Jon Whitely, Oscar winner at 11, is now the curator of Oxfords’ Ashmolean Museum.
In 1953, child actor Jon Whitely won an Oscar at the age of 11 for playing the longest part for a child in cinema history. He won the Oscar starring in The Little Kidnappers, one of just twelve Academy Juvenile Awards handed out between 1934 and 1960 to stars such as Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, and Shirley Tempe. His Oscar arrived through the post because the school term prevented him from attending the ceremony in Los Angeles.
Acting came to Whiteley by accident when a BBC radio show arrived at his school in Monymusk, rural Aberdeenshire, in Scotland. Asked to recite his favourite poem, the six-year-old Whiteley’s rendition of Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat caught the attention of a talent scout, who invited him to screen tests for Hunted (1952).
“There was nothing I wanted more than to go on doing it forever. I loved being around the studios and the other actors. But my parents knew only too well that it’s a jolly chancy business making the transition from being a child actor to being an adult actor. [Giving it up] wasn’t what I wanted.”
Whitely (1945-), now 71, walked off the red carpet and dedicated his life to the history of art, becoming curator of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum in 1976, a position he has held ever since.
The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology on Beaumont Street, Oxford, in England, is the world’s first university museum. The building was constructed in 1678-1683 to house Elias Ashmole’s artefacts that he gave to the University of Oxford in 1677. It was closed in 2006 for renovations. The museum re-opened in 2009.
Jon Whitely was made a chevalier (knight) of the French Order of Arts and Letters in May 2009.
‘I won an Oscar aged 11 – but curating the Ashmolean museum has given me a better life,’ he said.
He swapped spotlight, limelight, fans and fantasy for books and Paul Cezanne. His wife of 40 years, Linda, is also an art curator, and they have two children.
“I’m happy with the world that I’m in. As an eight year old I was always fond of art and archaeology and I had myself a little museum of artefacts. It was my pride and joy. I’ve still got it.”
Photograph of John Whitely with Dirk Bogarde in Hunted, 1952 by ITV/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK