Remembering The Great Gene Wilder

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.


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