Cloak of Mystery

In charting the cultural rehabilitation of Oscar Wilde in my article Finding Oscar, I alluded to the first appearances of him as character on screen.

I made reference to the well known bio-pics about Wilde released in 1960; before those he was in episodes of two separate UK and American TV series in 1958; and the erstwilde earliest Oscar could be found in a Canadian TV drama series of 1955.

Now the bar has been lowered. Predating all of those Oscars was this brief portrayal (above) by a quite Wildean-looking actor complete with cane and green carnation.

The problem is that nobody seems to know who he was.

The film in question is the technicolor feature The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan released in 1953. It was made by the fine team of Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder as a contribution to the national celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It was a flop. The film, I mean—particularly for the hitherto solvent production company British Lion Films.

Another still from the film showing a mock up of a poster outside the offices of Richard D’Oyly Carte.

In my opinion the ennui generated in 1950s audiences by The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan can be attributed to not enough Story and too much Gilbert and Sullivan. By that I mean the eight musical interludes by original cast members of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company parachuted into the piece. This interminably anachronous trespassing over the tale probably brought forward the birth of rock ‘n roll by a good two years.

Who’s OW First?

The film’s lack of success might be the reason why we haven’t heard of the groundbreaking Oscar, but that’s no reason not to know who played him.

That mystery, I suppose, can be put down to the fact that the film’s Oscar merely has a walk-on part. He turns up briefly during a scene at the Savoy Theatre on the opening night of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe—never mind that the gadabout was actually in Greenwich Village, New York at the time. [1]

In the foyer prior to the show, Helen Lenoir welcomes Sullivan with the exciting news that “everyone will be here tonight, the Prince and Princess of Wales, The Duke of Edinburgh, Gladstone, Oscar Wilde, Mr. Irving…” and soon we see Oscar greeting a lady and then chatting with a character who may be Shaw who whispers “good evening, Oscar”. And that’s it.

First Aid

So, just a brief appearance by an unknown extra. But wait. Surely, cast lists at movie databases quite often record actors who played minor and uncredited roles. So why is our own outcast nowhere listed?

Someone must know! Take this as a plea to find out who this first Oscar was, and the Comments section awaits the results of serious research.

Play For Trivia People

In the meantime for the more trivial among us, there are, instead, a pair of well known actors to focus on in the The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan and they form a very neat piece of Wildean trivia.

The role of W. S. Gilbert is rounded out by Robert Morley who later played the title role in Oscar Wilde (1960). And the character of Richard D’Oyly Carte is played by a goateed Peter Finch who also subsequently had a fling at Fingall in The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960).

Thus we have two future Oscar Wildes in a film featuring another Oscar Wilde. Or, put another way, three Oscar Wildes in one film.

Or put yet another way: a movie from 1953 that collected three Oscars without even being nominated.

© John Cooper, 2021

[1] The film also depicts the opening of Iolanthe as being simultaneous with the opening of the Savoy Theatre. However, the Savoy Theatre actually opened earlier, during the run of Patience.

One thought on “Cloak of Mystery

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s