Little remembered today, Hollywood actor Cornel Wilde inspired a hairstyle first adopted by north Bondi surfers in the late 1940s before being taken up across Australia by fashion-conscious young men.
In mid-century parlance, Wilde was ‘husky’; a cross between hunky and buff. He became famous for his bare-chested action roles, but one of his two breakthrough performances in 1945 was as Aladdin in the cheesy orientalist spectacular, A Thousand and One Nights.
A New York critic panned A Thousand and One Nights as a ‘strictly bobby socks version of Aladdin’. Wilde looked ridiculous in an ‘Oriental zoot suit’, he wrote.The young men of Bondi thought otherwise. They seem to have revelled in Wilde’s tan-and-pink shoulder-padded shirt with the sleeves rolled high over bulging biceps, his blue trousers pegged at the ankles and falling in voluminous pleats from the waist.
The surfers of Bondi were even more appreciative of Wilde’s hair. He had a pile of curls on top, the back fuller than most Australian men wore at the time, and carefully groomed side-levers finishing just above his cheekbones.
According to young Bondi man Arthur Rea, he and other fans of the Wilde cut were not necessarily enthusiasts of the actor’s films. ‘Most of us go to his pictures, but only to look at his hairstyle’, he told the Sydney Sun in 1946.
The Sun’s interview with Rea was a sign of the media fascination with youth fashion that would explode along with postwar consumerism in the next decades. The publicity given to the Wilde style meant that it spread well beyond fashion-forward Bondi. Perth headlines in 1951 blared ‘You Too Can Be Bodgie or Cornel’ – while in 1954, another paper reported sightings of an Aboriginal stockman at a Darwin cinema sporting a Wilde haircut along with swank cowboy wear.
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Tags: Historical Bondi fashion, Cornel Wilde
Anonymous, ‘Girls Fall For the “Cornel Wilde” Style’, Sun (Sydney), 24 November 1946, 11.
Anonymous, ‘You Too Can Be Bodgie or Cornel: New Hair Vogue For Men’, Mirror (Perth), 19 May 1951, 10.
Bosley Crowther, ‘The Screen: A Thousand and One Nights Costume Show, With Cornel Wilde, Opens at the Criterion’,New York Times,12 July1945.
Eric Joliffee, ‘Hopalong, He Bin Proper Hero There’, Sun-Herald (Sydney), 21 November 1954, 50.