Andre Brandon deWilde (April 9, 1942-July 6, 1972) was an American theatre, film, and television actor. Born into a theatrical family in Brooklyn, he debuted on Broadway at the age of 7 and became a national phenomenon by the time he completed his 492 performances for The Member of the Wedding.
Before the age of 12, he had become the first child actor awarded the Donaldson Award, filmed his role in The Member of the Wedding, starred in his most memorable film role as Joey Starrett in the film Shane (1953), been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, starred in his own sitcom Jamie on ABC and became a household name making numerous radio and TV appearances before being featured on the cover of Life magazine on March 10, 1952, for his second Broadway outing Mrs. McThing.
He continued acting in stage, film and television role into adulthood before his death at age 30 in a motor vehicle accident in Colorado on July 6, 1972.
Andre Brandon deWilde was the son of Frederic A. "Fritz" deWilde and Eugenia (née Wilson) deWilde. Fritz deWilde was the only son of Dutch immigrants who changed their surname from Neitzel-deWilde to "deWilde" when they emigrated to the United States. He became an actor and Broadway production stage manager. Eugenia was a part-time stage actress.
After deWilde's birth, the family moved from Brooklyn to Baldwin, Long Island.
DeWilde made his much-acclaimed Broadway debut at the age of 7 in The Member of the Wedding, was the first child actor to win the Donaldson Award and his talent was praised by John Gielgud the following year. He also starred in the 1952 film version directed by Fred Zinnemann.
In 1952 deWilde acted in the film Shane as Joey Starrett and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance, becoming the youngest nominee for the time in a competitive category. He had the lead role in his own television series, Jamie which aired in 1953 and 1954. Although the series was popular, it was canceled due to a contract dispute. In 1956 he was featured with Walter Brennan, Phil Harris, and Sidney Poitier in the coming-of-age Batjac movie production of Good-bye, My Lady, adapted from James Street's book. This film showcased the then-rare dog breed Basenji, the African barkless dog, to American audiences.
Brooklyn-born, deWilde's soft-spoken manner of speech in his early roles was more akin to a Southern drawl. In 1956 (at age 14) deWilde narrated classical music works Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev and The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten. He also, with his Good-bye, My Lady co-star, Walter Brennan, did a Huckleberry Finn reading in the album The Stories of Mark Twain. All three have been released as MP3 downloads.
DeWilde shared an on-screen camaraderie with both James Stewart and Audie Murphy in the 1957 western Night Passage. In 1958 deWilde continued his career starring in The Missouri Traveler sharing lead billing with Lee Marvin in another coming-of-age film, this one set in the early 1900s. He made a mark onscreen at age 17 as an adolescent father in the 1959 drama Blue Denim, co-starring Carol Lynley, with the then mature theme of abortion, even though the word is never used in the film.
In 1961 deWilde appeared in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "The Sorcerer's Apprentice". He portrayed Hugo, a mentally impaired youth who could not separate fact from fantasy. After seeing a magician saw a woman in half at a carnival, Hugo emulates the trick and kills a girl by sawing her in half. The episode never aired on NBC because the finale was deemed "too gruesome" by 1960s television standards. The episode was included in Alfred Hitchcock Presents syndication and was released in public-domain VHS, DVD and video on demand releases.
The following year, deWilde appeared in All Fall Down, opposite Warren Beatty and Eva Marie Saint, and in Martin Ritt's Hud (1963) co-starring with Paul Newman, Patricia Neal and Melvyn Douglas. Although the only lead actor not to be Oscar-nominated for Hud, deWilde accepted the Best Supporting Actor trophy on behalf of co-star Melvyn Douglas (who was in Spain at the time). That same year, he appeared on Jack Palance's ABC circus drama, The Greatest Show on Earth.
DeWilde signed a two-picture deal with Disney in 1964. He first starred in The Tenderfoot, a 3-part comedy Western for Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color TV show with Brian Keith. The following year he and Keith did Those Calloways for theatrical release, reuniting deWilde with his Good-bye, My Lady star Walter Brennan. Also in 1965, deWilde filmed a performance as Jere Torry, the screen son of John Wayne in In Harm's Way (1965).
After 1965, many of his roles were limited to television guest appearances. "Being small for his age and a bit too pretty ... in his favour as a child ... worked against him as an adult", wrote author Linda Ashcroft after talking with deWilde at a party. "He spoke of giving up movies until he could come back as a forty-year-old character actor". DeWilde's final western role was in Dino De Laurentiis' 1971 spaghetti western The Deserter, one year before his death. He played adjutant Lieutenant Ferguson who meets with an untimely end. He made his last screen appearance in Wild In The Sky (1972).
DeWilde had hoped to embark on a music career. He asked his friend, Gram Parsons (of the Byrds), and his band at the time, International Submarine Band, to back him in a recording session. ISB guitarist John Nuese claimed that deWilde sang harmony with Parsons better than anyone except Emmylou Harris and bassist Ian Dunlop wrote, "The lure of getting a record out was tugging hard at Brandon."
Parsons and Harris later co-wrote a song entitled "In My Hour of Darkness", the first verse of which refers to the car accident that killed deWilde.
DeWilde was married twice and had one son. His first marriage was to writer Susan M. Maw, whom he married in 1963. The couple had a son, Jesse, before divorcing in 1969. He married his second wife, Janice Gero, in April 1972.
DeWilde died from injuries he sustained in a traffic accident in the Denver suburb of Lakewood on July 6, 1972. The accident occurred at about 3:25 p.m. DeWilde was driving a camper van on W. 6th Ave. near Kipling St. when it went off the street, struck a guardrail, then struck a flatbed truck used to install guardrails. It was raining lightly at the time of the accident. He was alone in his vehicle and not wearing a seat belt. The camper van rolled onto its side, pinning him in the wreckage. DeWilde was taken to St. Anthony Hospital where he died at 7:20 p.m. of multiple injuries including a broken back, neck, and leg.
DeWilde had been in Denver for a stage production of Butterflies Are Free, with Maureen O'Sullivan and Karen Grassle at the Elitch Theatre, which ended its run on July 1. At the time of the accident, deWilde had been en route to visit his second wife, Janice, who was a patient at Colorado General Hospital. He was survived by a son, Jesse, from his first marriage, and by his second wife.
He was originally buried in Hollywood, Los Angeles, but his parents later moved his remains to Pinelawn Memorial Park in Farmingdale, New York, to be closer to their home on Long Island. Frederic deWilde died in 1980 and Eugenia deWilde died in 1987.
The Philco Television Playhouse
The Member of the Wedding
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Good-bye, My Lady
Screen Director's Playhouse
The Missouri Traveler
The United States Steel Hour
Episode: "The Locked Door"
Episode: "Man of His House"
Alternative title: Blue Jeans
Episode: "Pigeons from Hell"
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Episode: "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"
All Fall Down
Lon "Lonnie" Bannon
The Greatest Show on Earth
Episode: "Love the Giver"
The Wonderful World of Disney
12 O'Clock High
Cpl. Ross Lawrence
Episode: Here's to Courageous Cowards"
In Harm's Way
Ens. Jeremiah "Jere" Torrey
Roger Bailey, Jr.
Episode: "The Objector"
Episode: "A Sudden Terror"
ABC Stage 67
Episode: "The Confession"
The Name of the Game
Episode: "The Bobby Currier Story"
Journey to the Unknown
Episode: "King Kamehameha Blues"
Love, American Style
Segment: "Love and the Bachelor"
The Young Rebels
Young Nathan Hale
Episode: "To Hang a Hero"
Alternative titles: The Devil's Backbone, Ride to Glory
Episode: "Death in the Family/The Merciful/Class of '99/Witches' Feast"
Episode: "In the Line of Duty"
Wild in the Sky
Alternative titles: Black Jack, God Bless the Bomb
Best Male Debut
The Member of the Wedding (play)
Best Supporting Actor
Golden Globe Awards
The Member of the Wedding (film)
In popular culture:
On Christmas Day 2011 it was announced that author, Patrisha McLean, to coincide with the 2012 70th anniversary of his deWilde's birth and 40th anniversary of his death, would release a biography of Brandon deWilde that had sat "shelved" for the previous 25 years. Updated to include 2012 interviews with deWilde's widow, Janice Gero deWilde, All Fall Down, The Brandon deWilde Story was released on June 19, 2012.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license