IT’S A DODGER’S LIFE is the autobiography of my late husband, Jack Wild. He is probably best known for his roles as the Artful Dodger in the film Oliver! and Jimmy in the cult US television series HR Pufnstuf, but his career spanned 40 years.
Jack didn’t really understand why people would be interested to read about him. Even at the height of his career, when he was receiving 20,000 fan letters a week, he wondered why they were all writing to him and thought ‘surely, they’ve got something better to do’.
After Jack and I met in 1995 we worked together on his book: at home, on tour, even in hospital when Jack was having cancer treatment. All the material was there when Jack died in 2006, some parts in finished written form, others as notes or interviews. I spent several years completing the book and working with a researcher to catalogue Jack’s archive. Much that is misleading and inaccurate was written (and continues to be written) about Jack, and I wanted his own story to be finished the way he wanted it told, and in his unique narrative voice. The book was published by Fantom in 2016.
Jack’s story begins in a small terraced house surrounded by the cotton mills of Lancashire.
His journey takes him to London and work as a child actor in films and the West End, then to Hollywood in the 60s, international fame in the 70s, a lost decade in the 80s when his ‘drinking career’ took over, and then the long-sought-for sobriety of the last 17 years of his life, which brought a different set of challenges.
In the media, Jack is often placed firmly on the ‘tragic child star’ trajectory. Although many of his experiences seem to fit that stereotype, he saw things differently. He said ‘over the years people have tried to blame my battles with alcohol on my early success as a child actor, but I just don’t see that. I’d have been an alcoholic no matter what career I had chosen and rather than my success unbalancing me, I think it balanced me out. My success saved me rather than destroyed me.’
He was famous from the age of 15 until his death at 53 and his book shows what happens to someone trying to make sense of that life. How once you become famous, there is no going back; you can become unpopular, but you can never become un-famous. Jack developed his own singular set of values and way of life that, at times, served him well.
Jack’s fortunes varied from being able to buy anything, working with Bing Crosby and receiving an Oscar nomination, to being colossally in debt, alone and sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Despite all this the tone of the book reflects his own irrepressible optimism. Jack loved life and had no regrets. He said ‘I only wish I’d invested my money and not drank quite so much, but other than that I don’t think there is much else I’d change. And I did have a lot of fun.’