Michael Wilding (actor)

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.

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

(1912-07-23)23 July 1912
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)


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]

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]

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.

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]

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.


Wilding died on July 8, 1979 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.


1933Bitter SweetExtraUncredited
Heads We GoMinor RoleUncredited
Channel CrossingPassenger Boarding FerryUncredited
1935Late ExtraNewspaper Telephone OperatorUncredited
1936When Knights Were BoldSoldierUncredited
Wedding GroupDr. Hutherford
1939There Ain't No JusticeLen Charteris
Tilly of BloomsburyPercy Welwyn
Sailors ThreeJohnny Wilding
Sailors Don't CareDick
1941Mr. Proudfoot Shows a LightOfficer #2
Spring MeetingTony Fox-Collier
The Farmer's WifeRichard Coaker
KippsRonnie Walshingham
Cottage to LetAlan Trently
1942Ships with WingsLt. David Grant
The Big BlockadeCaptainUncredited
In Which We ServeFlags
Secret MissionPvt. Nobby Clark
Dear OctopusNicholas Randolph
1944English Without TearsTom Gilbey
1946Piccadilly IncidentCapt. (later Major) Alan Pearson
CarnivalMaurice Avery
1947The Courtneys of Curzon StreetSir Edward Courtney
An Ideal HusbandViscount Arthur Goring
1948Spring in Park LaneRichard
1949Maytime in MayfairMichael Gore-Brown
Under CapricornHon. Charles Adare
1950Stage FrightDet. Insp. Wilfred 'Ordinary' Smith
Into the BlueNicholas Foster
1951The Law and the LadyNigel Duxbury / Lord Henry Minden aka Hoskins
The Lady with a LampSidney Herbert / Lord Herbert of Lea
1952Derby DayDavid Scott
Trent's Last CasePhilip Trent
1953Torch SongTye Graham
1954The EgyptianAkhnaton
1955The Glass SlipperPrince Charles
The Scarlet CoatMajor John Andre
1956ZarakMajor Michael Ingram
1959Danger WithinMajor Charles Marquand
1960The World of Suzie WongBen Marlowe
1961The Naked EdgeMorris Brooke
The Best of EnemiesBurke
1962A Girl Named TamikoNigel Costairs
1968Code Name, Red RosesEnglish General
The Sweet RideMr. Cartwright
1970WaterlooSir William Ponsonby
1972Lady Caroline LambLord Holland


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

See also


  1. Flint, Peter (9 July 1979). "Michael Wilding, British Movie Star". Washington Post. Retrieved 10 April 2019.
  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. "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. "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
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