The late, great American stage and screen comic actor, screenwriter, film director, and author Gene Wilder 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. This was the first in a series of collaborations with writer/director Mel Brooks, including 1974’s Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, which Wilder co-wrote, garnering the pair an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Wilder is known for his portrayal of Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) and 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 directed and wrote several of his own films, including The Woman in Red (1984).
His third wife was actress Gilda Radner, with whom he starred in three films. Her death from ovarian cancer 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 tragically passed away 26 August 2016 however he has left behind some memorable performances in many fantastic films.