Cornel Wilde

Cornel Wilde (October 13, 1912 – October 16, 1989) was a Hungarian-American actor and film director.

Wilde's acting career began in 1935, when he made his debut on Broadway. In 1936 he began making small, uncredited appearances in films. By the 1940s, he had signed a contract with 20th Century Fox, and by the mid-1940s, he was a major leading man. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in 1945's A Song to Remember. In the 1950s, he moved to writing, producing and directing films, and still continued his career as an actor.

Cornel Wilde
Frame of a film. A man wearing a suit and tie is smiling towards the camera. The words "CORNEL WILDE" are superposed on the image across the bottom of the frame.
Wilde in Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
Kornél Lajos Weisz

October 13, 1912[1]
Privigye, Hungary (now Prievidza, Slovakia)
DiedOctober 16, 1989 (aged 77)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeWestwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California
Other namesClark Wales, Jefferson Pascal
OccupationActor, director
Years active1935–87
Patricia Knight
(m. 1937; div. 1951)

Jean Wallace
(m. 1951; div. 1981)

Early life

Kornél Lajos Weisz was born in 1912[2][3] in Privigye, Kingdom of Hungary (now Prievidza, Slovakia),[4][5] although his year and place of birth are usually and inaccurately given as 1915 in New York City.[6][7] His Hungarian Jewish parents were Vojtech Béla Weisz (Anglicized to Louis Bela Wilde) and Renée Mary Vid (Rayna Miryam). He was named for his paternal grandfather, and upon arrival in the U.S. at age seven in 1920,[4] his name was Anglicized to Cornelius Louis Wilde.[2]

A talented linguist and an astute mimic, he had an ear for languages which became apparent later in his acting career. Wilde attended the City College of New York as a pre-med student, completing the four-year course in three years and winning a scholarship to the Physicians and Surgeons College at Columbia University.[8]

He qualified for the United States fencing team for the 1936 Summer Olympic Games, but quit the team before the games in order to take a role in the theater. In preparation for an acting career, he and his new wife Marjory Heinzen (later to be known as Patricia Knight) shaved years off their ages, three for him and five for her. As a result, most publicity records and subsequent sources wrongly indicate a 1915 birth for Wilde.



After studying at Theodora Irvine's Studio of the Theatre, Wilde began appearing in plays in stock and in New York. He made his Broadway debut in 1935 in Moon Over Mulberry Street. He also appeared in Love Is Not So Simple, Daughters of Etreus, and Having a Wonderful Time.

He did the illustrations for Fencing, a 1936 textbook on fencing[9] and wrote a fencing play, Touché, under the pseudonym Clark Wales in 1937.[10] He toured with Tallulah Bankhead in a production of Anthony and Cleopatra; during the run he married his co-star Patricia Knight.

Acting jobs were sporadic over the next few years. Wilde supplemented his income with exhibition fencing matches; his wife also did modelling work. Wilde wrote plays, some of which were performed by the New York Drama Guild.[11]

Wilde was hired as a fencing teacher by Laurence Olivier for his 1940 Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet and was given the role of Tybalt in the production. Although the show only had a small run his performance in this role netted him a Hollywood film contract with Warner Bros.[10]

Early films

Warner Bros.

Wilde had an uncredited bit part in Lady with Red Hair (1940), then got a small part in High Sierra (1941), which included a scene with Humphrey Bogart. He also had small roles in Knockout (1941) and Kisses for Breakfast (1941).[12]

20th Century Fox

Wilde was then signed by 20th Century Fox who gave him a good role in a B picture The Perfect Snob (1941). It was followed by a war movie Manila Calling (1942).

He was the romantic male lead in Life Begins at Eight-Thirty (1942), supporting Monty Woolley, and supported Sonja Henie in Wintertime (1943).

A Song to Remember and stardom

In 1945, Columbia Pictures began a search for someone to play the role of Frédéric Chopin in A Song to Remember. They eventually tested Wilde, and agreed to cast him in the role after some negotiation with Fox, who agreed to lend him to Columbia and one film a year for several years. Part of the deal involved Fox borrowing Alexander Knox from Columbia to appear in Wilson (1944).[13] A Song to Remember was a big hit, made Wilde a star and earned him a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actor.

Columbia promptly used him in two more films, both swashbucklers: as Aladdin in A Thousand and One Nights with Evelyn Keyes[14] and as the son of Robin Hood in The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (made 1945, released 1946).

Back at Fox, he played the male lead in Leave Her to Heaven (1945), with Gene Tierney and Jeanne Crain, an enormous hit at the box office. So too when it was released was Bandit.

In 1946, Wilde was voted the 18th most popular star in the US, and in 1947 – 25th.[15] Fox announced him for Enchanted Voyage.[16] It ended up not being made; instead he was reunited with Crain in Fox's musical Centennial Summer (1946).


In January 1946, Wilde was suspended by Fox for refusing the male lead in Margie (1946).[17] This suspension was soon lifted so Wilde could play the male lead in the studio's big budget version of Forever Amber (1947). Filming started, then was halted when the studio decided to replace Peggy Cummins, the female star. In October 1946, Wilde refused to return to work unless he was paid more; his salary was $3,000 a week, with six years to run - he wanted $150,000 per film for two films per year.[18] The parties came to an agreement and filming resumed. Wilde also appeared with Maureen O'Hara in The Homestretch (1947).

He was in a comedy at Columbia with Ginger Rogers, It Had to Be You (1947). At Fox he turned down a role in That Lady in Ermine (1948). Not wanting to go on suspension again he agreed to make The Walls of Jericho (1948), from the same director as Leave Her to Heaven but less popular. Road House (1948), for Fox, was a highly regarded noir and a decent-sized hit. He then left Fox which he later regarded as a mistake.


At Columbia, Wilde was in Shockproof (1949), another noir, with his then-wife Patricia Knight. They appeared together in Western Wind, a play at the Cape Playhouse.[19]

Wilde made Swiss Tour, aka Four Days Leave (1949), an independent film in Switzerland. He returned to Fox for Two Flags West (1950), then went to RKO for At Sword's Point (filmed in 1949, but not released until 1952), a swashbuckler with Maureen O'Hara.

He played a trapeze artist in The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) for Cecil B. de Mille, an enormous hit, though Wilde was one of several stars in the movie.

At Columbia, he was in California Conquest (1952), a Western for producer Sam Katzman. He went over to Warner Bros. for Operation Secret (1952), then was back at Fox for Treasure of the Golden Condor (1952).

He focused on adventure stories: Saadia (1953) for MGM, Star of India (1954) for United Artists. He had a part in the all-star executive drama Woman's World (1954) for Fox, then went back to action and adventure with Passion (1954) for RKO.

Producer and director

In the 1950s, Wilde and his second wife Jean Wallace formed their own film production company, Theodora, that was named after Theodora Irvine. Their first move was the film noir The Big Combo (1955), a co production with Security Pictures that was released through Allied Artists. Wilde and Wallace played the leads. That year he also directed an episode of General Electric Theatre.[20][21]

That same year, he appeared in an episode of I Love Lucy as himself and starred in The Scarlet Coat (1956) for MGM. [22] but it appears to have never been made.

Storm Fear

Wilde produced and starred in another for Theodora with Wallace, Storm Fear (1956) from a script by Horton Foote. This time Wilde also directed "to save money".[23]

Theodora announced Wilde would play Lord Byron, but the film was never made.[24] Other announced projects included Curly and Second Act Curtin.

Wilde was meant to appear as Joshua in de Mille's The Ten Commandments but was not in the final film - he turned down the role saying it was too small and the pay was too little (John Derek ended up playing it). Wilde later said it was his worst mistake because having even a small role in a big blockbuster would have given him career momentum.[25]

As an actor only, he appeared in Hot Blood (1956) with Jane Russell for director Nicholas Ray, and Beyond Mombasa (1956), shot in Kenya; both were released by Columbia. In 1957, he guest-starred on an episode of Father Knows Best as himself. Also in 1957, he played the role of the 13th century Persian poet Omar Khayyám in the film Omar Khayyam.

The Devil's Hairpin and Maracaibo

He produced, directed and starred in two films for Theodora that were released through Paramount: The Devil's Hairpin (1957), a car-racing drama, and Maracaibo (1958). Wilde called them "an acceptable A-B, meaning a picture with B budget but A pretensions".[26]

He had the lead in Edge of Eternity (1959) for director Don Siegel.

Lancelot and Guinevere

Wilde went to Italy to star in Constantine and the Cross (1962). In Britain, he wrote, produced, directed and starred in Lancelot and Guinevere (1963).

The Naked Prey

Wilde produced, directed, and starred in The Naked Prey (1965), in which he played a man stripped naked and chased by hunters from an African tribe affronted by the behavior of other members of his safari party. The original script was largely based on a true historical incident about a trapper named John Colter being pursued by Blackfeet Indians in Wyoming. Lower shooting costs, tax breaks, and material and logistical assistance offered by Rhodesia persuaded Wilde and the other producers to shoot the film on location in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). It is probably his most highly regarded film as director.[27]

Beach Red

Wilde followed this with a war movie, Beach Red (1967). He announced Namugongo, another movie in Africa, about the White Fathers missionaries in the Kingdom of Buganda, but it was never made.[28] He had a supporting role in The Comic (1969), directed by Carl Reiner.

No Blade of Grass

He wrote, produced, and directed the science fiction film No Blade of Grass (1970).

During the early 1970s, Wilde took a break from motion pictures and theater to turn toward television. He appeared as an unethical surgeon in the 1971 Night Gallery episode "Deliveries in the Rear" and portrayed an anthropologist in the 1972 TV movie Gargoyles.

Shark's Treasure

He returned to film shortly thereafter and wrote, directed, and starred in the exploitation film Sharks' Treasure, a 1975 film intended to capitalize on the "Shark Fever" popular in the mid-1970s in the wake of the success of Peter Benchley's Jaws. He acted in The Norseman (1978) and The Fifth Musketeer (1979).

Personal life

He married the actress Patricia Knight in 1937. She appeared with him in Shockproof (1949). They had a daughter, Wendy (born February 22, 1943), and divorced in 1951.

He married the actress Jean Wallace in 1951. Wallace, formerly married to actor Franchot Tone, co-starred with Wilde in several films, including The Big Combo (1955), Lancelot and Guinevere, aka Sword of Lancelot (1963), and Beach Red (1967). Her two children from her marriage to Tone became Wilde's stepsons. They also had a son together, Cornel Wallace Wilde Jr. (born December 19, 1967). They divorced in 1981.

A Democrat, Wilde supported the campaign of Adlai Stevenson during the 1952 presidential election[29].


Wilde died of leukemia three days after his 77th birthday. His body was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, Los Angeles.

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Cornel Wilde has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1635 Vine Street.

Partial filmography

As director

As actor

As writer

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1946 Screen Guild Players "Wuthering Heights"[30]
1952 Hollywood Star Playhouse "The End of Aunt Edlia"[31]
1953 Cavalcade of America "Down Brake"[32]
1954 Suspense "Somebody Help Me"[30]


  1. ^ United States Census 1930; Manhattan, New York, New York; Roll: 1576; Page: 9B; Enumeration District: 1009; Image: 1057.0. This record dated April 9, 1930, gives Wilde's birthplace as Hungary and his birth year as approximately 1912
  2. ^ a b required)
  3. ^ United States Census 1930; Manhattan, New York, New York; Roll: 1576; Page: 9B; Enumeration District: 1009; Image: 1057.0. This record dated April 9, 1930, gives Wilde's birthplace as Austrian-Hungarian Empire and his birth year as approximately 1912. Furthermore, it indicates his emigration to the U.S. as a first class passenger on a Dutch steamer in 1920.
  4. ^ a b List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States, S.S. Noordam, Passengers Sailing from Rotterdam, May 4, 1920, New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. iProvo, Utah, 2010.
  5. ^ Air Passenger Manifest, Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc. Flight 971/05, December 5, 1948. New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. Provo, Utah, 2010. In this immigration record, Wilde gives his birthplace as Hungary and his birth year as 1912.
  6. ^ Peter B. Flint (October 17, 1989). "Cornel Wilde, 74, a Performer and Film Producer". The New York Times.
  7. ^ "Actor-Director Cornel Wilde Dies at 74". The Los Angeles Times. October 16, 1989.
  8. ^ Rhinelander Daily News, June 26, 1945, p. 4
  9. ^ "Cornel Wilde adds new skill". The Washington Post. October 1, 1947. closed access publication – behind paywall
  10. ^ a b Ingram, Frances Cornel Wilde: Gentle Swashbuckler, Classic Images, February 5, 2009
  11. ^ Masters, M. (1945, Dec 23). Cornel Wilde strong on psychological drama. Los Angeles Times
  12. ^ THAT WILDE MAN Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 19 Sep 1954: v30.
  13. ^ E. Challert (December 3, 1943). "Drama And Film". Los Angeles Times. closed access publication – behind paywall
  14. ^ "Cornel Wilde, Evelyn Keyes In New Technicolor Arabia". Christian Science Monitor. July 13, 1945. p. 4.
  15. ^ Richard L. Coe (January 3, 1948). "Bing's Lucky Number: Pa Crosby Dons 4th B.O. Crown". The Washington Post.
  16. ^ "Special to The New York Times". News of the Screen. The New York Times (1923-Current File). March 27, 1945. Retrieved October 9, 2018 – via ProQuest. (Subscription required (help)).
  17. ^ H. Hopper (January 11, 1946). "Studio suspends Cornel Wilde". Los Angeles Times. closed access publication – behind paywall
  18. ^ "Fox's 'Forever Amber' in trouble again as Cornel Wilde holds out for salary rise". The New York Times. October 16, 1946. closed access publication – behind paywall
  19. ^ "Cornel Wilde from Hollywood". The Christian Science Monitor. August 5, 1949. closed access publication – behind paywall
  20. ^ Jack Hawkins New Space Conqueror; French King Set for John Williams Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 15 Mar 1955: B7.
  21. ^ PALLADIUM STARS SOUGHT FOR MOVIE: History of Famous London Music Hall Would Include American Entertainers By THOMAS M. PRYORSpecial to The New York Times.22 June 1954: 24.
  22. ^ 'Big Combo' Will Star Cornel Wilde; Vanessa Brown Debates Musical Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 23 June 1954: B7.
  23. ^ Thomas M Pryor (March 7, 1955). "Theodora Plans Its Second Movie". The New York Times. closed access publication – behind paywall
  24. ^ Thomas M Pryor (December 21, 1954). "Independents Buy Two New Stories". The New York Times. closed access publication – behind paywall
  25. ^ T. M. (September 5, 1954). "Hollywood Canvas". The New York Times. closed access publication – behind paywall
  26. ^ You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet: Interviews with Stars from Hollywood's Golden Era. University Press of Kentucky. 2017.
  27. ^ "The Naked Prey".
  28. ^ "Cornel Wilde screenplay". Los Angeles Times. September 10, 1969. closed access publication – behind paywall
  29. ^ Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 33, Ideal Publishers
  30. ^ a b "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 42 (3): 34. Summer 2016.
  31. ^ Kirby, Walter (December 14, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 54.
  32. ^ Kirby, Walter (January 11, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 42. Retrieved June 19, 2015 – via open access publication – free to read

External links

A Thousand and One Nights (1945 film)

A Thousand and One Nights is a 1945 tongue-in-cheek Technicolor fantasy film set in the Baghdad of the One Thousand and One Nights directed by Alfred E. Green and starring Cornel Wilde as Aladdin, Evelyn Keyes as the genie of the magic lamp, Phil Silvers as Aladdin's larcenous sidekick, and Adele Jergens as the princess Aladdin loves.It was nominated for two Academy Awards, for Best Art Direction, Color (Stephen Goosson, Rudolph Sternad, Frank Tuttle) and Best Special Effects (Ray Bomba and Lawrence W. Butler).

At Sword's Point

At Sword's Point, also known as The Sons of the Three Musketeers, is a 1952 American historical action film directed by Lewis Allen and starring Cornel Wilde and Maureen O'Hara. It was shot in Technicolor by RKO Radio Pictures. The film was completed in 1949, but was not released until 1952.

The Three Musketeers' offsprings of Aramis, Porthos, D'Artagnan and Claire, the daughter of Athos, are reunited by the ageing Queen Anne to halt the villainy of her treacherous nephew, the Duc de Lavalle.

Beach Red

Beach Red is a 1967 World War II film starring Cornel Wilde (who also directed) and Rip Torn. The film depicts a landing by the U.S. Marine Corps on an unnamed Japanese-held Pacific island (thought to be Red Beach, Palo, Leyte in the Philippines). However, there were no Marine landings anywhere in the Philippines. The film is based on Peter Bowman's 1945 novella of the same name, which was based on his experiences with the United States Army Corps of Engineers in the Pacific Islands campaigns.

Beyond Mombasa

Beyond Mombasa is a 1956 Technicolor film directed by George Marshall filmed and set in Kenya. It stars Cornel Wilde and Donna Reed.

California Conquest

California Conquest is a 1952 American film, directed by Lew Landers, and starring Cornel Wilde and Teresa Wright. The film is set in the early 1840s, and deals with a conspiracy by native Spanish Hidalgos to deliver the then-Mexican territory of California to the Russian Empire.

Centennial Summer

Centennial Summer is a 1946 musical film directed by Otto Preminger. The musical, that stars Jeanne Crain and Cornel Wilde, is based on a novel by Albert E. Idell.

It was produced in response to the hugely successful 1944 MGM musical film Meet Me in St. Louis.

Hot Blood

Hot Blood is a 1956 CinemaScope film starring Jane Russell and Cornel Wilde.

It Had to Be You (1947 film)

It Had to Be You is a 1947 romantic comedy film directed by Don Hartman and Rudolph Maté, starring Ginger Rogers and Cornel Wilde.

A marriage-shy sculptor meets the boy of her childhood dreams, now a firefighter.

Lancelot and Guinevere

Lancelot and Guinevere (known as Sword of Lancelot in the U.S.) is a British 1963 film starring Cornel Wilde, his real-life wife at the time, Jean Wallace, and Brian Aherne. This lesser-known version of the Camelot legend is a work shaped predominantly by Cornel Wilde, who co-produced, directed, co-wrote, and played Lancelot.

Maracaibo (film)

Maracaibo is a 1958 American drama film directed by Cornel Wilde and written by Ted Sherdeman. The film stars Cornel Wilde, Jean Wallace, Abbe Lane, Francis Lederer, Michael Landon and Joe E. Ross. The film was released on May 21, 1958, by Paramount Pictures.

No Blade of Grass (film)

No Blade of Grass is a 1970 British-American apocalyptic science fiction film directed and produced by Cornel Wilde and starring Nigel Davenport, Jean Wallace, and John Hamill. It is an adaptation of John Christopher's novel The Death of Grass (1956) and follows the survivors of a plague that has hit London in the not too distant future. When London is overwhelmed by food riots caused by a global famine, a man tries to lead his family to safety in Westmorland.

Passion (1954 film)

Passion is a 1954 American Western film directed by Allan Dwan and written by Howard Estabrook, Beatrice A. Dresher and Joseph Lejtes. The film stars Cornel Wilde, Yvonne De Carlo, Raymond Burr, Lon Chaney Jr., Rodolfo Acosta and John Qualen. The film was released on October 6, 1954, by RKO Pictures.

Sharks' Treasure

Sharks' Treasure is a 1975 American adventure film written, produced and directed by Cornel Wilde and starring Cornel Wilde and Yaphet Kotto.


Shockproof is a 1949 American film noir directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Cornel Wilde and Patricia Knight. Wilde and Knight were husband and wife during filming. They divorced in 1951.

Star of India (film)

Star of India (Stella Dell'India' in Italy) is a 1954 British swashbuckling adventure film in Technicolor from United Artists, produced by Raymond Stross, directed by Arthur Lubin, that stars Cornel Wilde, Jean Wallace, Herbert Lom, and Walter Rilla.

Storm Fear

Storm Fear is a 1955 American crime film noir directed by Cornel Wilde, starring himself, Jean Wallace and Dan Duryea. It was Wilde's feature directorial debut.

The Bandit of Sherwood Forest

The Bandit of Sherwood Forest is a 1946 American Technicolor adventure film directed by Henry Levin & George Sherman and starring Cornel Wilde, Anita Louise, Jill Esmond and Edgar Buchanan.

The Devil's Hairpin

The Devil's Hairpin is a 1957 feature film about car racing, filmed in Technicolor and VistaVision, written and directed by Cornel Wilde, who also stars.

The Naked Prey

The Naked Prey is a 1965 adventure film starring Cornel Wilde, who also served as director and producer, which was released by Paramount Pictures. Set in the South African veldt, the film is a wilderness survival story loosely based on the experiences of explorer John Colter, who was pursued by Blackfoot warriors through frontier Wyoming in 1809. The screenplay earned Clint Johnson and Don Peters an Academy Award nomination.

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