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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 (June 11, 1933 – August 29, 2016), better known as Gene Wilder, was widely regarded as one of the greatest American comedic actors of the 20th century, if not the greatest. Best remembered for being the first actor to portray Willy Wonka, his three screen collaborations with Mel Brooks, and his four co-starring appearances with Richard Pryor, Wilder also wrote and directed a number of films himself.

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 married in 1984 and appeared together again in the films The Woman In Red (1984) and Haunted Honeymoon (1986). 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:

In case you were wondering, no, he did not play congas on the Talking Heads song "I Zimbra".

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.
  • Corpsing: He had problems with this at times, especially during the shooting of Young Frankenstein.
  • 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 a couple of years later, and they informed Wilder that there would be no more Cash Carter mysteries, leaving him 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 Quackser 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!")
  • Leslie Nielsen Syndrome: Prior to The Producers, Wilder worked in theater as a dramatic actor. He vented to Mel Brooks one night that everyone was laughing at his performances when they weren't meant to, to which Brooks replied "Look in the mirror and blame God."
  • The Lost Lenore: While he did remarry after her death, the loss of his first wife, Gilda Radner, resulted in him noticeably taking a step back from the Hollywood light. In an interview with Larry King, he said that doesn't dislike entertaining so much as he dislikes showbusiness.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: After Wilder's death, amongst the deluge of tributes to his legacy were the inevitable "Top 5 Greatest Gene Wilder Films/Performances/Roles" lists, of which there were many. The problem was that every list had the same four "gimme" entries (Willy Wonka, which topped every list, along with his three collaborations with Mel Brooks) and the need for a fifth entry to make up the numbers. "His four greatest movies... and here's this fifth movie too!"
  • Nice Guy: By all accounts. His widow described him as someone who would take an insect outside instead of killing it, and knew he was suffering from Alzheimer's when he had an outburst at a grandchild. As shown above, he was a Friend to All Children and got along wonderfully with his co-stars.
  • One-Scene Wonder: He had just one scene in Bonnie And Clyde but definitely made a big impression. It got the attention of Mel Brooks, leading to Wilder's casting as Leo Bloom in The Producers.
  • 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, Madeline Kahn and his wife Gilda Radner.
  • Radio Drama: Haunted Honeymoon was essentially a tribute to the format, as well as films like The Cat And The Canary that shared the same atmosphere.
  • 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, he went out of his way to say just how much he hated 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 the trainwreck that was 1991's Another You would not only be the end of his work with Pryor, but his appearance on screen 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. While they never hated one another, Wilder was frequently put off by Pryor's reckless lifestyle. Ultimately, while they respected each other as co-workers, their relationship was never anything more than professional.
  • True Companions: Even though they never worked together after Mel Brooks' quick cameo in Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother, the two of them stayed very close until Wilder's death.
  • Wag the Director: During filming of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, he had full control over nearly every aspect of his performance as the titular candyman, from the clothes he wore to the way he introduced himself at the start of the factory tour. By all accounts, his contributions were not so outlandish that it made production difficult, and some of the film's most memorable moments were his ideas.
    • By his own admission, he usually went out of his way to avoid this trope, and rather than make waves on a set by arguing with a director, he would simply pass on a project if he didn't feel like a good fit. In fact, he got along with most of the directors he worked with, especially with Mel Brooks (the two were extremely close friends and neither garnered quite the same critical acclaim when working without the other), and Sidney Poitier, who he regularly played tennis with.
  • 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, which in question was Norbert the Owl, but he turned down the role and the character was scrapped.
    • Had Gene Hackman not taken the role, he was Wes Anderson's first 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.
    • Trading Places was originally written as another vehicle for him and Richard Pryor. But when Eddie Murphy was cast, he asked that Wilder be replaced, too, because he didn't want people to think he was trying to be another Pryor.
    • In 1999, Wilder co-wrote and starred in two TV films for A&E, Murder in a Small Town and The Lady in Question, with him playing the role of 1930s theatre director turned Amateur Sleuth Larry "Cash" Carter. A&E hoped to create a franchise of films à la Columbo, but it never came to pass.

"You know, I really don't want to go home. I want to stay here. I love it here. I'm happy here. You think we could make up a few more scenes to film?"
—To Mel Brooks on the set of Young Frankenstein


Boy, is he strict!

I hope you brought enough for everybody!

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