Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Today is Gene Wilder's 75th birthday. What an amazingingly funny and very human man. His life has had many ups and downs. Gene of course is the co-creator of "Young Frankenstein" and was a master at playing Willy Wonka.In 1971, Mel Stuart offered Wilder the lead role in his film adaptation of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Wilder was initially hesitant, but finally accepted the role 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 Stuart asked why, Wilder replied, "because from that time on, no one will know if I'm lying or telling the truth."All three films Wilder did after The Producers were box office failures, Start the Revolution and Quackser seemed to audiences poor copies of Mel Brooks films; while Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory seemed, to many parents, a moral story "too cruel" for children to understand, thus failing to attract family audiences After hearing that Wonka had been a commercial failure, Woody Allen offered Wilder a role in one segment of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask). Wilder accepted, hoping that this would be the hit that would put an end to his series of flops. Everything was a hit, grossing over $18 million dollars in the United States alone against a $2 million dollar budget.
After Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), Wilder began working on a script he called Young Frankenstein. When he had written a two page scenario, he called Mel Brooks, who told him that it seemed like a "cute" idea but showed little interest. A couple of months later, Wilder received a call from his then agent, Mike Medavoy, who asked if he had anything where he could include Peter Boyle and Marty Feldman, his two new clients. Having just seen Feldman on television, Wilder was inspired to write a scene that takes place at Transylvania Station, where Igor and Frederick meet for the first time. The scene would later be included in the film almost verbatim. Medavoy liked the idea and called Brooks, asking him to direct. Brooks was not convinced, but having spent four years working on two box office failures, he decided to accept.While working on the Young Frankenstein script, Wilder was offered the part of the Fox in the musical film adaptation of Saint Exupéry's classic book, The Little Prince. When filming was about to begin in London, Wilder received an urgent call from Mel Brooks, who was filming Blazing Saddles, offering Wilder the role of the "Waco Kid" after Dan Dailey dropped out at the last minute, while Gig Young became too ill to continue. Wilder shot his scenes for Blazing Saddles and immediately afterwards filmed The Little Prince.After Young Frankenstein was written, the rights were to be sold to Columbia Pictures but after having trouble agreeing on the budget, Wilder, Brooks and producer Michael Gruskoff went with 20th Century Fox where both Brooks and Wilder had to sign five-year contracts. Young Frankenstein was a commercial success, with Wilder and Brooks receiving Best Adapted Screenplay nominations at the 1975 Oscars, losing to Francis Coppola and Mario Puzo for their adaptation of The Godfather Part II.While filming Frankenstein, Wilder had an idea for a romantic musical comedy about a brother of Sherlock Holmes. Marty Feldman and Madeline Kahn agreed to participate in the project and Wilder began writing what would become his directorial début, 1975's The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother"
In 1975, Wilder's agent sent him a script for a film called Super Chief. Wilder accepted but told the film's producers that he thought the only person who could keep the film from being offensive was Richard Pryor. Pryor accepted the role in the film, which had been renamed Silver Streak, the first film to team Wilder and Pryor. While filming Silver Streak, Wilder began working on a the script for The World's Greatest Lover, inspired by Fellini's The White Sheik. Wilder wrote, produced and directed The World's Greatest Lover, which premièred in 1977, but was a commercial and critical failure. 1979s The Frisco Kid would be Wilder's next project. The film was to star John Wayne, but he dropped out when the Warner Brothers executives tried to dissuade him from charging the studio his usual $1 million fee. Harrison Ford, a then up-and-coming actor, was hired for the role. Happy Birthday, dear Gene! God love you for giving the world your humor.

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