Monday, August 29, 2016

Gene Wilder 1933 - 2016

Gene Wilder; actor, screenwriter, and author…has died at 83.

Born Jerome Silberman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Wilder became interested in acting at the age of eight, when his mother was diagnosed with rheumatic fever and the doctor told him to make her laugh. He adopted the professional name of Gene Wilder at the age of 26, taking inspiration from Thomas Wolfe’s character Eugene Gant in the novels Look Homeward, Angel, and Of Time and the River. He studied communication and theatre arts at the University of Iowa, and later at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in England. After a stint in the U.S. Army, he attended acting classes in New York.

In the 1960’s, he would cross paths with film producer and director Mel Brooks, who would cast him in the 1968 screen adaptation of THE PRODUCERS. The film would become a cult comedy classic, and would earn Wilder a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  

Over the next several decades, Wilder would become a frequent collaborator with Brooks, and eventually other comic greats such as Gilda Radner and Richard Pryor. The list of films reads like a roster of Greatest Comedies; WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971), BLAZING SADDLES (1974), YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974), SILVER STREAK (1976), THE FRISCO KID (1979), STIR CRAZY (1980), THE WOMAN IN RED (1984), and SEE NO EVIL, HEAR NO EVIL (1989).

After the passing of his wife Gilda Radner in 1989, Wilder would found the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center, and co-found Gilda’s Club; a cancer-awareness support group. He would author several books, and leave the business with two Oscar and two Golden Globe nominations.


This Blogger would discover Gene Wilder in the early 1980’s, when a new cable-box service called HBO would run the great comedy YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. Although many of the jokes in that film would go right over the head of this wee-lad, the film became a favorite thanks to Wilder’s funny acting and excellent timing. Over the years, this Blogger would appreciate him even more thanks to great turns in BLAZING SADDLES and THE CISCO KID…in which he played opposite Harrison Ford. Wilder had entered semi-retirement in 1999, and his absence could be felt in cinematic comedy. He brought to every role a touch of class, grace, and pure humanism that very few actors could do. He was the perfect match for the films of Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor, Sidney Poitier, and most of all…his soulmate Gilda Radner. It has often been said that Wilder was never the same after Gilda passed, just as the film world will never be the same without Wilder. The laughs that Gene Wilder brought us for so many years have faded, but the memories of those laughs will remain…just as the comfort of knowing that somewhere, Gene and Gilda are together again at last.

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