988, p. 239.

External links[edit]