John Wood (Australian actor, 1909–1965)

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John Wood (11 November 1909 – 1 March 1965)[1] was an Australian who acted on the stage and briefly became a film star in Hollywood and Britain in the late 1930s.

John Wood
Born (1909-11-11)11 November 1909
Forbes, New South Wales, Australia
Died 1 March 1965(1965-03-01) (aged 55)
Kirribilli, New South Wales, Australia
Years active 1928–1950s

Early acting career[edit]

Preston Foster, Dorothy Wilson and John Wood featured prominently in advertising for The Last Days of Pompeii

Wood was born in Forbes, New South Wales and attended Sydney Church of England Grammar School. After briefly venturing into operating a banana plantation he turned to acting. He performed on stage for the J. C. Williamson Company in Australia between 1929 and 1933, earning good reviews as a "talented juvenile" and handsome young actor "with promise."[2] In early 1934 he had established himself in London, gaining a part in Charley's Aunt on the stage soon after arrival.[3]

He appeared in supporting roles in several British B films before being offered a key role as Flavius in the 1935 Hollywood movie The Last Days of Pompeii.[4] He also appeared with Bette Davis in the radio play Just Suppose, a fantasy drama about an English king marrying an American woman.[5] He returned to England in 1936. Two busy years of stage and film work followed.

His last two British films were for the Associated British Picture Corporation, made with fellow Australian actor, Mary Maguire. For reasons unknown, he returned to Australia in 1939. He claimed that in film, he had "never really had a role I liked-they have all been light juvenile parts." Despite this, he said he preferred screen work to the stage. "Somehow the screen work is not quite so monotonous" he said. Wood also commented on the attitude of British studios to an Australian accent. "There are two schools of thought about Australian actors in London. The first dislikes the Australian accent, and the second, ... is eager to employ them. At Elstree, for instance, Australians are exceedingly popular, the producers considering that they have more punch. Stanley Lupino is also a great supporter for Australians, and employs them whenever possible."[6] War had been declared whilst he was en route back to Australia, and for a short time he returned to the stage.[7][8] He also developed a reputation for recounting amusing film industry anecdotes.[9]

While in Hollywood his engagement to Australian stage actress Mary MacGregor was announced. Wood and MacGregor had performed together in Australia on stage for J.C. Williamson.[10] The marriage did not proceed but Wood performed again with MacGregor during 1940.

POW performer[edit]

In November 1940, Wood joined the Australian Army and was posted to 8th Division as a signalman.[1] His unit arrived in Singapore in early 1941, and like most members of the 8th Division, he entered captivity following the Malayan campaign in February 1942.

While in captivity, Wood took a leading role in providing entertainment for allied Prisoners of War. Official Australian war artist and fellow POW Murray Griffin painted Wood's portrait and sketched performances and players. Russell Braddon another POW, described Wood as "the greatest source of stage anecdotes and comic songs that Changi knew."[11] According to another POW, Wood also dressed up effectively for performances as a woman. "He is the goods, and sure gives the boys ideas," claimed Hedley Hatch.[12]

Post-war career[edit]

After his repatriation in 1945, Wood returned to the Australian stage and was active in the Minerva Theatre Players.[13] He married British actress Phil Buchanan in Melbourne in July 1946[14] and performed in The Hasty Heart and While the Sun Shines for occupying forces in Japan in 1947.[15] By 1949 he had returned to London, and was performing on the stage and radio, several productions having Australian themes.[16][17] By 1956, his old battalion newsletter reported he was suffering health problems and living quietly in a village in Spain.[18] He died in Australia in 1965.[1]



  1. ^ a b c National Archives of Australia, Service Record, Signalman John Wood, NX65819.[1]
  2. ^ "MUSIC AND DRAMA" Queensland Figaro (Brisbane, Qld : 1901 - 1936) Saturday 23 September 1933. Page 8. See also individual reviews of plays including "THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS" The Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Qld. : 1874 - 1954) Thursday 24 October 1929. Page 3. and "SPARKLING COMEDY AT THE ROYAL-THE FIRST MRS FRASER" Advertiser and Register (Adelaide, SA : 1931) Monday 10 August 1931, Page 8. Accessed 3 July 2013
  3. ^ "SYDNEY LETTER" Queensland Figaro (Brisbane, Qld : 1901 - 1936) Saturday 13 January 1934, Page 14.
  4. ^ "AN AUSTRALIAN IN HOLLYWOOD" The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954), Saturday 7 March 1936, Page 24. Accessed 3 July 2013
  5. ^ The Judy Garland Experience
  6. ^ "NEVER HAD A FILM ROLE I REALLY LIKED" The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), Monday 16 October 1939, Page 6. Accessed 3 July 2013
  7. ^ "MINERVA THEATRE", The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954) Saturday 27 January 1940, Page 10. Accessed 3 July 2013
  8. ^ "NEW THRILLER", Williamstown Chronicle (Vic. : 1856 - 1954) Saturday 1 June 1940, Page 4. Accessed 3 July 2013
  9. ^ "GRETA GARBO AT NIGHTCLUB" The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), Thursday 16 November 1939, Page 21. Accessed 3 July 2013
  10. ^ "BRISBANE GIRL IN ROMANCE OF THEATRE, MARY MACGREGOR ENGAGED" The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954) Thursday 27 February 1936, Page 13
  11. ^ Russell Braddon (1952) The Naked Island p.166 Lloyd O'Neil, Hawthorn Victoria, reprint 1975. ISBN 0855583886
  12. ^ Roland Perry (2010) The Changi Brownlow. Page 168. Sydney, Hachette Australia. ISBN 9780733624643
  13. ^ "YOUNG ACTOR IS FORMER POW" The Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 - 1954), Saturday 3 August 1946, Page 6. Accessed 2 July 2013
  14. ^ "WEDDINGS, ENGAGEMENT" The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), 10 July 1946, Page 6. Accessed 2 July 2013
  15. ^ "SYDNEY'S TALKING ABOUT" The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), Thursday 3 July 1947, Page 14. Accessed 2 July 2013
  16. ^ "ALL AUSTRALIAN PLAY FOR LONDON THEATRE" The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), Saturday 20 August 1949, Page 3. Accessed 2 July 2013
  17. ^ "KEPT THEIR ACCENT" The Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 - 1954) Saturday 7 January 1950, Page 5. Accessed 2 July 2013
  18. ^ Makan - Official Organ of 2/30th Bn. A.I.F. No. 113, 1 June 1956
  19. ^ "JOHN WOOD" The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954)Friday 31 December 1937, Page 20. Accessed 4 July 2013
  20. ^ Often incorrectly attributed to English actor John Wood born 1930. See [2]

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