Young Fry

Stephen Fry as a Younger Oscar Wilde (in America)

Stephen Fry is known for playing Oscar Wilde in the 1997 movie Wilde.

The opening to that film shows Oscar arriving in town on horseback for his lecture in Leadville, Colorado, but the scene gives a false impression. Not because he actually arrived in Leadville by train; no, nothing so pedantic.

The point is that the 1997 film is not even about Wilde’s time in America. Its arc is the period of Oscar’s relationship with Alfred Douglas in Europe ten years later. So why do they show Leadville? The producer once told me that the real-life incident in Leadville, when the encaged Wilde descends into a mineshaft, was included by the screenwriter to symbolize Wilde’s descent in life. One may consider this as another aspect of the film that doesn’t quite fit, but that’s another story.

Instead, let us move forward to the past; because if it is Stephen Fry playing the youthful Wilde in America you want, did you know he had already done just that before he made the film Wilde?

You can discover—and watch—his earlier embodiment of Wilde below.

The earlier, and much lesser known, Stephen Fry incarnation of Oscar Wilde is in a 1993 CBS made-for-TV mini-series The Adventures of Ned Blessing.  The episode with Stephen as guest star is entitled ‘Oscar’. [1]

You could be forgiven for not knowing about it. Not even Stephen Fry himself recalled it in an interview with Barry Norman in 1997 when he gave the distinct impression that he had not yet had a chance to play Wilde.

Yet there he was back in 1993 getting into hot water in more ways than one between lectures in San Antonio and Galveston. Never fear. Our poetic Wilde-west hero Oscar “swishy-pants” saves the day by overpowering an armed thug despite his hands being tied behind his back and with his head in a hangman’s noose. Frankly, the scene in which Oscar takes a bath with two old men in barn is far more believable.

The Oscar episode was directed by David Hemmings—“of all people”, as Fry once said of the fact—for the late eccentric actor was not necessarily celebrated as a director. For example his 1978 film Just a Gigolo starring David Bowie and Marlene Dietrich was so poorly received that Bowie described it as “my 32 Elvis Presley films rolled into one”.

The Ned Blessing series first aired in 1993. And, unsurprisingly, it last aired in 1993 as well. The Stephen Fry episode was the fourth of four, and after Oscar rides off into the sunset under a Japanese parasol they stopped making ’em.

It sounds bad but, really, it is so idiosyncratic that is defies criticism, and I think Stephen evokes something more of Oscar in this than in Wilde.

Here it is.

[1] The 1993 mini-series was evidently a spin-off of a 1992 TV movie Ned Blessing: The Story of My Life and Times.

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John Cooper

John Cooper is a researcher, author, blogger and documentary historian. As a long-standing member of the Oscar Wilde Society in London, a founding member of the Oscar Wilde Society of America, and a former manager of the Victorian Society In America, he has spent 30 years in the study of Oscar Wilde, having lectured on Wilde, and contributing to TV, film, and academic journals including The Wildean and Oscholars. Online he is the designer, author and editor of this noncommercial archive Oscar Wilde in America, blogger, and moderator of the Oscar Wilde Internet discussion groups at Yahoo and Google. For the last 14 years he has specialized in new and unique research into Oscar Wilde in New York, where he conducts guided walking tours based on the visits of Oscar Wilde. In 2012 John rediscovered Oscar Wilde's essay The Philosophy Of Dress that forms the centerpiece to his recent book Oscar Wilde On Dress (2013).

4 thoughts on “Young Fry”

  1. This is marvelous John. What a find. I actually believe there is an allusion to him in another Western. Tombstone with Val Kilmer, Bill Paxton, Sam Elliott and Kurt Russell was written by Kevin Jarre (who also started as director but was replaced). Jarre was a total history buff and his attention to detail stalled the production so he was replaced. I believe Billy Zane, who plays a Shakespearean thespian, is a nod to Oscar. The shootout at the OK Corral was Wednesday October 26 1881, albeit several months before Wilde ventured West. But then the Zane character is fictional.


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