So Long, Gene Wilder
Beloved comic actor and writer Gene Wilder passed away this week at age 83. Here’s some stuff you may not have known about “Dr. Frankenstein,” “The Waco Kid,” and “Leo Bloom.”
- Wilder portrayed the title character in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but he doesn’t appear until about halfway into the movie. Suspense and mystery is built to the moment, at which point the gates to the Wonka factory open, and Wilder appears in a purple coat, walks with a limp, and does a somersault. Those actions were Wilder’s idea, and he actually refused to take the role unless he could do the scene that way. His reason: That way the characters (and the audience) could never be sure if he was lying or telling the truth.
- Wilder was nominated for an Academy Award just twice: once for Best Supporting Actor for The Producers and once for co-writing the screenplay for Young Frankenstein. He lost the former to his Willy Wonka co-star Jack Albertson (for The Subject War Roses) and the latter to The Godfather, Part II. (Because it was a parody of old Frankenstein movies—an idea he pitched to collaborator Mel Brooks on the set of Blazing Saddles—it was lumped into the “Adapted Screenplay” category.)
- Wilder was married four times. His third was the most famous, to Saturday Night Live star Gilda Radner until her death from cancer in 1989. Two years later he married Karen Boyer, a speech pathologist. They met on the set of See No Evil, Hear No Evil (his third team-up with Richard Pryor, after Silver Streak and Stir Crazy). Wilder played a deaf man, and Boyer coached him on how to portray him properly.
- His last major role was a short-lived 1994-95 sitcom called Something Wilder, the actor semi-retired from acting. He said in a 2008 interview that he realized, “I don’t like show business. I like show, but I don’t like the business.” His last roles were a 2003 guest spot on Will and Grace and did a voice for the kids’ show Yo Gabba Gabba! last year. He kept busy in the later years of his life painting watercolors and writing novels.
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