A baby boomer legend who keeps growing

Every baby boomer who’s still around today grew up a looooooong time ago. But how many keep growing? What we like about this piece from John Wilder of Santa Barbara, California, is that he does. As you’ll see for yourself at the end of his story.

A Ph.D before you’re fifteen? How the heck do you do that??

John Wilder, film director, author, scholar.

John Wilder, film director and author.

You get very lucky. You’re born to parents who love you, who put your development ahead of their own, who want you to arrive at a better place materially than where they were when they began their family. Parents willing to pick up and leave the only area they’ve known, full of family and friends, when a doctor says their son’s respiratory problems can only improve if they leave the dampness of northwest Washington State for a drier climate east of the Cascades, or else a place like Southern California.

You ride with your little sister in the back seat of a ’34 Ford, with one working headlight, down the old Pacific Coast Highway with parents who won’t move east of the Cascades where logging would likely be your future as it was your grandfather’s past. You are put into a theater workshop at age 8, directed by Maria Manton, the daughter of Marlene Dietrich, and you do Lillian Hellman’s Watch on The Rhine. The director comments on your ability to read well, and advises your parents to look into performing on radio.

You have a general audition at CBS, and do your first coast-to-coast broadcast the next week. That leads to five years of continuous work, fifteen recurring roles on weekly shows, as many as five at a time. You work regularly with Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante, Bob Burns, Alan Young, Lucille Ball, Billie Burke, Eve Arden, Gene Autry, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. You play Red Ryder’s Indian sidekick “Little Beaver” two to three nights a week for over four years. You play Pinocchio on Academy Award Playhouse when you’re ten, you’re billed as The Youngest Emcee in Hollywood, working between your “Uncle Bud” and “Uncle Lou” every Saturday morning when you’re eleven. You co-star with Richard Widmark and Lionel Barrymore on Lux Radio Theater, and with Gregory Peck in the radio version of The Yearling when you’re twelve or thirteen. You work on every major show out of Hollywood, including 21 times on Lux Radio Theater, its most prestigious program.

John Wilder directing The Streets of San Francisco.

John Wilder directing The Streets of San Francisco.

You work in films with Ronald Reagan, Broderick Crawford, Viveca Lindfors, Doris Day, Gordon MacRae, and Cary Grant. You have directors like Don Siegel, Stanley Donan, and Gene Kelly.

Dialogue written by gifted professionals is digested and delivered. Similarly gifted directors guide that delivery as well as your movements. You hold stage with adult actors, major stars, handling the same responsibilities they are given. You learn not to flinch, to trust your instincts, but you also know to take advice from more experienced people.

Then one day, you wake up to realize what you’ve learned by osmosis. You put it all to work behind the camera, and carve out a career you never would have had without those loving parents. You decide to write your first novel – Nobody Dies In Hollywood – as you enter your eighth decade. It’s about a Boomer Private Investigator pursuing truth to peril. And about Show Biz. And, in large part, about the effects of parenting.


  1. Loved your article! Congratulations on a life well lived with so many wonderful accomplishments, and a special congratulations to your parents who made it happen. I think your article should be an inspiration to all parents to reflect on how they could be better parents, giving their children a better chance to find their passions and create a life as amazing as yours. I will look forward to reading your book!

  2. A very moving piece…and what fantastic life! Eight decades later, still remembering what is owed to one’s parents…My mother died this year, she was 101, and yes, I owe her so much too – and my father…It’s so good reading about this kind of feeling, gratitude is not normally worn upfront like this. Many thanks for sharing

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