Gene Wilder (1933-2016)
“We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams”
There are very few actors that I greatly admired even at a very young age before I knew about most things about filmmaking and producing films. I can’t really run a list of actors whom I adored or looked-up to right now but Gene Wilder I know was one. Maybe it was because I distinctively recall watching Willy Wonka in 3rd grade with my class and immediately falling in love with it. I also remember my best friend Dan and me starting our long history of movie-quoting after we watched Young Frankenstein. (He also showed me Silver Streak—although I don’t think we finished it because it wasn’t up to our 11-year-old sensibilities at the time) I also remember my start as being a huge Mel Brooks fan and devouring every movie of his at such a young age. I was very fortunate to be introduced to Mel Brooks comedies, even despite the lewd and more “adult-themed” humor. Although to be fair my first copy of Blazing Saddles was taped off of television so it was edited quite a bit. (But it did have extra deleted scenes including all the scenes with Mongo, so I was lucky). But for some reason, I was drawn to the hilarity of Gene Wilder in every movie he did. For some other reason I was drawn was possibly because in my own child’s-eye twisted vision of him, he reminded me of my father, especially in Young Frankenstein when Wilder had the mustache. If you squished my father’s face more and elongated the nose, it was pretty close. I’m not saying that I was 100% right in saying he looked like my father perfectly, but to a young kid, I thought so. The dark-blonde wiry, crazy hair and light blue eyes were also distinct features of my fathers. It was pretty close the more I think about it.
But there’s another similarity between Gene Wilder and my father that they shared that might also have influenced my thinking and that was the bouts of anger and loud yelling. My father was a yeller as I found out I am also bound to fits of short bursts of rage and hollering now that I am a parent. And looking back at Wilder’s filmography he screams a lot! He’s a complete nut on camera. I don’t know if he went into these fits of rage in real life but boy, does he do it fantastically on screen. It’s one of the best aspects of his performances. Maybe some of you only know his rant at the end of Willy Wonka “I SAID GOOD DAY!” or some of his hysterics in The Producers. After Wilder passed away this week, I caught up on a ton of his flicks that I’ve been meaning to watch all these years (I hate that a death is the catalyst for this type of experience) and I found that in 90% of his movies, he has a screaming moment. It was his signature. Surprisingly, Blazing Saddles is one that he does not go crazy in, but great performance nonetheless.
So I spent this week preparing a little montage video of all of Gene’s great wild and Wilder moments moments to honor a great gifted performer and entertainer. I always missed him since he has been “retired” since the 90s from acting, so his death isn’t such a bad blow to me, sad to say. I always wished that he made one more film—especially with Brooks (who I also wish would make one more movie). He was one of the greats though and was truly talented in front of as well as behind the camera.