Gene Wilder (1933-2016)

It doesn’t matter if there was a remake a few years ago.  For most of us there’s only one Willy Wonka. 

Gene Wilder.

I first saw Gene Wilder in The Producers when it was shown on TV.  Don’t know what made me watch it.  I’d never heard of it.  But it was on and I started watching – and laughed so hard I could hardly catch breath.  And I was most impressed by the actor playing Leo Bloom.  How could I not be?  For me, he stole the show.  In fact, Wilder impressed many with his performance.  He received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  The Producers was only his second film.  But he was a new, amazingly talented comedy star.

As a child, Wilder became interested in acting.  He began studying drama at age 13 and eventually made his theater debut in his 20s.  In 1963, while starring in a play with Anne Bancroft, Wilder met the man who would change his life – Mel Brooks.  Brooks cast Wilder in The Producers, giving Wilder a starring role.  They worked together again in Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.  By the mid-70s, Wilder was one of the top comedy actors in Hollywood.
In 1976, Wilder was teamed with Richard Pryor in the adventure comedy Silver Streak.  The two showed great chemistry on screen and were paired in more films, including Stir Crazy and See No Evil, Hear No Evil.  Although he occasionally took on more dramatic roles, Wilder always returned to comedy.  He retired from acting in 2003 after appearing on the TV series Will & Grace, for which he won an Emmy.

But that wasn’t the end of his career.  Wilder began writing.  His autobiography, Kiss Me like a Stranger, covering his life up through his marriage to actress Gilda Radner and her death from cancer.  He remarried, settled in Connecticut, and began writing fiction.  During the last few years, he stayed out of the public eye.  It was only after his passing that we learned he was ill with Alzheimer’s.

Although he did so many different movies and wrote novels and screenplays, as I said above, when we heard of Wilder’s death, most of us thought of one particular film: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.  A musical-comedy-fantasy-adventure, this was a film aimed at kids but with enough of an edge to entertain adults as well.  We can sing along and quote along and just have fun watching.  And the main reason is Gene Wilder.  He brought a sweetness and gentleness and just a little meanness to the role of Willy Wonka.  He gave us a glimpse into “Pure Imagination.” 

If you’d like to relive the thrills of a tour through the Chocolate Factory or the broad comedy of Blazing Saddles or the adventure of Silver Streak or maybe discover a film you don’t know or a book that sounds intriguing, check out the list below for the works of the talented Gene Wilder.


Alice in Wonderland
Blazing Saddles
Bonnie and Clyde
The Little Prince
The Producers
Quackser Fortune has a Cousin in the Bronx
See No Evil, Hear No Evil
Silver Streak
Stir Crazy
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Young Frankenstein


Kiss Me like a Stranger (autobiography)
My French Whore
Something to Remember You By
The Woman Who Wouldn’t