When you hear the name Gene Wilder, what pops into your head? For many you may see the man who brought Willy Wonka to life, or the Waco Kid, in Blazing Saddles or even the mad scientist who brought Frankenstein’s monster to life.
No matter what role Wilder took on, he always made it one of a kind, he was something Hollywood had never seen before. Throughout his career, he was a two-time Oscar nominee, two-time Golden Globe nominee, won a primetime Emmy and won many other awards such as the Hugo award, in 1975 for “Young Frankenstein.”
While awards and shiny metals can be impressive, Wilder left an impression on the world through his comedy, and through the characters he would depict.
Wilder was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1933. Throughout his childhood hood Wilder always said he tried to make his mother laugh; “”Don’t ever argue with your mother… you might kill her. Try to make her laugh,” said Wilder.
Trying to entertain his mother, Wilder grew to love comedy, and dreamed of being in films. Wilder’s first film debut was in 1967’s, “Bonnie and Clyde.” He then took on his first major starring role in “The Producers,” and while the film itself did not have good ratings, Wilder was nominated for an Academy Award.
His career skyrocketed after that film, because everyone was so intrigued by his performance. He was praised for an effortless ease and quick wit in his acting, and slowly arose as a comedy star for the big screen.
Wilder’s acting captivated millions, and his personality and vibrancy defined his comedy style and career. Of Wilder, one of his co-stars in Willy Wonka said, “You will never find a man so kind and so talented like him again. He’s one of a kind.”
Wilder however, thought he was just a normal guy, he actually didn’t think he was that funny.
In an interview Wilder did regarding Willy Wonka, he said, “I thought the script was very good, but something was missing. I wanted to come out with a cane, come down slowly, have it stick into one of the bricks, get up, fall over, roll around and they all laugh and applaud. The director asked, ‘what do you want to do that for?’ I said from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”
Many directors Wilder worked with said he had a different outlook about the film industry, which is what a lot of people admired about him as well. He thought as time went on, the film industry was becoming corrupt and fake, and over the top, and speaking out about Hollywood at the time as he did, influenced a lot of filmmakers and actors to search for, and try to achieve a more wholesome film industry.
Of this, Wilder said, “I don’t mean to sound, I don’t want it to come out funny, but I don’t like show business. [But] I love acting in films, I love it.” After retiring from film, Wilder became a writer, published two novels and a collection of short stories.
In a 1999 New York Times interview, Wilder talked about why he started writing. “I’m not a natural writer like, let’s say — I’m not talking about Arthur Miller, that’s a whole other thing — but the more I’ve written, the more I’ve found that there is a deep well in me somewhere that wants to express things that I’m not going to find unless I write them myself.”
“So shines a good deed, in a weary world,” once said Wilder. Indeed, his presence shone just as brightly. The laughter and joy and love he gave to anyone who watched or met him embodied that light. He will forever be cherished in this weary world.