Creator / Gene Wilder

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"We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of the dreams."

"A little nonsense, now and then, is relished by the wisest men."

Jerome Silberman, better known as Gene Wilder (June 11, 1933 August 29, 2016), was widely regarded as one of the greatest comedic actors of the 20th century, if not the greatest. He was best known for being the first actor to portray Willy Wonka (see right), for his collaborations with Mel Brooks, and for his four co-starring appearances with Richard Pryor.

His desire to act started at the age of eight, when his mother was stricken with rheumatic fever. The doctor sternly warned the young boy that any stress may prove fatal. So, he impressed on him one important lesson: "try and make her laugh."

Wilder met and fell in love with Saturday Night Live original cast member Gilda Radner on the set of the movie Hanky Panky (1982). They wed in 1984 and appeared together again in the films The Woman In Red and Haunted Honeymoon. Radner died following a long battle with ovarian cancer in 1989, after which Wilder established the Gilda Radner Ovarian Detection Center at Cedars-Sinai Hospital.

Wilder essentially retired from acting around the Turn of the Millennium (save for a couple of guest appearances on Will & Grace in 2003), and afterwards he devoted himself to writing. He died in 2016 at the age of 83 from complications with Alzheimer's disease.


Partial filmography:


This actor's work provides examples of:

  • The Cast Show Off: Any time he could sneak some swordplay into a film, rest assured, he would. Wilder was a champion fencer in college. He also sang in a number of films.
  • Chewing the Scenery: A consummate master of this trope.
  • Executive Meddling: invoked In 1999 he did two television mystery movies for A&E, Murder in a Small Town and The Lady in Question. Both got high ratings and critical praise, some even saying that his character, Larry "Cash" Carter, was the next Columbo. However, A&E ownership changed hands and they informed him there would be no more Cash Carter mysteries, leaving Wilder bitterly angry and causing him to retire completely from acting.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: With Richard Pryor. They were not as chummy as they appeared in the films, mostly owing to Wilder's intolerance of Pryor's cocaine addiction.
  • Friend to All Children: He adored the way children's eyes lit up when they recognized him as Willy Wonka. And he kept the fact that he was suffering from Alzheimer's Disease for his final three years secret because, as he put it, he didn't want to take their smiles away.
    • By all accounts, he got along amazingly well with the child actors for Willy Wonka, particularly Peter Ostrum, whom he shared most of his scenes with. When it came time to shoot his infamous outburst at the end of the film, Wilder heavily resisted the urge to tell him just how mad he was going to be. He didn't want to ruin his friendship with Peter, but also wanted to help capture authentic shock. Julie Dawn Cole and Denise Nickerson also adored working with him; in fact, the only one Wilder didn't get along with was Paris Themmen, the youngest and most immature of the child actors.
    • He even went out of his way to try and adopt one of his young Irish co-stars that he had grown particularly close to in Quacksar Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx when the boy's family mentioned that they could not afford to give him a very good life. However, even though Wilder had gone through the process to proceed with the adoption (Including a promise that the child would be raised a Catholic, despite Wilder being Jewish), the child decided that he did not want to go live in America after all.
  • Funny Character, Boring Actor: invokedIn contrast to his loud, over-the-top onscreen performances, Wilder was a very shy and quiet man in real life.
  • Horsing Around: Ineptly in The Woman in Red, surprisingly well in Stir Crazy.
  • Large Ham: In films such as in The Producers, where he goes in a outburst ("I'M HYSTERICAL!"/ "I'M WET!"/"I'M IN PAIN!")
  • Playing Against Type: invoked
    • His role as Wonka went completely opposite the roles he had (until then) been most famous for, as those previous roles were all in films most especially not appropriate for children.
    • In another way, Silver Streak was this. Up until that point, Wilder almost exclusively played eccentrics or neurotics. Wonka falls in the "eccentric" category. His character in Silver Streak, George Caldwell, is a well adjusted book publisher who enjoys gardening and isn't particularly strange. He is thrown into a series of events that are more bizarre than his character. Perhaps the first time that ever happened with Wilder.
  • Production Posse: invoked Famously with Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor. Less famously so with Dom De Luise and Madeline Kahn.
  • Real Men Wear Pink:
    • He had a love of romance novels and even wrote two himself, My French Whore and The Woman Who Wouldn't as well as a collection of short romantic stories called What Is This Thing Called Love?
    • He was also well-versed in fashion and had complete control over his costume as Willy Wonka. Read his feedback to Mel Stuart regarding initial design sketches here.
  • Reclusive Artist: invoked Rarely gave interviews at the height of his popularity and gave even fewer afterward. Also, went out of his way to say just how much he hates actually promoting a film to the extent that it caused him to pass on a lot of projects.
  • Stage Names: He was born as Jerome Silberman.
  • Star-Derailing Role: invoked Haunted Honeymoon. Everything after that flop was bad news for Wilder until a minor comeback on television, which was also derailed by the above mentioned Executive Meddling.
  • Suddenly SHOUTING!: Had a tendency to get very loud at a moment's notice throughout many of his works. As Willy Wonka, he famously didn't tell the other actors how loud he was going to get during the film's climax, leading to more genuinely shocked responses (though he did ask for Peter Ostrum to be warned in advance when filming the infamous "You get nothing!" scene due to the friendship the two had built up over the course of filming; his request was denied).
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Despite making several films alongside Richard Pryor, Wilder and Pryor weren't that chummy.
  • What Could Have Been: After semi-retiring from acting in 1999, he passed on many, many roles that had been conceived for him.
    • He was asked to voice a character in Over the Hedge, but he turned down the role and the character was scrapped.
    • Had Gene Hackman not taken the role, he was Wes Anderson's choice to play Royal in The Royal Tenenbaums.
    • One of the earlier films he passed on was the role of Milo Minderbender in Catch-22, despite having been interested in the role, he didn't care for how the character was written differently from the book.
    • Also passed on the role of James Martin in The Poseidon Adventure due to scheduling conflicts.
    • Mel Brooks very much wanted to collaborate with Wilder again in High Anxiety, in spite of their Creative Differences during the filming of Young Frankenstein straining their friendship, and offered him the lead role of the phobic Dr. Richard Thorndyke, but Wilder was already busy with producing, writing, directing, and acting in The World's Greatest Lover, so he turned Brooks down. The duo never did collaborate again.
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