Michael Wilding (actor)

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Michael Wilding
Michael Wilding in Stage Fright trailer.jpg
From the trailer for Stage Fright (1950)
Michael Charles Gauntlet Wilding

(1912-07-23)23 July 1912
Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England
Died8 July 1979(1979-07-08) (aged 66)
Cause of deathHead injury sustained in a fall
Years active1933–1979
Kay Young
(m. 1937;div. 1951)

Elizabeth Taylor
(m. 1952;div. 1957)

Susan Nell
(m. 1958;div. 1962)

Margaret Leighton
(m. 1964;died 1976)

Michael Charles Gauntlet Wilding (23 July 1912 8 July 1979) was an English stage, television, and film actor. He is best known for a series of films he made with Anna Neagle, for the two films he made with Alfred Hitchcock and for being Elizabeth Taylor's second husband.

Anna Neagle English stage and film actress and singer

Dame Florence Marjorie Wilcox,, known professionally as Anna Neagle, was an English stage and film actress, singer and dancer.

Alfred Hitchcock British filmmaker

Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was an English film director and producer, widely regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema. Known as "the Master of Suspense", he directed over 50 feature films in a career spanning six decades, becoming as well known as any of his actors thanks to his many interviews, his cameo roles in most of his films, and his hosting and producing of the television anthology Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955–1965).

Elizabeth Taylor British-American actress, businesswoman, and humanitarian

Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was a British-American actress, businesswoman, and humanitarian. She began her career as a child actress in the early 1940s, and was one of the most popular stars of classical Hollywood cinema in the 1950s. She continued her career successfully into the 1960s, and remained a well-known public figure for the rest of her life. In 1999, the American Film Institute named her the seventh-greatest female screen legend.



Early life

Born in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England, and educated at Christ's Hospital, [1] Wilding left home at age 17 and trained as a commercial artist. He went to Europe when he was 20 and supported himself in Europe by doing sketches. [2] He wanted to get into designing sets for films and approached a London film studio in 1933 looking for work. They invited him to come to work as an extra. [3]

Leigh-on-Sea civil parish in Essex, England

Leigh-on-Sea, also referred to as Leigh, is a town and civil parish in Essex, England. A district of Southend-on-Sea, with its own town council, it is currently the only civil parish within the borough.

Essex County of England

Essex is a county in the south-east of England, north-east of London. One of the home counties, it borders Suffolk and Cambridgeshire to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent across the estuary of the River Thames to the south, and London to the south-west. The county town is Chelmsford, the only city in the county. For government statistical purposes Essex is placed in the East of England region.

Christs Hospital English coeducational independent day and boarding school

Christ's Hospital, also known colloquially as CH, is an English coeducational independent day and boarding school with Royal Charter located in the south of Horsham in West Sussex. Founded in 1552 and received its first Royal Charter in 1553, Christ's Hospital follows much of the public schools tradition. Since its establishment, Christ's Hospital has been a charity school, with a core aim to offer children from humble backgrounds the chance to have a better education.

Acting career

Wilding appeared as an extra in British films such as Bitter Sweet (1933), Heads We Go (1933), and Channel Crossing (1933). [4] He caught the acting bug and decided to make it a career. He reportedly appeared in an Austrian film called Pastorale. [3]

<i>Bitter Sweet</i> (1933 film) 1933 American musical film directed by Herbert Wilcox

Bitter Sweet is a British musical romance film directed by Herbert Wilcox and released by United Artists in 1933. It was the first film adaptation of Noël Coward's 1929 operetta Bitter Sweet. It starred Anna Neagle and Fernand Gravey, with Ivy St. Helier reviving her stage role as Manon. It was made at Elstree Studios and was part of a boom in operetta films during the 1930s.

<i>Heads We Go</i> 1933 film by Monty Banks

Heads We Go is a 1933 British comedy film directed by Monty Banks and starring Constance Cummings, Frank Lawton and Binnie Barnes. It was made at Elstree Studios by British International Pictures.

Channel Crossing is a 1933 British crime film directed by Milton Rosmer and starring Matheson Lang, Constance Cummings, Anthony Bushell and Nigel Bruce.

He made his stage debut in The Ringer in 1934 for the Watford Repertory Company and made his London stage debut in Chase the Ace the following year. He could be spotted in the films Late Extra (1935), When Knights Were Bold (1936), and Wedding Group (1936). [2] He was in two musicals on stage, Spread It Abroad and Home and Beauty.

Chase the Ace is a comedy thriller play by the British writer Anthony Kimmins. Originally staged in 1935 by the producer Harold French, it ran for 48 performances at Daly's Theatre in the West End. Amongst the original cast were Edward Chapman, Eric Portman, Michael Wilding, Patrick Barr, Warburton Gamble, Marie Lohr and Winifred Shotter. Wilding, a future film star, was making his West End debut.

Late Extra is a 1935 British crime film directed by Albert Parker and starring James Mason, Virginia Cherrill, and Alastair Sim.

<i>When Knights Were Bold</i> (1936 film) 1936 film by Jack Raymond

When Knights Were Bold is a 1936 British musical comedy film directed by Jack Raymond and starring Jack Buchanan, Fay Wray and Garry Marsh. Songs include "Let's Put the People To Work" sung by Jack Buchanan, "Onward We Go" sung by Buchanan & soldiers' chorus, and "I'm Still Dreaming" sung by Buchanan.

In 1937–38 he toured Australia and New Zealand with Fay Compton's stage company. [5] The plays included Personal Appearance, Victoria Regina, Tonight at Eight Thirty and George and Margaret. [6] While in Australia he filmed a prologue for Personal Appearance. [7]

Fay Compton actress

Virginia Lilian Emmeline Compton-Mackenzie, CBE, known professionally as Fay Compton, was an English actress. She appeared in several films, and made many broadcasts, but was best known for her stage performances. She was known for her versatility, and appeared in Shakespeare, drawing room comedy, pantomime, modern drama, and classics such as Ibsen and Chekhov. In addition to performing in Britain, Compton appeared several times in the US, and toured Australia and New Zealand in a variety of stage plays.

Back in England he appeared in the first Gate Revue, then followed this with another revue, Let's Face It and a pantomime, Who's Taking Liberty. [3]

He had bigger film parts in There Ain't No Justice (1939), Convoy (1940), and Tilly of Bloomsbury (1940). He had a good role in Sailors Three (1940), and Sailors Don't Care (1940).

Wilding had a leading role in Spring Meeting (1941) but was back to support parts in The Farmer's Wife (1941). His films grew more prestigious: Kipps (1941), Cottage to Let (1941), Ships with Wings (1941), The Big Blockade (1941), In Which We Serve (1942), Secret Mission (1942), and Undercover (1943). He played in Quiet Weekend on stage for a year. In 1943 he performed for the troops in Gibraltar with John Gielgud. [3]


Wilding finally became a film name with Dear Octopus (1943). He followed it with English Without Tears (1944).

Collaboration with Anna Neagle

What really made him a star was appearing opposite Anna Neagle in Piccadilly Incident (1946). Director Herbert Wilcox had wanted Rex Harrison or John Mills and had only taken Wilding reluctantly. However, once he saw the rushes he signed Wilding to a long-term contract. Piccadilly Incident was the second most popular film at the British box office in 1946. After co-starring with Sally Gray in Carnival (1946), Wilding was reunited with Neagle and Wilcox in The Courtneys of Curzon Street (1947), the biggest hit at the 1947 British box office and one of the most-seen British films of all time. Alexander Korda cast him opposite Paulette Goddard in An Ideal Husband (1947), another hit, but it failed to recoup its enormous cost. Wilding, Neagle and Wilcox reteamed for Spring in Park Lane (1948), another outstanding hit. It led to a sequel, Maytime in Mayfair (1949), which was also enormously popular.

Wilding was now one of the biggest stars in Britain—indeed he was voted as such by the readers of Kine Weekly. [8] Director Alfred Hitchcock then cast him in two consecutive films that he produced through his own film production company Transatlantic Pictures (distributed through Warner Brothers Pictures). The first, Under Capricorn (released in 1949), in which he played opposite Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten, was shot mostly in London but had final retakes and overdubs filmed in Hollywood. It was one of Hitchcock's few flops. His second film for Hitchcock was the more popular Stage Fright (released in 1950), also filmed in London, with Marlene Dietrich and Jane Wyman. Thirteen years later, in 1963, Wilding starred in an Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode titled "Last Seen Wearing Blue Jeans".

Wilcox used him in a film without Neagle, Into the Blue (1950) and the public response was considerably less enthusiastic than for the films they made together. He put Anouk Aimée under personal contract and announced plans to make a movie together [9] but none resulted.


MGM made an offer for Wilding to appear opposite Greer Garson in The Law and the Lady (1951); [10] the film was not a success. He returned to Britain for The Lady with a Lamp (1951), a biopic of Florence Nightingale with Neagle and Wilcox. It was popular in Britain, though less so than their earlier collaborations.

So too was Derby Day (1952), the last Neagle–Wilding collaboration. Wilcox tried Wilding with a new star, Margaret Lockwood, in Trent's Last Case (1952), a minor hit. In 1952 British exhibitors voted him the fourth most popular star at the local box office. [11]

In May 1952 Wilding signed a long term contract with MGM. [12] He turned down a role in MGM's Latin Lovers and the studio put him under suspension. [13]

In Hollywood, Wilding supported Joan Crawford in MGM's Torch Song (1953). 20th Century Fox borrowed him to play a pharaoh in their big budget spectacular, The Egyptian (1954), which was a box office disappointment.

At MGM he was Prince Charming to Leslie Caron's Cinderella in The Glass Slipper (1955), and Major John André in The Scarlet Coat (1956).

Supporting actor

Wilding journeyed with Taylor to Africa to appear in Zarak (1956) for Warwick Films, after which his marriage to Taylor ended. He began appearing regularly on U.S. television, including the title role in the 1957 episode "The Trial of Colonel Blood" of NBC's anthology series The Joseph Cotten Show .

He had some good roles in Danger Within (1959), a POW movie; The World of Suzie Wong (1960); The Naked Edge (1961); The Best of Enemies (1961); and A Girl Named Tamiko (1962).

Final films

His last roles included The Sweet Ride (1968) and Waterloo (1970).

His last appearance in a feature was in an uncredited, nonspeaking cameo in Lady Caroline Lamb (1972), which co-starred his last wife, Margaret Leighton. His last role was in the TV movie Frankenstein: The True Story (1973).

Box-office ranking

At the peak of his career, British exhibitors voted him among the most popular stars in the country:

  • 1947—seventh most popular British star [14]
  • 1948—fifth most popular star [15]
  • 1949—second most popular star [16]
  • 1950—sixth most popular British star [17]
  • 1951—tenth most popular star [18]
  • 1952  fourth most popular British star [11]

Personal life

Wilding was married four times: to Kay Young (married 1937, divorced 1951), [19] actress Elizabeth Taylor (married 1952, divorced 1957), Susan Nell (married 1958, divorced 1962), [20] and actress Margaret Leighton (married 1964 until her death in 1976).

He and Taylor, who was 20 years his junior, had two sons, Michael Howard Wilding (born 1953) and Christopher Edward Wilding (born 1955). In 1957 he had a short-lived romance with actress Marie McDonald, who was nicknamed The Body.

In the 1960s he was forced to cut back on his film appearances because of illness related to his lifelong epilepsy.[ citation needed ]


Wilding died in Chichester, West Sussex, as a result of head injuries suffered from a fall down a flight of stairs during an epileptic seizure. [21] His body was cremated and the ashes were scattered.


1933 Bitter Sweet ExtraUncredited
Heads We Go Minor RoleUncredited
Channel Crossing Passenger Boarding FerryUncredited
1935 Late Extra Newspaper Telephone OperatorUncredited
1936 When Knights Were Bold SoldierUncredited
Wedding Group Dr. Hutherford
1939 There Ain't No Justice Len Charteris
1940 Convoy Dot
Tilly of Bloomsbury Percy Welwyn
Sailors Three Johnny Wilding
Sailors Don't Care Dick
1941 Mr. Proudfoot Shows a Light Officer
Spring Meeting Tony Fox-Collier
The Farmer's Wife Richard Coaker
Kipps Ronnie Walshingham
Cottage to Let Alan Trently
1942 Ships with Wings Lt. David Grant
The Big Blockade CaptainUncredited
In Which We Serve Flags
Secret Mission Pvt. Nobby Clark
1943 Undercover Constantine
Dear Octopus Nicholas Randolph
1944 English Without Tears Tom Gilbey
1946 Piccadilly Incident Capt. (later Major) Alan Pearson
Carnival Maurice Avery
1947 The Courtneys of Curzon Street Sir Edward Courtney
An Ideal Husband Viscount Arthur Goring
1948 Spring in Park Lane Richard
1949 Maytime in Mayfair Michael Gore-Brown
Under Capricorn Hon. Charles Adare
1950 Stage Fright Det. Insp. Wilfred 'Ordinary' Smith
Into the Blue Nicholas Foster
1951 The Law and the Lady Nigel Duxbury / Lord Henry Minden aka Hoskins
The Lady with a Lamp Sidney Herbert / Lord Herbert of Lea
1952 Derby Day David Scott
Trent's Last Case Philip Trent
1953 Torch Song Tye Graham
1954 The Egyptian Akhnaton
1955 The Glass Slipper Prince Charles
The Scarlet Coat Major John Andre
1956 Zarak Major Michael Ingram
1959 Danger Within Major Charles Marquand
1960 The World of Suzie Wong Ben Marlowe
1961 The Naked Edge Morris Brooke
The Best of Enemies Burke
1962 A Girl Named Tamiko Nigel Costairs
1968 Code Name, Red RosesEnglish General
The Sweet Ride Mr. Cartwright
1970 Waterloo Sir William Ponsonby
1972 Lady Caroline Lamb Lord Holland


YearTitleRoleOther notes
1956 Screen Director's Playhouse David ScottEpisode: The Carroll Formula
1955, 1956 The 20th Century Fox Hour Robert Marryot
Captain Robert Wilton
Episode: Cavalcade
Stranger in the Night
1957 The Joseph Cotten Show Colonel BloodEpisode: The Trial of Colonel Blood
1958 Climax! Lt. MacKenzie BartonEpisode: The Volcano Seat (1)
Episode: The Volcano Seat (2)
Target Episode: The Clean Kill
1959 Lux Playhouse Stephen MacIllroyEpisode: The Case of the Two Sisters
1958, 1959 Playhouse 90 Sir John Alexander
Chris Hughes
Episode: Verdict of Three
Episode: Dark as the Night
1962 Saints and Sinners Sir RobertEpisode: A Night of Horns and Bells
1963 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour David SaundersEpisode: Last Seen Wearing Blue Jeans
Burke's Law Dr. Alex SteinerEpisode: Who Killed Sweet Betsy?
1966 The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. Franz JosephEpisode: The Lethal Eagle Affair
Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Major TuckerEpisode: The Fatal Mistake
1968 Mannix Phillip Montford/Sir Arnold Salt Episode: A View of Nowhere
1973 Frankenstein: The True Story Sir Richard FanshaweTV film, (final film role)

See also

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  1. Flint, Peter (9 July 1979). "Michael Wilding, British Movie Star". Washington Post. Retrieved 10 April 2019.
  2. 1 2 "Michael Wilding Reached The Top The Hard Way". Weekly Times (4204). Victoria, Australia. 18 January 1950. p. 46. Retrieved 29 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "ENGLISH TO THE CORE". Voice . 23 (34). Tasmania. 26 August 1950. p. 4. Retrieved 29 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  4. "ANNA NEAGLE AND MICHAEL WILDING". Cootamundra Herald . New South Wales, Australia. 29 June 1948. p. 4. Retrieved 29 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  5. "BRITISH ACTOR Michael Wilding dies, aged 66". The Canberra Times . 53 (15, 995). 10 July 1979. p. 5. Retrieved 29 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  6. "GEORGE AND MARGARET'". The Telegraph (SECOND ed.). Queensland. 2 May 1938. p. 12. Retrieved 29 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  7. "FOR WOMEN". The Sydney Morning Herald (31, 363). 9 July 1938. p. 11. Retrieved 29 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  8. "DUAL HONOR FOR MICHAEL WILDING". Weekly Times (4194). Victoria, Australia. 9 November 1949. p. 49. Retrieved 29 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  9. "French Starlet Signed By Michael Wilding". The Newcastle Sun (10, 026). New South Wales, Australia. 18 February 1950. p. 6. Retrieved 29 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  10. "Studio Gossip". The Sydney Morning Herald (35, 252). 14 December 1950. p. 19. Retrieved 29 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  11. 1 2 "Vivien Leigh Actress of the Year". Townsville Daily Bulletin . Qld. 29 December 1951. p. 1. Retrieved 9 July 2012 via National Library of Australia.
  12. "Wilding signs U.S. contract". The Mail . 42 (2, 086). Adelaide. 31 May 1952. p. 7 (SUNDAY MAGAZINE). Retrieved 29 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  13. "No Lana -No Pay". Truth (3277). Sydney. 16 November 1952. p. 3. Retrieved 29 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  14. 'Bing's Lucky Number: Pa Crosby Dons 4th B.O. Crown', The Washington Post 3 January 1948: 12.
  15. "Bing Crosby Still Best Box-office Draw". The Sydney Morning Herald . 31 December 1948. p. 3. Retrieved 11 July 2012 via National Library of Australia.
  16. "Film World Anna Neagle: Biggest U.K. Box-Office Draw". The West Australian . Perth. 23 January 1950. p. 9. Retrieved 10 July 2012 via National Library of Australia.
  17. "Success Of British Films." Times [London, England] 29 December 1950: 4. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 11 July 2012.
  18. "Films That Make Money." Times [London, England] 28 December 1951: 7. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 11 July 2012.
  19. "MICHAEL WILDING DIVORCED". Queensland Times (20, 269). 20 December 1951. p. 3 (Daily). Retrieved 29 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  20. Wilding, Michael & Pamela Wilcox, Apple Sauce (London: Allen & Unwin, 1982) pp. 140-144.
  21. Michael Wilding dead from fall
Husband of Elizabeth Taylor
Preceded by
Conrad Hilton Jr.
Husband of Elizabeth Taylor
(by order of marriage)

Succeeded by
Mike Todd