❉ Propelled to stardom at the age of 15, ‘It’s A Dodger’s Life’ is the story of actor Jack Wild, in his own words.
I’ve always liked Jack Wild, ever since being entranced by his Artful Dodger as a small child. I didn’t really notice him again until his small role in ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’, where once again he turned in a memorable performance. I often wondered why he hadn’t become the big star that he seemed so destined to be.
When I spoke to somebody I know about reviewing Jack’s autobiography, they expressed surprise that it had been published, stating that they had worked with him on ‘Prince of Thieves’ and he had stated then, quite baldly, and quite typically honest for Jack as it turns out, that he didn’t think he could write an autobiography as alcoholism had destroyed his memory. I therefore approached his autobiography with some degree of trepidation.
I needn’t have worried. This is actually one of the most engaging and honest autobiographies I have ever read. The character of Jack Wild leaps from the page. He admits his mistakes and character flaws openly, and doesn’t shirk from painting himself in a less than favourable light, but through it all his genuine charisma shines through. I’m left wishing I could have met him.
Jack Wild fell into acting and show business almost by mistake, after his family moved from the Manchester area to London for work. A chance encounter with Phil Collins through a mutual liking of playing football in the park lead to Jack and his brother signing up at the stage school that Collins’ mum helped to run. This inexorably led to appearances in the stage show of Oliver! And then to being cast in the film. Jack leads us through his almost bewilderment at the fame that followed and hints at the anxiety and stress that his rapid rise to superstardom caused him. He appears to have started medicating himself with alcohol fairly early on, but it took a very long time before he realised what he was doing and that he had a problem. He doesn’t shy away from this, nor from the shadier sides of show business; there are several tales of dodgy deals and guns being pulled on him for example. He mentions several occasions where he seems to have been financially fleeced but is equally honest about his own lack of skills with money management.
The early part of the book is a fascinating look into show business in the late sixties and early seventies. Jack is clearly a popular figure and meets many actors and celebrities who were popular at this time. Anybody who is interested in popular culture at this time would be entranced by his experiences as a young man, delivered in an engaging and interesting way by a man who never seems to have regarded himself as a huge star.
The latter part of the book inevitably deals with his descent into alcoholism. This could have come across as depressing or a morality tale, but Jack peppers it with funny stories and is always honest about what was happening and what he was feeling. He also includes a daily diary of his time spent in a drying out clinic detailing his unrelenting positivity and drive to beat the illness that was destroying his life.
Jack ends his book at a positive time in his life, with the intention of writing a new book about his diagnosis with mouth cancer but this unfortunately was never to be realised.
A line from the Afterword seems to sum him up; “Jack Wild was destined for stardom the moment he lit up cinema screens around the world with that unforgettable impish grin.” He certainly had star quality and seems to have been a lovely man as well, as far as lives go, that is a pretty successful one.
❉ ‘It’s a Dodger’s Life’ is out now in hardback from Fantom, RRP £14.99. You can order it directly from the publisher.