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On This Day in History, April 9: Gifted Young Brooklynite

The 11-year-old Brooklyn boy whose immortal words, “Shane, come back Shane,” to Alan Ladd in the 1953 movie Shane cannot be forgotten by anyone who ever saw the film. He won a nomination for an Academy Award for his sensitive performance in that classic Hollywood western. He was not even aware of the nomination until four years later — his parents feared it would turn the kid’s head.

Andre Brandon de Wilde was born in Brooklyn on April 9, 1942, the son of a stage manager and an actress. He made his Broadway debut in the memorable play A Member of the Wedding to great critical acclaim and was the first child ever to win the Donaldson Award for an outstanding stage performance. He played the role for 292 performances before repeating it in 1952 for the Hollywood screen version.

De Wilde’s performance in Hud (1963) was being considered by the Academy for an Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category. Although it was common for Oscar nominees to campaign and advertise in hopes of winning, de Wilde, then 21, refused to campaign for his Oscar at all, arguing: “The people of my profession know whether or not I’m good enough to make the race. I don’t need to prod them with reminders.” Melvyn Douglas, co-star in Hud, did win an Oscar for his supporting actor role. He was filming in Israel the night of the awards and asked de Wilde to accept the award for him at the ceremonies, which was presented by Patty Duke.

Films of de Wilde other than those mentioned above include Goodbye, My Lady (’56), Night Passage (’57), The Missouri Traveler (’58), Blue Denim (’59), All Fall Down (’62), Those Calloways (’64) and In Harm’s Way (’65). A few Broadway roles followed.

It seems that most child stars (except maybe for Shirley Temple) faced many problems, however gifted, of being so deeply involved in an adult profession during formative years. De Wilde’s parents had a special contract which allowed him to drop out of the series on short notice if he wanted to, or if his parents felt it was impairing his emotional growth.

The ending of “Jamie” (Oct. 4, 1954) was unhappy in the long run for the tow-headed young star, as well. De Wilde was never able to sustain the success of his youth into adulthood. In 1972, he was appearing on the stage in Butterflies Are Free in Denver, Colorado, with Maureen O’Sullivan, when he was killed, at the age of 30, in a car accident. He was driving to the hospital to visit his wife — they had been married for just three months.

— Vernon Parker

April 9, 2012 - 10:03am


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