In 1950, Brandon deWilde became the talk of Broadway when he debuted in Member of the Wedding at the age of 7. Three years later, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his heart-rending performance as Joey Starrett opposite star Alan Ladd in Shane.
Based on his popularity, Brandon was given his own weekly sitcom on ABC, called Jamie, in which he played a young orphan being shuffled among many reluctant family members. The show lasted one season. He continued his career with roles in television and movies, including the controversial Blue Denim in 1959, with co-star Carol Lynley. The film dealt with a young couple and the dilemma over abortion, although the taboo word is never spoken.
He also filmed in a segment of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, playing a mentally-challenged youngster who has difficulty separating fantasy from the real world. After watching a magician on television, he kills a girl by sawing her in half. NBC deemed the episode “too gruesome” and it was never aired.
In 1963, he once again received critical acclaim in Hud, alongside Paul Newman, Patricia Neal and Melvyn Douglas. Although he, himself, was not nominated, Brandon graciously accepted the Oscar for co-star Douglas, who was out of the country during the awards ceremony.
In the early 70s, Brandon hoped to embark on a career in music, with the help of his friend singer-songwriter Gram Parsons. A Parsons associate cited Brandon as the best harmony singer after Emmylou Harris.
Just days after finishing a run of the play Butterflies are Free in Denver, Colorado, Brandon was driving his van to Colorado State Hospital to visit his wife after recent surgery. In a light rain, his vehicle struck a flatbed truck piled high with guardrails that workers had yet to install. Brandon’s van overturned and he was pinned in the wreckage. He died in the hospital, three hours later, of multiple injuries. Brandon was 30 years old. His last film was Wild in the Sky, a story of a hijacking co-starring The Rookies’ Georg Stanford Brown, Keenan Wynn, The Love Boat’s Bernie Kopell and Hogan’s Heroes‘ Larry Hovis in his film debut.