Friends and a Fake Ear: Oliver! Memories

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The Oscar-winning musical Oliver! is a delight to watch, and by all accounts, it was even more of a blast to make.

1. Magic, Clowns, and more!

Director Carol Reed had clowns and magicians visit, and the young boys played football during down times. “It was like one big family. It was very easy to work in those circumstances,” Mark Lester, who played Oliver, said. The fun environment also helped with filming. In order to get the right close-up reaction from Lester during Fagin’s treasure scene, Reed pulled a rabbit out of his coat, much to the boy’s amusement. Reed said, “I enjoy working with children. Of course it can be tedious, but it can also be exhilarating.”

2. Ron Moody and the boys were pals.

Moody not only charmed audiences as the bad influence Fagin, but also the young actors. During down times, Moody would even play cards with them. “I loved working with all the boys,” he said. “I'd always try to surprise them on camera to keep them alert. I remember sticking my quill in my hat after noting down their pick-pocketing haul to make them laugh during the filming.” Mark Lester said, "Ron was great. He was like our uncle. He took us all under his wing. He was so professional.”

3. The kids were scared of Oliver Reed.

And who wouldn’t be after his grim performance as Bill Sikes? Jack Wild remembered, “As kids we were all terrified of him because he was this giant of a man, and the only time we ever saw him was when he was in costume and made up for the part.” But Reed was a character actor and purposefully kept his distance to keep the illusion of his gruff exterior with his costars. Moody said, “People didn't realize that behind those baleful eyes was a child who liked to tease: he enjoyed fixing his terrifying gaze on people until they cracked.”

4. Mr. Bumble got pranked.

Harry Secombe (Mr. Bumble) had to pull young Oliver’s ear during filming, and the actor was nervous about hurting him. To tease him, the make-up department made a fake ear for Mark Lester, so that when Mr. Bumble pulled, it would come off. Lester said, “I'd been primed to scream in agony, and his horrified expression must be on film in an archive somewhere.”

5. Oliver and Dodger were real-life friends.

The on-screen friendship of Oliver and Dodger also existed off-screen for Mark Lester and Jack Wild. The pair became fast friends and even did another film together years later (Melody, 1971). Unfortunately, Wild died at the early age of 53 from cancer. Lester said, “Jack was like a brother to me during the making of the film and was always very protective. The chemistry between us was just something very, very special and lasted throughout our lives.”