The late, great American stage and screen comic actor, screenwriter, film director, and author Gene Wilder sadly passed away 29 August 2016. He was born June 11 1933 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, He adopted “Gene Wilder” for his professional name at the age of 26, later explaining, “I had always liked Gene because of Thomas Wolfe’s character Eugene Gant in Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River. And I was always a great admirer of Thornton Wilder.”
Wilder first became interested in acting at age 8, when his mother was diagnosed with rheumatic fever and the doctor told him to “try and make her laugh.”At the age of 11, he saw his sister, who was studying acting, performing onstage, and he was enthralled by the experience. He asked her teacher if he could become his student, The day after Wilder turned 13, he called the teacher, who accepted him; Wilder studied with him for two years. His mother Jeanne Silberman sent him to Black-Foxe, a military institute in Hollywood, where he was bullied and sexually assaulted, After an unsuccessful short stay at Black-Foxe, Wilder returned home and became increasingly involved with the local theatre community. At age 15, he performed for the first time in front of a paying audience, as Balthasar (Romeo’s manservant) in a production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Gene Wilder graduated from Washington High School in Milwaukee in 1951. Wilder then studied Communication and Theatre Arts at the University of Iowa, where he was a member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity.
Following his 1955 graduation from Iowa, he was accepted at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol, England. After six months of studying fencing, Wilder became the first freshman to win the All-School Fencing Championship. he returned to the U.S., living with his sister and her family in Queens. Wilder enrolled at the HB Studiolm Wilder was drafted into the Army on September 10, 1956. At the end of recruit training, he was assigned to the medical corps and sent to Fort Sam Houston for training. wanting to stay near New York City to attend acting classes at the HB Studio, he chose to serve as paramedic in the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Valley Forge Army Hospital, in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Sadly In November 1957, his mother died from ovarian cancer.
He was discharged from the army a year later and returned to New York and obtained A scholarship to the HB Studio. Wilder’s first professional acting job was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he played the Second Officer in Herbert Berghof’s production of Twelfth Night. He also served as a fencing choreographer. After three years of study with Berghof and Uta Hagen at the HB Studio, Charles Grodin told Wilder about Lee Strasberg’s method acting. Grodin persuaded him to leave the studio and begin studying with Strasberg in his private class.NSeveral months later, Wilder was accepted into the Actors Studio. After joining the Actors Studio, he slowly began to be noticed in the off-Broadway scene, thanks to performances in Sir Arnold Wesker’s Roots and in Graham Greene’s The Complaisant Lover, for which Wilder received the Clarence Derwent Award for “Best Performance by an Actor in a Nonfeatured Role.”
Wilder made his screen debut in the TV series Armstrong Circle Theatre in 1962. Although his first film role was portraying a hostage in the 1967 motion picture Bonnie and Clyde, Wilder’s first major role was as Leopold Bloom in the 1968 film The Producers for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. The Producers concerns a down and out producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel), who was once the toast of Broadway, but now trades sexual favours with old ladies for cash. Max’s new accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), offhandedly muses that if Max found investors for a new production that turned into a flop, he could legally keep all the extra money. So The duo create the worst play possible, titled “Springtime for Hitler”, with a terrible director and a hippie-freak star, however things don’t go to plan
The Producers was the first in a series of collaborations with writer/director Mel Brooks, including 1974’s Blazing Saddles in which Gene Wilder plays a washed-up gunslinger called the Waco Kid who assists a new sheriff (Cleavon Little) deal with a greedy, unscrupulous Railway Owner named Hedly Lamarr (Harvey Korman), who is trying to obliterate the town of Rock Ridge using illegal means, so he can put a railway through it
Wilder also co-wrote the hilarious horror spoof Young Frankenstein in which he plays respected medical lecturer Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, the the Grandson of the scientist Victor von Frankenstein, who learns that he has inherited his infamous grandfather’s estate in Transylvania. Arriving at the castle, Dr. Frankenstein soon begins to recreate his grandfather’s experiments with the help of servants Igor (Marty Feldman), Inga (Teri Garr) and the fearsome Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman). After he creates his own monster (Peter Boyle), new complications ensue with the arrival of the doctor’s fiancée, Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn). Young Frankenstein garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Wilder also appeared in Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) The film tells the story of Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) who wins a Golden Ticket found in a Wonka Chocolate bar enabling him to visit Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory with four other children from around the world who have also received Golden tickets, namely the obese Augustus Gloop, gum chewing Violet Beauragard, a bossy spoiled brat named Veruca Salt and the Television obsessed Mike Teevee.
Wilder is also known for his four films with Richard Pryor: Silver Streak (1976), Stir Crazy (1980), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989), and Another You (1991). Wilder also directed and wrote several of his own films, including The Woman in Red (1984). The tragic death of his third wife actress Gilda Radner, from ovarian cancer also led to his active involvement in promoting cancer awareness and treatment, helping found the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in Los Angeles and co-founding Gilda’s Club. After 2003 Wilder turned his attention to writing. He produced a memoir in 2005, Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art; a collection of stories, What Is This Thing Called Love? (2010); and the novels My French Whore (2007), The Woman Who Wouldn’t (2008) and Something to Remember You By (2013). Gene wilder has left behind some truly memorable performances in many fantastic films.