October 13 marks the 106th anniversary of the birth of Cornel Wilde, the Hungarian-American actor and director who enjoyed a career of over 50 years in show biz!
Wilde was born in Hungary (now Slovakia) in 1912, moving to the U.S. by age 7.
He was studying to become a doctor when the acting bug bit, and it bit so hard he actually gave up an opportunity to fence on the U.S. team in the 1936 Summer Olympics. (His fencing skills would come in handy in later film roles, and for when he was coaching other actors in the discipline.)
Wilde's first big acting gig was on Broadway in 1935 in the show Moon Over Mulberry Street, the first of several appearances on the Great White Way.
The handsome, muscled performer eased into film, starting with uncredited parts in the late '30s and 1940 before his first credited part, in 1941's High Sierra with Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957).
He worked in the 1941 hit Knockout, but things kicked into high gear when he was signed by 20th Century Fox the same year.
After a few years in the trenches, he was loaned to Columbia to star as Chopin (1810-1849) in A Song to Remember (1945), a huge hit that established him as a star and earned him an Oscar nomination as Best Actor.
He worked steadily now, most importantly as the male star of Leave Her to Heaven (1945), one of the biggest hits of the decade.
He also tasted success with Forever Amber (1947), It Had to Be You (1947) and Road House (1948), and appeared in another massive hit, the ensemble-cast-driven The Greatest Show on Earth (1952).
As he aged, he became a producer and director, and his acting was often in genre flicks. In 1955, he was one of the iconic stars who played themselves on I Love Lucy.
In 1965, Wilde produced, directed and acted in the acclaimed The Naked Prey, and he continued directing into the '70s — a total of eight features.
I remember him fondly as the lead in the TV movie Gargoyles (1972), about living ... yes ... gargoyles. It was one of his many forays into TV films and episode television, with other notable appearances (going back to 1956) in such projects as Father Knows Best (1957), General Electric Theatre (1955, 1961), Night Gallery (1972) and the ultimate '70s/'80s trifecta: Fantasy Island (1978), The Love Boat (1983) and Murder, She Wrote (1987), the latter of which served as his final screen performance.
Wilde twice married, both times to actresses — Patricia Knight (1915-2004) and Jean Wallace (1923-1990).
He died in 1989 of leukemia.
One of Wilde's last interviews: