The Treat: Director George Miller on Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Happy Prince’

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Filmmaker George Miller explains how Oscar Wilde’s children’s tale “The Happy Prince” contained everything he needed for storytelling. Photo courtesy of UA

George Miller, director of the new fantasy drama “Three Thousand Years of Longing” and the “Mad Max” franchise, describes a record of audio stories as an amusing artifact from his childhood that provided him with all the tools for storytelling in rural Australia in the early 1950s.  

Miller recalls the Christmas morning when his parents gave him and his twin brother a vinyl containing, on one side, a story about Jesus of Bethlehem called “The Small One.” The other side featured a recording of Oscar Wilde’s children’s story “The Happy Prince.” 

Wilde’s tale had first been adapted for the Christmas Eve Philco Radio Hall of Fame program and performed by Bing Crosby and Orson Welles on December 24, 1944. The act was so popular that, two years later, the actors recorded a studio album, which became something of a holiday tradition.

We played “The Happy Prince,” my twin brother and I, not exaggerating, if not hundreds, at least a thousand times, over and over in that year, almost every night, until it got to the point where we could recite it and perform it almost verbatim. 

In that story, I realized I found all my sense of story — classic hero myth, all my politics, all the notion of what it is to be empathetic and compassionate, or being cruel; any notion I had of dreaming or aspiring to be in a better place, and yet kind of confining yourself out of regard for another. That is a story that is so incredibly rich.

I don't even know how Oscar Wilde was inspired to write that story. It's just almost the perfect story, and to have it performed in such an accessible way to us as kids so far away from wherever they recorded it — I guess New York — was just a wonderful thing. 

I always think there has to be much more to a story than meets the eye. There's gonna be a lot of iceberg under the tip, and I couldn't imagine a story that is, in my head, so simple and has so much iceberg underneath it. 



Rebecca Mooney