The great Gene Wilder was born Jerome Silberman on 11 June 1933. The actor first caught attention in Arthur Penn’s 1967 hit Bonnie And Clyde, before a career making role opposite Zero Mostel in Mel Brooks’ The Producers (1968), for which he scored an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
The comedian was a live wire, a true genius who was able to add a certain amount of zing and pizzazz to everything he was in. Wilder captivated a generation with his turn in 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a moderate success on its release, it has since gained a huge following. Things really changed when Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles were released in a 12 month period from 1973-1974 . He made a great onscreen partner for Richard Pryor (in Silver Streak, Stir Crazy, See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Another You) and wrote and/or directed a variety of comedies throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He also made (among others) the curious western The Frisco Kid, a semi-comedic tale co-starring Harrison Ford that’s worth checking out).
Following the death of his third wife, comedienne Gilda Radner in 1989, Wilder slowed down. In 1994 he took a starring role in the short lived sitcom Something Wilder and wrote and starred in TV mysteries The Lady in Question and Murder in a Small Town in 1999. He scored an Emmy for his turn in Will and Grace in 2003 – the last time he appeared on screen. He took to writing in recent years, publishing the memoir Kiss Me Like A Stranger and a variety of other tomes, although there were rumours he would have a role in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One.
Young Frankenstein is a Movies In Focus favourite and it might just be the finest screen version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (or should that be Fronkenstein?) and the greatest comedy of all time. It’s a masterwork of comedic perfection, a spoof that takes itself totally serious. Wilder is electric in that movie and as a kid I used to watch it over and over on video. If I have ever learned anything about comedy, I learned it from that film.
Gene Wilder passed away due to complications from Alzheimer’s Disease on 29 August 2016.