Cornel Wilde (October 13, 1912 – October 16, 1989) was an American actor and film director.
Kornél Lajos Weisz was born in 1912 in Prievidza, Hungary (now Slovakia), although his year and place of birth are usually and inaccurately given as 1915 in New York City. His Hungarian Jewish parents were Vojtech Weisz (Americanized to Louis Bela Wilde) and Renée Mary Vid. He was named for his paternal grandfather, and upon arrival in the U.S. at age 7 in 1920, his name was Americanized to Cornelius Louis Wilde.
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.
He qualified for the United States fencing team prior to the 1936 Summer Olympic Games, but quit the team just prior to 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.
from The Greatest Show on Earth
After study 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 wrote a fencing play, Touché, under the pseudonym Clark Wales in 1937. Wilde was hired as a fencing teacher by Laurence Olivier for his 1940 Broadwayproduction of Romeo and Juliet and was given the role of Tybalt in the production. His performance in this role netted him a Hollywood film contract.
He had several small film roles until he played the role of Frédéric Chopin in 1945's A Song to Remember, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor. In 1945 he also starred in A Thousand and One Nights with Evelyn Keyes. He spent the rest of the decade appearing in romantic and swashbuckling films, but he also appeared in some significant films noirs, opposite Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven (1945), Road House (1948) and Shockproof (1949), the latter film also starring his then wife Patricia Knight. In 1947 he was voted the 25th most popular star in the US.
In the 1950s, Wilde created his own film production company and produced the film noir The Big Combo (1955). Wilde played the male lead alongside his second wife Jean Wallace. That same year, he appeared in an episode of I Love Lucy as himself. 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.
He produced, directed, and starred in The Naked Prey (1966), 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 for The Naked Prey 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 convinced Wilde and the other producers to shoot the film on location in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
Wilde's other notable directing efforts include Beach Red (1967) and 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. 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 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 Franchot Tone became Wilde's stepsons. They also had a son together, Cornel Wallace Wilde Jr. (born December 19, 1967). They divorced in 1981.
Wilde died of leukemia three days after his 77th birthday. He was survived by a daughter and a son (one from each marriage); two stepsons, Pascal Franchot Tone and Thomas Jefferson Tone; and three grandchildren. Wilde is interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, California.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Cornel Wilde has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1635 Vine Street.