The Loss of Gene Wilder.

I've been starting and erasing every opening sentence I've had for this post for the past five minutes. Honestly, how do I begin? I've been in love with Gene Wilder ever since I first saw him in The Producers. He was hysterical (and wet and in pain), a tightly-contained man who could suddenly burst into the most outrageous and magnificent being. The moment he started clawing at Zero Mostel for his blue blanket, I knew Wilder was someone I could never forget.

Throughout high school, I was always bugging my friends about the latest classic I had seen; I could practically feel the stars in my eyes as I recounted Swing Time or Gentlemen Prefer Blondes or Funny Face. I can still remember how much my friend Maggie and I laughed as I gave her all the details on The Producers. She had never heard about it, but here we were, giggling until we cried over a movie only one of us had seen. You could say that demonstrates the power of Mel Brooks, the film's director and writer. But what has always stuck in my mind is Leo Bloom, precisely because of Wilder's characterization.


After being mesmerized by The Producers, Young Frankenstein was recommended to me and again I felt riveted. Gene Wilder gave one of the most perfect performances I've ever seen. I rate it right up there with Anthony Perkins's Norman Bates, Cary Grant's T.R. Devlin, and Katharine Hepburn's Bunny Watson as one of my favorite things to watch. Young Frankenstein came from the mind of Wilder and I adore him so much for it. He wanted a happy ending for Mary Shelley's creations and with Mel Brooks, he made one of the most lovingly crafted homages in history. You can read more of my thoughts on the film here.

Seeing how explosive and beautifully high-strung Wilder could be, I was pleasantly surprised to see his calmer side in Blazing Saddles. As the Waco Kid, Gene was again quiet and contained, but this time there was an edge to him, a steeliness, despite the shakiness of the hand he shoots with. By this time, I had read Wilder's memoir, Kiss Me Like a Stranger, a book that is so wonderful to read and so quick to get through. It's honest and emotional, just like its author. His relationship with Gilda Radner was recounted so poignantly and everything else I've seen demonstrates just how much they loved each other. Although Gilda died in 1989, five years into their marriage, Wilder still found it difficult to talk about her, even as recently as this 2005 interview with Katie Couric. Entertainment Weekly compiled a fantastic list of quotes Radner and Wilder said about one another that you can read here.

Since learning about Wilder's death Monday afternoon, I've been thinking about him a lot. I've been reading many tributes and articles, including this one about his work with Richard Pryor, and I've been watching tons of YouTube videos. I finally saw Stir Crazy and Silver Streak, his first two films with Pryor, and I pre-ordered the newest DVD release of Haunted Honeymoon, a hilarious film that he did with Gilda, in addition to writing and directing it. Seeing him on the screen reaffirms that I'm going to miss him deeply, but I have to keep in mind this statement released by his nephew when his death was reported:

"The decision to wait to disclose his condition [Alzheimer's disease] wasn't vanity, but more so that the countless young children that would smile or call out to him 'There's Willy Wonka' would not have to then be exposed to an adult referencing illness or trouble and causing delight to travel to worry, disappointment, or confusion. He simply couldn't bear the idea of one less smile in the world." [source]

That last sentence absolutely broke my heart, but it reinforces what Gene was all about: love and laughter. To cry any more -- and yes, I've been doing it quite a bit -- would be exactly what he didn't want, so instead, in the next few days, I'm going to continue diving into his filmography because I know that's where I'll find all of the smiles I could ever need.

Gene, you'll forever be my marvelous oddball.

With all of my love and more,
Michaela

Comments

  1. Such a loss, Gene Wilder was absolutely brilliant. This was very lovely piece.

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    1. Thanks, Summer. He will definitely be missed.

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  2. I can't help it Michaela, I did cry. A very touching and beautiful tribute.

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    1. Thank you, Simoa. I didn't realize how much Gene meant to me until I heard about his death. I'm sure it's been rough for all of his fans.

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  3. A beautiful and loving tribute to an incredibly talented man. I loved the story of you telling your friend about The Producers and both of you were in tears. That, right there, is part of the magic of movies, and the impact of Gene Wilder.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Ruth. Going through Gene's films the past two weeks has been sad, but more than that, it's been, well, fun. He just embodied comedy, more than anybody else I've seen. A truly magical man.

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