The film of Lionel Bart's musical, Oliver! earned him Golden Globe Award and BAFTA Award nominations, plus a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. As Jimmy, he was the protagonist of the television series and feature film about a boy befriended by a friendly dragon named H.R. Pufnstuf, produced by Sid and Marty Krofft.
Wild was an English born actor born into a working class family in a small town in Lancashire (now Greater Manchester), called Royton, near Oldham. Wild moved to Bungalow in London, with his parents and his older brother Arthur in 1960 at the age of eight, where he got a job helping the milkman, which paid about five shillings.
He was discovered whilst playing football with his brother in the park by theatrical agent June Collins mother of Phil Collins.
Collins enrolled both Jack and Arthur at the Barbara Speake Stage School, an independent school in Acton in West London.
The Wild brothers sought acting roles to supplement their parents' income and, in the autumn of 1964, both were cast in a West End theatre production of Lionel Bart's Oliver!, Arthur in the title role, and Jack as a member of Fagin's gang, Charley Bates. Although Jack auditioned as The Artful Dodger for several subsequent stage productions of Oliver!, he was always turned down because he was too short. He stayed with the show until the spring of 1966, when he left to make the film serial Danny the Dragon for the Children's Film Foundation. Wild's first speaking roles on TV were an episode of Out of the Unknown, and the third part of the BBC’s version of the Wesker Trilogy, I’m Talking About Jerusalem. By the time Wild was chosen to portray the Artful Dodger for the 1968 movie version of Oliver! he had also appeared in episodes of Z Cars, The Newcomers (TV series), and George and the Dragon (TV series). He received critical acclaim and several nominations for his appearance as the Artful Dodger:Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer
BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer
It was at the 1968 premiere of Oliver! that Wild met brothers Sid and Marty Krofft, who thought he would make a good lead for a show they were developing called H.R. Pufnstuf. Wild starred in this American family television series that launched in 1969. He was to be paid $1,000,000 to play "Jimmy", a boy washed up on "Living Island" (a magic island) with his best friend Freddy, a talking flute, although Jack stated in 2001 that he never received the money. He starred in the movie Pufnstuf (1970). Other roles followed, including the films Melody (1971) (with Oliver! co-star Mark Lester) and Flight of the Doves (1971). The latter film reunited him with Ron Moody, who had played Fagin in Oliver!.
Wild also embarked on a recording career, cutting one album for Capitol Records- containing the single "Some Beautiful" that received a lot of airplay on Radio Luxembourg, but didn't chart very highly - and two for Buddah Records in the early 1970s. The three albums were called The Jack Wild Album, Everything's Coming Up Roses and Beautiful World.
At the height of his acting career, Jack usually acted younger than he was. For H.R. Pufnstuf, Wild was a seventeen-year-old playing a boy who was eleven.
"When I first entered in the show business," Jack said in 1999," Of course I didn't mind playing younger roles. However it did bug me when I would be twenty-one being offered the role of a thirteen-year-old. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy playing these roles; I had barrels of fun, I just wanted more serious and dramatic roles; it's that simple."
During the early 1970s, Wild was considered "one of the world's teen heartthrobs," alongside David Cassidy and Barry Williams. With large hazel eyes, a somewhat pug nose and freckles, Jack was loved and adored by many girls across the globe. "I received roughly 2,000 fan letters a week," he stated in 1989. "I never left any one of them blank. I always answered, even if I was exhausted. I really thought it was one of the most important things."
While Jack and Arthur were at Barbara Speake stage school, Jack met Welsh-born actress Gaynor Jones when they were around twelve years old. After he left the school in 1966, he didn't see her again until Christmas of 1970, when she was hosting a Christmas party. Then, after seeing her for the first time in four years, he got her telephone number and they were soon dating. They married on Valentine's Day 1976, Wild was 23 years old and Jones was 22. Afterwards, they celebrated with a honeymoon to Paris. After they returned, bought a home a few weeks later in the wealthy suburb Richmond, London.
Wild struggled to make the transition to adult stardom. He had begun smoking at the age of 12, and by age 17 was drinking heavily.
At age 21 he was already an alcoholic and a diabetic. This did not help him find acting work, and by 1976 his film career was badly stalled. In 1981 he was supposed to star with Suzi Quatro in a series about a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde for British television, but it was cancelled at the last minute. His alcoholism ruined both his career and marriage to Gaynor, who left him in 1985 because of his excessive drinking.
After exhausting his remaining fortune Wild lived with his retired father for a few years. His alcoholism caused three cardiac arrests and resulted in several hospital stays until he stopped drinking in 1989. Wild later admitted his alcoholism was so debilitating during this period that from the late 1970s until he went sober, he was incapable of doing any kind of work.
Wild unsuccessfully attempted various alcoholism rehabilitation programmes and finally gave up drinking on 6 March 1989 after joining Alcoholics Victorious. He returned to the big screen in a few minor roles, such as in the 1991 Kevin Costner film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and as a peddler in Basil (1998). For the most part, Wild spent the remainder of his career working in theatre. His last major appearance was as the male lead, "Mouse", in Tayla Goodman's rock musical Virus. The show ran for two weeks at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham. For his final film appearance, Wild had a minor role in Moussaka & Chips (2000), where he once again worked with Ron Moody.
Wild died on 1 March 2006 at age 53 after a long battle with mouth cancer, which he blamed on his drinking and/or smoking. Diagnosed with the disease in 2000, he initially underwent chemotherapy, but later had part of his tongue and both vocal cords removed in July 2004. Because of this surgery, he had lost his speech and had to communicate through his wife, Claire Harding, whom he met when they were appearing in Jack and the Beanstalk in Worthing. Wild was reportedly working on his autobiography, but died before it could be completed.
Wild's body was buried in Toddington Parish Cemetery, Bedfordshire.
At the time of his death, Wild and his widow, Claire Harding, had been working on his autobiography. It was completed by Claire, who explained: 'All the material was there when Jack died, it just needed rearranging, editing, and, in certain sections, writing out from transcripts Jack and I made as we recorded him talking about his life.' In 2016, his autobiography, It's a Dodger's Life was finally published by Fantom Films (ISBN 978-1-78196-266-4) with a foreword by Pufnstuf co-star Billie Hayes, an afterword by Clive Francis, and an epilogue by Claire Harding.The Jack Wild Album (1970)
Everything's Coming Up Roses (1971)
A Beautiful World (1972)