AJFF Remembers Gene Wilder

09/9/2016

Gene Wilder, comedic film and theater actor, screenwriter, film director, and author passed away at the age of 83. With a memorable career spanning over 50 years and countless roles, we thought we'd take a look at a few our favorites.

Gene Wilder was born Jerome Silberman on June 11, 1933, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the son of Jeanne (Baer) and William J. Silberman, a manufacturer and salesman of novelty items. His father was a Russian Jewish immigrant, as were his maternal grandparents. He adopted the name Gene Wilder at the age of 26 as he was a huge fan of Thorton Wilder and pulled Gene from the Thomas Wolfe character of Eugene Gant in Look Homeward, Angel. 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".

Though he never thought himself a religious man, he certainly identified as a Jewish one, saying, “I’m not at all religious, although I am certainly Jewish — which, to me, means that my parents hugged and kissed me a lot as I was growing up.” With a career that spanned over 50 years and too many memorable roles to mention, we thought we'd take a look at a few our favorites.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
How could we not start with the role that came to personify all things Gene Wilder? Wilder, was in fact, responsible for Wonka's first appearance, saying he'd play it only under one condition, “When I make my first entrance.. I’d like to come out of the door carrying a cane and then walk toward the crowd with a limp. After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all whisper to themselves and then become deathly quiet. As I walk toward them, my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I’m walking on and stands straight up, by itself; but I keep on walking, until I realize that I no longer have my cane. I start to fall forward, and just before I hit the ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause.” When asked why he wanted to do this, Wilder simply said, “Because from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”

As noted in The Atlantic, "Wilder captured the full spectrum of Wonka’s oddities so well, and with such finesse, that Wonka seems to have remained a part of him ever since. Certainly, any fan of the film will admit, you can’t see Wilder without thinking of Wonka."

The Producers (1967)
This film marked the first of many collaborations with Mel Brooks and yielded his only nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his portrayal of accountant Leopold Bloom. As said by CINEMABLEND, "Bloom is one of the great screen cowards, but he's lovable all the same. Wilder's scenes of complete panic are some of the funniest in the film. There are reasons this one has gone on to even more success on stage, and Wilder's performance is one of those reasons."

Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (1972)
As noted in many articles citing Wilder's greatest roles, this scene, from Woody Allen's film, in which Wilder's character faces an Armenian shepherd, who has confessed his love for his sheep, is a case study is how wonderful and special Gene Wilder's on-screen reactions were.

Perhaps this EW piece says it best, "While Wilder will be remembered as one of the funniest actors Hollywood ever knew, he insisted otherwise. “When people see me in a movie, and if it’s funny, they stop and say things to be about ‘how funny you are,’” he told Osborne, saying that was the biggest misconception people have about him. 'I don’t think I’m that funny. I think I can be, in the movies.' The movies will miss him."

So will we. See more of Wilder's filmography here