Anchor ads are not supported on this page.

4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Dig a hole: Gene Wilder

Face of ’70s comedy dead at 83

Gene Wilder, 1933-2016
Gene Wilder, 1933-2016

Gene Wilder was such a brilliant actor that he fooled audiences into believing one of his most revered creations, Willy Wonka, was something other than a magnetizing Nazi goon offering kids a Golden Ticket to his chocolate gas chamber.

Read some of the nonsense that’s been written about Wilder’s performance in the wake of his death Sunday of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Variety’s Richard Natale went so far as calling Herr Vonka, “one of (Wilder’s) most beloved and gentle characters.” Gentile, yes. Gentle, never!

It was at Wilder’s insistence that the character of the chocolate baron be given a dark, bittersweet flavor. Wonka first appears before the children walking with the aid of a cane, only to moments later break into a somersault. Credit Wilder’s pure imagination for the inspired touch, and it was so important to the actor that his participation in the project depended on it.

When director Mel Stuart asked why the somersault, Wilder replied, “From that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.” Stuart prodded, “If I say no, you won’t do the picture?” to which Wilder replied, “I’m afraid that’s the truth.”

How does one not see a Nazi? Martin Bormann in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

One more Nazi note before moving on. According to The Daily Chronicle, the role of the man who forged the fifth winning ticket was played by Hitler’s henchman, Martin Bormann. Still find the notion far-fetched?

Sponsored
Sponsored

Gene Wilder was comedy’s answer to Robert Ryan, a frizzle-topped neurotic who mined hysteria to unmask satirical gold. Twas Wilder, not Peter Sellers or nervous counterpart Woody Allen, who was the face of ’70s comedy.

He first came to audience’s attention as undertaker Eugene Grizzard, kidnapped along with his girlfriend by the Barrow Gang in Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Wilder uses his five or so minutes of allotted screen time as a calling card, converting an otherwise anonymous bit part into an unforgettable debut. Later that year, Wilder’s performance as certified neurotic accountant Leo Bloom in Mel Brooks’s The Producers earned him an Oscar nomination.

Like most great movie clowns not afforded the services of a skilled ringleader, Wilder’s work exemplifies the art of comic as auteur. He was not the most versatile performer. (When what you’re selling is Gene Wilder, who needs puttying?) Only once did he assume an accent (Quackser Fortune has a Cousin in the Bronx), and his star forays into drama were a pair of 1999 movies for A&E (Murder in a Small Town, The Lady in Question) both signed by Joyce Chopra (Smooth Talk, The Lemon Sisters).

Gene Wilder and Daisy in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex...

With all due respect to Mel Brooks – his trio of Wilder comedies (The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein) all deserve a spot in the Pantheon of Laughter – one wonders what might have happened had Wilder teamed up with a director whose talent behind the camera rivaled that of Wilder’s performances. Other than Ms. Chopra, the closest he came was playing a frontier rabbi in Robert Aldrich’s underrated Frisco Kid or a bit role in Stanley Donen’s instantly forgettable adaptation of The Little Prince.

Favorite Wilder feat? If Disney convinced audiences that an elephant can fly, Wilder (along with Woody Allen) proved it possible for a successful doctor to find mature love with an underage sheep. Wilder’s prolonged reactions bring to mind Jack Benny, his frozen-faced disbelief a veritable textbook on how to milk a laugh.

Video:

Thursday’s Game (TV, 1974)

The death of his second wife, Gilda Radner, in 1989 signaled the loss of two comedic geniuses. The pain was such that two years later Wilder retired from movies. He was 83.

Included is a link to the greatest Gene Wilder performance you’ve never heard of, a TV movie called Thursday’s Game. There’s no better way to celebrate the man’s legacy than with a few solid belly laughs.

The latest copy of the Reader

Please enjoy this clickable Reader flipbook. Linked text and ads are flash-highlighted in blue for your convenience. To enhance your viewing, please open full screen mode by clicking the icon on the far right of the black flipbook toolbar.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Peter King lives a cell-free life

The art of conversation “has most definitely gone downhill.”
Gene Wilder, 1933-2016
Gene Wilder, 1933-2016

Gene Wilder was such a brilliant actor that he fooled audiences into believing one of his most revered creations, Willy Wonka, was something other than a magnetizing Nazi goon offering kids a Golden Ticket to his chocolate gas chamber.

Read some of the nonsense that’s been written about Wilder’s performance in the wake of his death Sunday of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Variety’s Richard Natale went so far as calling Herr Vonka, “one of (Wilder’s) most beloved and gentle characters.” Gentile, yes. Gentle, never!

It was at Wilder’s insistence that the character of the chocolate baron be given a dark, bittersweet flavor. Wonka first appears before the children walking with the aid of a cane, only to moments later break into a somersault. Credit Wilder’s pure imagination for the inspired touch, and it was so important to the actor that his participation in the project depended on it.

When director Mel Stuart asked why the somersault, Wilder replied, “From that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.” Stuart prodded, “If I say no, you won’t do the picture?” to which Wilder replied, “I’m afraid that’s the truth.”

How does one not see a Nazi? Martin Bormann in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

One more Nazi note before moving on. According to The Daily Chronicle, the role of the man who forged the fifth winning ticket was played by Hitler’s henchman, Martin Bormann. Still find the notion far-fetched?

Sponsored
Sponsored

Gene Wilder was comedy’s answer to Robert Ryan, a frizzle-topped neurotic who mined hysteria to unmask satirical gold. Twas Wilder, not Peter Sellers or nervous counterpart Woody Allen, who was the face of ’70s comedy.

He first came to audience’s attention as undertaker Eugene Grizzard, kidnapped along with his girlfriend by the Barrow Gang in Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Wilder uses his five or so minutes of allotted screen time as a calling card, converting an otherwise anonymous bit part into an unforgettable debut. Later that year, Wilder’s performance as certified neurotic accountant Leo Bloom in Mel Brooks’s The Producers earned him an Oscar nomination.

Like most great movie clowns not afforded the services of a skilled ringleader, Wilder’s work exemplifies the art of comic as auteur. He was not the most versatile performer. (When what you’re selling is Gene Wilder, who needs puttying?) Only once did he assume an accent (Quackser Fortune has a Cousin in the Bronx), and his star forays into drama were a pair of 1999 movies for A&E (Murder in a Small Town, The Lady in Question) both signed by Joyce Chopra (Smooth Talk, The Lemon Sisters).

Gene Wilder and Daisy in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex...

With all due respect to Mel Brooks – his trio of Wilder comedies (The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein) all deserve a spot in the Pantheon of Laughter – one wonders what might have happened had Wilder teamed up with a director whose talent behind the camera rivaled that of Wilder’s performances. Other than Ms. Chopra, the closest he came was playing a frontier rabbi in Robert Aldrich’s underrated Frisco Kid or a bit role in Stanley Donen’s instantly forgettable adaptation of The Little Prince.

Favorite Wilder feat? If Disney convinced audiences that an elephant can fly, Wilder (along with Woody Allen) proved it possible for a successful doctor to find mature love with an underage sheep. Wilder’s prolonged reactions bring to mind Jack Benny, his frozen-faced disbelief a veritable textbook on how to milk a laugh.

Video:

Thursday’s Game (TV, 1974)

The death of his second wife, Gilda Radner, in 1989 signaled the loss of two comedic geniuses. The pain was such that two years later Wilder retired from movies. He was 83.

Included is a link to the greatest Gene Wilder performance you’ve never heard of, a TV movie called Thursday’s Game. There’s no better way to celebrate the man’s legacy than with a few solid belly laughs.

Comments
Sponsored

The latest copy of the Reader

Please enjoy this clickable Reader flipbook. Linked text and ads are flash-highlighted in blue for your convenience. To enhance your viewing, please open full screen mode by clicking the icon on the far right of the black flipbook toolbar.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

BattleMage makes EverQuest Corpse Run

Corpse Run is a 6.3% dry-hopped ABV West Coast IPA brewed with Nectaron, Mosaic, and Motueka hops
Next Article

Move to North Park offers opportunities

Friends, storytelling, even bongo busking
Comments
Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories Fishing Report — What’s getting hooked from ship and shore From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town The Gonzo Report — Making the musical scene, or at least reporting from it Letters — Our inbox Movies@Home — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Theater — On stage in San Diego this week Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close

Anchor ads are not supported on this page.

This Week’s Reader This Week’s Reader