Wilder, Gene Biography
biography of Wilder, GeneSilberman, Jerome
11 June 1933, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.
5' 10 1/2"
Gene Wilder caught his first big break playing a small role in the off-Broadway production of 'Arnold Wesker' (qv)'s "Roots" and followed quickly with his Broadway debut as the comic valet in "The Complaisant Lover" (both 1961), for which he won the Clement Derwent Award. His other Broadway credits included "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1963, with 'Kirk Douglas (I)' (qv)), "The White House" (1964, with 'Helen Hayes (I)' (qv)) and "Luv" (1966), but it was a 1963 Broadway production of "Mother Courage and Her Children" that altered the course of his life forever. In its cast was 'Anne Bancroft (I)' (qv), who was dating 'Mel Brooks (I)' (qv) at the time, and the relationship established between the two men eventually led to Wilder's becoming part of Brooks' "stock company". Wilder's Actor's Studio connection may have helped him land his first feature, _Bonnie and Clyde (1967)_ (qv), in which he drew much favourable attention in a small but memorable role as a frightened young undertaker abducted by the legendary duo. Wilder's performance as the endearingly frantic Leo Bloom in _The Producers (1968)_ (qv) kicked off his celebrated collaboration with 'Mel Brooks (I)' (qv) and garnered him an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor. His career gained momentum as he played a swashbuckler in _Start the Revolution Without Me (1970)_ (qv), the candy impresario of _Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)_ (qv) and a sheep-smitten doctor in 'Woody Allen' (qv)'s _Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex
- But Were Afraid to Ask (1972)_ (qv). Wilder re-teamed with 'Mel Brooks (I)' (qv) for the inspired lunacy of _Blazing Saddles (1974)_ (qv) and _Young Frankenstein (1974)_ (qv), earning his second Oscar nomination for his first-time screen-writing efforts (along with 'Mel Brooks (I)' (qv)) on the latter. Spurred by these triumphs, Wilder made his directorial debut (in addition to acting and starring) with _The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975)_ (qv). His first association with 'Richard Pryor' (qv) had come on _Blazing Saddles (1974)_ (qv), but 'Richard Pryor' (qv) (co-screenwriter) had lost out in his bid for the 'Cleavon Little' (qv) role. 'Richard Pryor' (qv) and Wilder first acted together in the highly entertaining and commercially successful _Silver Streak (1976)_ (qv) and scored at the box office again with _Stir Crazy (1980)_ (qv), but their later efforts were mediocre. Ironically, _Hanky Panky (1982)_ (qv), Wilder's first of three films with his late wife 'Gilda Radner' (qv), originally was written to pair him with 'Richard Pryor' (qv) again, but 'Richard Pryor' (qv)'s unavailability necessitated rewriting the part for 'Gilda Radner' (qv).
- 'Karen Boyer' (qv) (8 September 1991 - present)
- 'Gilda Radner' (qv) (18 September 1984 - 20 May 1989) (her death)
- 'Mary Joan Schutz' (27 October 1967 - 24 November 1980) (divorced); 1 child
- 'Mary Mercier' (qv) (22 July 1960 - 1965) (divorced)
- Frequently works with 'Mel Brooks (I)' (qv)
- Blue eyes
- Curly hair
- Frequently plays highly eccentric yet likeable characters
- Often worked with Richard Pryor
- Soft mellow voice
- Played a man wrongly accused of committing a crime in five movies: _Silver Streak (1976)_ (qv), The Frisco Kid (1979), _Stir Crazy (1980)_ (qv), _Hanky Panky (1982)_ (qv), and _See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)_ (qv).
- Starred with 'Richard Pryor' (qv) in four movies: _Silver Streak (1976)_ (qv), _Stir Crazy (1980)_ (qv), _See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)_ (qv), and _Another You (1991)_ (qv).
- Won the 'Clarence Derwent' (qv) award for the Broadway play "The Complaisant Lover" in 1962.
- Graduated from the University of Iowa with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
- After his wife 'Gilda Radner' (qv) died of ovarian cancer, Gene co-founded Gilda's Club, a support group to raise awareness of the disease.
- (1999) Was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and is undergoing chemotherapy.
- Wife, 'Karen Boyer' (qv), is a former speech pathologist. They first met when he consulted with her about playing the role of a deaf man in _See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)_ (qv).
- Is a life long brother of the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity.
- Says he picked the name 'Gene Wilder' because he couldn't see a 'Jerry Silberman' playing Hamlet. He admits now that he can't see 'Gene Wilder' playing Hamlet either.
- Made a full recovery from Cancer in 2000.
- Uncle of director-screenwriter 'Jordan Walker-Pearlman' (qv).
- Campaigned with 'Elaine May (I)' (qv) and 'Renée Taylor (I)' (qv) for 'Eugene McCarthy (III)' (qv), Allard Lowenstein and 'Paul O'Dwyer (I)' (qv), 1968.
- Served with U.S. Army, 1956-1958.
- Has been a staunch liberal Democrat for many years, and was staunchly against the Vietnam War. He is now against the War in Iraq.
- Treated his cancer with an adult stem-cell treatment.
- When he chose his stage name, he chose "Wilder" because he loved 'Thornton Wilder' (qv)'s play "Our Town". The name "Gene" he chose simply because he liked it, not realizing until later it was because his mother's name was Jeanne (she was sick for most of his childhood, and he spent much of his time entertaining her as a kid to keep her happy and her spirits up. He subconsciously chose the name because he loved her so much and in honour of her).
- While serving in the U.S. Army, he was assigned as a Medic to the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Valley Forge General Hospital in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. He worked in treating psychiatric patients.
- He claims that before 'Mel Brooks (I)' (qv) recruited him, he regarded himself as more of a dramatic than a comedic actor.
- His performance as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein ("that's FRONKensteen") in _Young Frankenstein (1974)_ (qv) is ranked #9 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
- His performance as Willy Wonka in _Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)_ (qv) is ranked #38 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.
- Attended the University of Iowa, as did 'Ashton Kutcher' (qv), 'Mary Beth Hurt' (qv), and 'Ben Rollins (I)' (qv).
- He adopted Mary Joan Schutz's daughter, Katharine Anastasia, but became estranged from her when she was in her early twenties.
- Served in the Medical corps section of the U.S. Army.
- Wilder was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for _The Producers (1968)_ (qv) but lost the award to Jack Albertson, who won for _The Subject Was Roses (1968)_ (qv). Both Wilder and Albertson would later co-star together in _Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)_ (qv).
- (1965) TV commercial: Gillette razors
- (1996) Stage: Appeared (as "Max Prince") in 'Neil Simon (I)' (qv)'s "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" at the Queens Theatre in London, England.
- (1963) Stage: Appeared (as "Billy Bibbit") in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" on Broadway. Drama. Written by 'Dale Wasserman' (qv). Based on the novel by 'Ken Kesey' (qv). Incidental music by 'Teiji Ito' (qv). Directed by 'Alex Segal (I)' (qv). Cort Theatre: 13 Nov 1963-25 Jan 1964 (82 performances + 1 preview). Cast: 'Ed Ames' (qv) (as "Chief Bromden"), 'Malcolm Atterbury' (qv), Clifford Cothren, 'William Daniels (I)' (qv) (as "Dale Harding"), 'Kirk Douglas (I)' (qv) (as "Randle P. McMurphy"), 'William Gleason' (qv) (as "Ruckly"), 'Arlene Golonka' (qv) (as "Candy Starr"), Peter Gumeny, 'Paul Huber (II) (as "Col. Matterson"), 'Lincoln Kilpatrick' (qv) (as "Aide Warren"), 'Michi Kobi' (qv), 'Al Nesor' (qv) (as "Martini"), 'Gerald S. O'Loughlin' (qv) (as "Cheswick"), Leonard Parker, Rex Robbins, 'Arnold Soboloff' (qv), 'Joan Tetzel' (qv) (as "Nurse Ratched"), K.C. Townsend, 'Charles Tyner' (qv) (as "Sefelt"), Milton J. Williams, Astrid Wilsrud. Produced by 'David Merrick (I)' (qv) and 'Edward Lewis (I)' (qv). Produced in association with Seven Arts Corp. and Eric Prods.
- (1960s) TV commercials: Alka Seltzer
- (7/3/71) Appeared on NBC's discussion program _"The Irv Kupcinet Show" (1953)_ (qv) with 'Irv Kupcinet' (qv) and guests poet 'Rod McKuen' (qv), 'Tammy Grimes' (qv) and 'Sue Lyon' (qv), 'Bob Balaban' (qv), 'Alex Karras' (qv) and singer-pianist Kim Martell. Also on the program were 'David E. Lilienthal' (qv), former head of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Tennessee Valley Authority; and 'Eliot Asinof' (qv), who has chronicled the story of two New Jersey teenagers who committed suicide in 1969, believing these acts would help the peace movement.
- (2008_ Novel: "The Woman Who Wouldn't". New York: St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0312375786
- (2007) Novel: "My French Whore". New York: St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0312360576
- (1963) Stage: Appeared in a production of "The Millionairess", Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, NJ. Also in cast: 'Carol Channing' (qv).
- (1963) Stage: Appeared in "Mother Courage and Her Children" on Broadway. Also inc cast: 'Anne Bancroft (I)' (qv).
- (1966) Stage: Appeared in 'Murray Schisgal' (qv)'s "Luv" on Broadway.
- (1964) Stage: Appeared in "The White House" on Broadway. Also in cast: 'Helen Hayes (I)' (qv).
- (1961) Stage: Appeared (as "Valet") in "The Complaisant Lover" on Broadway. NOTE: Wilder won the Clement Derwent Award for his performance.
- (1961) Stage: Appeared in 'Arnold Wesker' (qv)'s "Roots", off-Broadway.
- Gene Wilder. _Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art._ New York: St. Martin's Press, 2005. ISBN 031233706X
- Brian Scott Mednick. _Gene Wilder: Funny and Sad._ Duncan, OK: BearManor Media, 2010. ISBN 9781593936211
- [on 'Mel Brooks (I)' (qv)] A loud kind of Jewish genius--maybe that's as close as you can get to defining him.
- Woody ['Woody Allen' (qv)] makes a movie as if he were lighting 10,000 safety matches to illuminate a city. Each one is a little epiphany: topical, ethnic or political.
- [on the new _Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)_ (qv) movie, to the Daily Telegraph] It's all about money. It's just some people sitting around thinking, "How can we make some more money?" Why else would you remake "Willy Wonka" [_Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)_ (qv)]?
- [about his role in "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex...But Were Afraid to Ask"] And that's not an easy task, being in bed with a sheep, especially if you make the sheep nervous. I'm not going to go on, if you know what I'm talking about.
- I'm not so funny. Gilda ['Gilda Radner' (qv)] was funny. I'm funny on camera sometimes. In life, once in a while. Once in a while. But she was funny. She spent more time worrying about being liked than anything else.
- [on 'Mel Brooks (I)' (qv)] We are not interested in polite titters, we want the audience rolling on the floor and falling about. Mel works on his feet -- it's a hit and miss, hit and miss, hit and miss. Then in the editing he will take out the misses!
- [on _Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)_ (qv), the remake of his _Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)_ (qv)] I haven't seen it. I like Depp ['Johnny Depp' (qv)], but when I heard they were doing a remake, I heard, "Mistake". When I saw clips on TV and I saw what Depp was doing, I thought, "Don't see that movie--you like Depp too much". I always get comments: "Yours is better". I know they're talking about "Willie Wonka".
- [about his relationship with 'Richard Pryor' (qv)] We were never good friends, contrary to popular belief. We turned it on for the camera, then turned it off. He was a pretty unpleasant person to be around during the time we worked together. He was going through his drug problems then and didn't want a friendship outside of what we did on the screen.
- [on being asked to play Willy Wonka] I said, "I'd like to come out with a cane, and be crippled," and I said, "because no one will know from that time on whether I'm lying or telling the truth." And he said, "You mean--if we don't do that, you won't do the part?" And I said, "Yeah, that's what I'm saying." [imitates the producer mumbling to himself] "Okay. Okay. We'll do it." And I, and I meant it, too. Because it was a tricky part. But that element, of "who knows? is he lying, or is he telling the truth?" is what my main motor was. And I liked that; it appealed to me a lot.
- [on _Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)_] Well, you know, it wasn't a success when it came out. And I heard some talk about mothers who thought it was cruel to the children. What... what they and everyone else found out later on was that maybe some mothers felt that way, but the children didn't feel that way. The children understood the movie very well. That there are limits. And they want to know the limits. And it's reassuring to know that someone can tell you what the limits are, and that's what Willy Wonka did.
- _Role Model: Gene Wilder (2008) (TV)_ (qv)
- _Gilda Radner: It's Always Something (2002) (TV)_ (qv)
- (December 2003) Lives in Stamford, Connecticut.
- (March 2005) According to his Autobiography "Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art" his cancer is in complete remission.
- (2007) Release of his debut novel, "My French Whore".
- "Time" (USA), 24 March 2008, Vol. 171, Iss. 12, pg. 18, by: Magazine Feature, "Q & A"
- "The Los Angeles Times" (USA), 2 April 2005, by: Wendy Smith, "A Charming, Witty Introduction to a 'Stranger' a la Gene Wilder"
- "The Washington Post" (USA), 28 March 2005, Vol. 128, Iss. 113, pg. C1+C8, by: David Segal, "Gene Wilder: It Hurts to Laugh"
- "TV Guide" (USA), 18 November 2000, Vol. 48, Iss. 47, pg. 34-38, by: Diane Clehane, "Wilder At Heart"
- "Playboy" (USA), May 1991, Vol. 38, Iss. 5, pg. 36, by: Christopher Napolitano, "Guest Shot: Gene Wilder"
- "Ciné-Revue" (Belgium), 16 March 1978, Vol. 58, Iss. 11, pg. 61, by: Fred Screen, "La vedette de la semaine : Gene Wilder"
- "Playboy" (USA), August 1984, Vol. 31, Iss. 8, pg. 91-93, by: Hollis Wayne, "Walk On The Wilder Side"
- "Playboy" (USA), November 1977, Vol. 24, Iss. 11, pg. 166, by: Arthur Knight, "Sex In Cinema 1977"
- "Oui" (USA), June 1977, Vol. 6, Iss. 6, pg. 111, by: Mark Sennett, "A Wilder Gene than ever"
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