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Billy Wilder Poster

Biography

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Overview (5)

Date of Birth 22 June 1906Sucha, Galicia, Austria-Hungary [now Sucha Beskidzka, Malopolskie, Poland]
Date of Death 27 March 2002West Los Angeles, California, USA  (pneumonia)
Birth NameSamuel Wilder
Nickname The Viennese Pixie
Height 5' 11" (1.8 m)

Mini Bio (2)

Originally planning to become a lawyer, Billy Wilder abandoned that career in favor of working as a reporter for a Viennese newspaper, using this experience to move to Berlin, where he worked for the city's largest tabloid. He broke into films as a screenwriter in 1929, and wrote scripts for many German films until Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. Wilder immediately realized his Jewish ancestry would cause problems, so he emigrated to Paris, then the US. Although he spoke no English when he arrived in Hollywood, Wilder was a fast learner, and thanks to contacts such as Peter Lorre (with whom he shared an apartment), he was able to break into American films. His partnership with Charles Brackett started in 1938 and the team was responsible for writing some of Hollywood's classic comedies, including Ninotchka (1939) and Ball of Fire (1941). The partnership expanded into a producer-director one in 1942, with Brackett producing, and the two turned out such classics as Five Graves to Cairo (1943), The Lost Weekend (1945) (Oscars for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay) and Sunset Blvd. (1950) (Oscars for Best Screenplay), after which the partnership dissolved. (Wilder had already made one film, Double Indemnity (1944) without Brackett, as the latter had refused to work on a film he felt dealt with such disreputable characters.) Wilder's subsequent self-produced films would become more caustic and cynical, notably Ace in the Hole (1951), though he also produced such sublime comedies as Some Like It Hot (1959) and The Apartment (1960) (which won him Best Picture and Director Oscars). He retired in 1981.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Michael Brooke <michael@everyman.demon.co.uk>

The second of two sons, his father ran a chain of railway station cafes. As a youth he was obsessed with everything American. encouraged by his mother he enrolled as a law student at the University of Vienna but quit after 3 months to be a writer on a magazine which although poorly paid it gave him a great amount of experience interviewing such as Richard Strauss and Sigmund Freud. In 1926 he worked as an interpreter for jazz band leader Paul Whiteman on a European tour which ended in Berlin. There he became a freelance journalist mixing with the show business set and becoming friendly with Marlene Dietrich a then small part actress. a fast and prolific writer he got introduced to prominent figures in the growing German film industry resulting in him being hired as a ghost writer writing scripts for established writers who didn't have time to meet their contractual obligations. His break came when he worked on 'People on Sunday', a modest film directed by Robert Siodmak, assistant cameraman Fred Zinneman and co director Edgar Ulmer who would all later become prominent in the industry. When Hitler came to power Billy, a Jew, moved to Paris where he directed his first film, 'Mauvaise Graine' (Bad Seed) starring a 17 year old Danielle Darieux. Sending a script to Joe May, a former friend who was now a producer at Columbia Studios resulted in a ticket to the States and a promise of work. A continual rejection of his scripts put him on the bread line for awhile and then he was teamed with writer Charles Brackett to write a script for 'Bluebeard's Eighth Wife' which was followed by such as 'Ninotchka' 'Hold Back the Dawn' and 'Ball of Fire'. Billy wanted to direct, mainly to protect his scripts which other directors had ruined. His chance came with 'The Major and the Minor' with Ginger Rogers. After a few more scripts with Charles which Billy directed and Charles produced Billy collaborated with Raymond Chandler on 'Double Indemnity' - the house used as Barbara Stanwyck's character's home still stands today at 6301 Quebec Drive. Billy rejoined Charles for 'the Lost weekend' which won Oscars for Screenplay, director, film and actor (Ray Milland). At the end of ww11 Billy returned to Germany as a colonel in the U.S. Army's Psychological warfare Division with the task of salvaging the German film industry. Using the background of Berlin's ruins he made 'A Foreign Affair' with his friend from early days, Marlene Dietrich. Returning to the States he rejoined Charles for what would be their last collaboration - 'Sunset Boulevard' which ended their 14 year partnership. Billy wanted Mae West for the role of Norma Desmond but she turned it down so he spoke to Pola Negri but visualised her thick accent causing too many problems. Willam Holden was a last minute casting for the role of Joe after Montgomery Clift dropped out 2 weeks before shooting was due to start.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: tonyman5

Spouse (2)

Audrey Young (30 June 1949 - 27 March 2002) (his death)
Judith Coppicus (22 December 1936 - 1946) (divorced) (2 children)

Trade Mark (8)

His movies frequently started with narration
Films feature a sharp wit and characters who frequently try to change their identity.
A few of his films feature scenes where characters play cards (Sunset Blvd. (1950), Stalag 17 (1953), The Apartment (1960)). Wilder himself was an avid bridge and poker player.
Frequently cast Marilyn Monroe, William Holden, Jack Lemmon and Fred MacMurray. Wilder directed Jack Lemmon in seven movies: The Apartment (1960), Avanti! (1972), Buddy Buddy (1981), The Fortune Cookie (1966), The Front Page (1974), Irma la Douce (1963) and Some Like It Hot (1959).
Films often featured low key lighting
Featured dangerous, manipulative women in his films
Characters often look themselves on a little mirror
Cynical yet humorous films

Trivia (47)

Father of the twins Victoria and Vincent (born 1939). Their mother was Judith. Vincent died shortly after birth.
Met Audrey Young at Paramount Studios on set for The Lost Weekend (1945), as his divorce from Judith was in progress and he had a liaison with the actress Doris Dowling.
He used "Billie" as his first name until his emigration in 1933.
Estranged brother of producer/director W. Lee Wilder, uncle of Myles Wilder.
Long famous for the modern-art collection he put together over his lifetime (he sold only a portion of it in 1989 for $32.6 million)
Awarded Austria's Golden Order, First Class for Meritorious Services.
An inveterate clotheshorse, at age 83 he still owned over 60 cashmere sweaters.
Tom Cruise and Cameron Crowe begged Wilder to appear in Jerry Maguire (1996), but he turned them down flat.
He wanted to direct Schindler's List (1993), but Steven Spielberg preferred doing it himself. Wilder has been quoted saying it would have become his most personal film.
Had a long-standing partnership with screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond, with whom he won an Oscar for The Apartment (1960).
At least three of his films have been made into Broadway musicals. The Apartment (1960) was the basis for "Promises, Promises" in 1968. Some Like It Hot (1959) was the basis for "Sugar" in 1973. And Sunset Blvd. (1950) was adapted into a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1993.
Once told Billy Bob Thornton that he was too ugly to be an actor and he should write a screenplay for himself in which he could exploit his less than perfect features. Thornton later collected an Oscar for his Sling Blade (1996) screenplay.
At one point he was slated to direct a movie about the Marx brothers running the United Nations. This was around 1960. The project fell apart after Chico Marx's death in 1961, which was followed by Harpo Marx's death in 1964.
He collaborated closely with Steven Spielberg on the script for Schindler's List (1993), and was one of several directors considered to direct it (Roman Polanski and Martin Scorsese; both turned down the project). Although Wilder strongly considered directing Schindler's List (1993), he felt he was a little too old (he had already retired) and the subject was almost too personal (his mother, step-father and grandmother were killed in the Holocaust). It was ultimately Wilder who told Spielberg he should direct it.
His mother, Gitla Siedlisker, was murdered in 1943 in the Plaszow concentration camp. His stepfather, Bernard (Berl) Siedlisker, died in 1942 in the Belzec concentration camp, while his grandmother, Balbina Baldinger, died in 1943 in the ghetto of Nowy Targ.
In 1949 he married Audrey Young, an actress and former singer with the Tommy Dorsey band, whom he met on the set of The Lost Weekend (1945).
In the early 1950s, Wilder had planned on doing a film with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The film was to open with Stan and Ollie each sleeping in one of the "o"s of the Hollywood sign. The plot centered on a woman coming between them. The film was never made due to Hardy's failing health.
His idol and mentor was German director Ernst Lubitsch. Wilder always kept a sign hanging in his office that asked, "How would Lubitsch do it?"
Although born as Samuel Wilder, he was called "Billy" by his mother from infancy and it stuck. Some theorize it was due to her fascination with the western character Buffalo Bill Cody, but it may have been just because she thought it sounded American (she was obsessed with American culture).
Was voted the 24th Greatest Director of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
Because of his rounded face and non-stop elfin energy, people often pictured him as short and wiry, but he was in fact near 6 feet tall (taller than his favorite star, Jack Lemmon).
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945". Pages 1206-1210. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.
Liked the name "Sheldrake" so much that he used it in three different films, most prominently in The Apartment (1960), but also in Sunset Blvd. (1950) and Kiss Me, Stupid (1964).
Was the subject of the 1999 book "Conversations with Wilder," written by director/writer Cameron Crowe.
It is thought that Wilder gained his acerbic view of people early on. His family, Austrian Jews, traveled constantly, and Wilder almost never made friends among his peers at school and instead found himself the subject of persecution as both a Jew and a foreigner.
Not having seen his parents since he went to Berlin to make films, he joined American patrols through war-torn Europe shortly after the war. Through intense research he found out that both his mother and grandmother were killed in concentration camps, a subject that he usually declined to discuss. However, when shooting a film with Wilder, an actor expressed sympathy for his own Nazi character, to which the usually cool-headed Wilder roared, "Those bastards killed my mother!!!"
Wilder had tried to enter the U.S. via Mexico, where U.S. officials repeatedly denied him entry for several months. At the point of losing hope, he went to a new immigration officer who asked him his profession. After stating he was a filmmaker, the officer stamped his papers, and upon entering the U.S. the officer said,"Make good ones, then."
He directed 14 different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Barbara Stanwyck, Ray Milland, William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, Robert Strauss, Audrey Hepburn, Charles Laughton , Elsa Lanchester, Jack Lemmon, Jack Kruschen, Shirley MacLaine and Walter Matthau. Milland, Holden and Matthau won Oscars for their performances in a Wilder film.
He is among an elite group of seven directors who have won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay (Original/Adapted) for the same film. In 1961 he won all three for The Apartment (1960). The others are Leo McCarey, Francis Ford Coppola, James L. Brooks, Peter Jackson and Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (the brothers co-produced, co-directed and co-wrote No Country for Old Men (2007) with each other)..
As a writer, he had odd habits. On the one hand, he hated writing alone, so he almost always used a partner, someone to be in the room with him while he worked. On the other hand, many of the partners complained that if he heard an idea he did not like, he could be cruel and insulting. Many writers quit on him because they could not take his abuse.
One of the most eclectic writer-directors ever. He excelled in film noir (Double Indemnity (1944)), drama (The Lost Weekend (1945)), comedy (Some Like It Hot (1959)) and war (Stalag 17 (1953)).
He died the same day as Dudley Moore and Milton Berle. He and Moore both died of pneumonia.
In his last years he became patron of the "Billy-Wilder-Institute" located in Germany, a film school founded to educate only producers and screenwriters. The school was closed after just two years because of the death of its founder and dean Lothar Rhode.
He was awarded the American National Medal of the Arts in 1993 by the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington, DC.
On the first page of every screenplay of his own he used to write "Cum Deo" (With God), a habit he said he had taken from Pauline Kael. "It's not harmful, anyway," Wilder explained, "and could corrupt that guy dwelling up there".
His directorial debut was The Major and the Minor (1942).
His favorite film was Battleship Potemkin (1925).
Profiled in "Conversations with Directors: An Anthology of Interviews from Literature/Film Quarterly", E.M. Walker, D.T. Johnson, eds. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2008.
The song, "Isn't it Romantic?" is featured in many of Wilder's films, not particularly because he liked the song, but, as he said of himself, "I'm cheap." Wilder got a great deal when he originally licensed the song for use, which allowed him to use it over and over.
He wrote five of the American Film Institute's 100 Funniest Movies: Some Like It Hot (1959) at #1, The Apartment (1960) at #20, The Seven Year Itch (1955) at #51, Ninotchka (1939) at #52 and Ball of Fire (1941) at #92.
Directed four of the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest Movies: Sunset Blvd. (1950) at #16, Some Like It Hot (1959) at #22, Double Indemnity (1944) at #29 and The Apartment (1960) at #80.
He worked closely with two co-writers in his career: earlier in his career with Charles Brackett, an older man who frequently provided a strong argumentative counterpoint in the writing room and later with I.A.L. Diamond, who possessed a cynical, humorous world view more in line with Wilder's.
Ingmar Bergman claimed that Wilder was his favorite Hollywood director.
Honored on a US Postage Stamp in May 2012 (along with Frank Capra, John Ford, and John Huston).
Was a fan of the British film A Brief Encounter (1945). It inspired him to make the movie The Apartment (1960). The premise for The Apartment is based on a male character who loans out his flat to a friend and doesn't care what happens while he's out.
He was always uncomfortable around children and was an absentee father to his two children from his first marriage. He and his second wife, Audrey, agreed that they didn't want children.

Personal Quotes (49)

[after directing Marilyn Monroe for the second time in Some Like It Hot (1959)] I have discussed this with my doctor and my psychiatrist and they tell me I'm too old and too rich to go through this again.
Some pictures play wonderfully to a room of eight people. I don't go for that. I go for the masses. I go for the end effect.
Anyone who doesn't believe in miracles isn't a realist.
My English is a mixture between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Archbishop Tutu.
A bad play folds and is forgotten, but in pictures we don't bury our dead. When you think it's out of your system, your daughter sees it on television and says, "My father is an idiot."
The Wilder message is don't bore - don't bore people.
I just made pictures I would've liked to see.
[opon seeing Sigmund Freud's therapy couch] It was a very tiny little thing. All his theories were based on the analysis of very short people!
[in 1976] They say Wilder is out of touch with his times. Frankly, I regard it as a compliment. Who the hell wants to be in touch with these times?
Making movies is little like walking into a dark room. Some people stumble across furniture, others break their legs but some of us see better in the dark than others. The ultimate trick is to convince, persuade.
I was not a guy writing deep-dish revelations. If people see a picture of mine and then sit down and talk about it for 15 minutes, that is a very fine reward, I think.
Today we spend 80% of the time making deals and 20% making pictures.
[to a cameraman on one of his pictures] Shoot a few scenes out of focus. I want to win the foreign film award.
A director must be a policeman, a midwife, a psychoanalyst, a sycophant and a bastard.
[on Marilyn Monroe] Breasts like granite and a brain like Swiss cheese.
Hollywood didn't kill Marilyn Monroe; it's the Marilyn Monroes who are killing Hollywood.
I have ten commandments. The first nine are, thou shalt not bore. The tenth is, thou shalt have right of final cut.
[about the Hotel Marmont on Sunset Blvd., a piece of Hollywood history] I would rather sleep in a bathroom than in another hotel.
[asked if it was important for a director to know how to write] No, but it helps if he knows how to read.
People copy, people steal. Most of the pictures they make nowadays are loaded down with special effects. I couldn't do that. I quit smoking because I couldn't reload my Zippo.
Trust your own instinct. Your mistakes might as well be your own, instead of someone else's.
You have to have a dream so you can get up in the morning.
You're only as good as the best thing you've ever done.
Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.
France is the only country where the money falls apart and you can't tear the toilet paper.
[on Ace in the Hole (1951)] I was attacked by every paper because of that movie. They loathed it. It was cynical, they said. Cynical, my ass. I tell you, you read about a plane crash somewhere nearby and you want to check out the scene, you can't get to it because ten thousand people are already there: they're picking up little scraps, ghoulish souvenir hunters. After I read those horrifying reviews about "Ace in the Hole", I remember I was going down Wilshire Boulevard and there was an automobile accident. Somebody was run over. I stopped my car. I wanted to help that guy who was run over. Then another guy jumps out of his car and photographs the thing. "You'd better call an ambulance," I said. "Call a doctor, my ass. I've got to get to the L.A. Times. I've got a picture. I've got to move. I just took a picture here. I've got to deliver it." But you say that in a movie, and the critics think you're exaggerating."
[on Marlene Dietrich] Mother Teresa with better legs.
[on Marilyn Monroe] An endless puzzle without any solution.
The Austrians are brilliant people. They made the world believe that [Adolf Hitler] was a German and [Ludwig van Beethoven] an Austrian.
My Aunt Minnie would always be punctual and never hold up production, but who would pay to see my Aunt Minnie?- on Marilyn Monroe
If you're going to tell people the truth, be funny or they'll kill you.
If there's anything I hate more than not being taken seriously, it's being taken too seriously.
An audience is never wrong. An individual member of it may be an imbecile, but a thousand imbeciles together in the dark - that is critical genius
The subtlest comedy you can get right now is MASH (1970). They don't want to see a picture unless Peter Fonda is running over a dozen people or unless Clint Eastwood has got a machine gun bigger then 140 penises. It gets bigger all the time, you know; it started out as a pistol and now it's a machine gun. Something which is warm and funny and gentle and urbane and civilized hasn't got a chance today. There is a lack of patience which is sweeping the nation - or the world, for that matter.
In certain pictures I do hope they will leave the cinema a little enriched, but I don't make them pay a buck and a half and then ram a lecture down their throats.
You watch, the new wave will discover the slow dissolve in ten years or so.
What critics call dirty in our movies, they call lusty in foreign films.
An actor enters through a door, you've got nothing. But if he enters through a window, you've got a situation.
The best director is the one you don't see.
The close-up is such a valuable thing -- like a trump at a bridge.
[When asked what the purpose of making films is] Well, number one, it's too late for me now to change and to become a gardener. Number two is to get away from the house and the vacuum cleaner. I want to be in my office and think. And number three, it's very exciting. I like to tell stories. Ultimately it's interesting. You meet nice people, it's glamorous, and, if you get lucky, very profitable. You suffer a great deal, but to paraphrase President Truman, if you can't take all that crap, get out of the studio. Believe me, this is not a profession for a dignified human being. I can see the interest in pictures when I talk to you students [at the American Film Institute], especially now that almost every university has something connected with movies. But if I had a son I would beat him with a very large whip trying to make a gardener, a dentist or something else out of him. Don't do it. It's just too tough. It hurts, and the moments of glory are very far between. Well, it's too late for me to turn back, too late for me to become a gardener. I can't bend over the azaleas. Not anymore.
[on Jack Lemmon] I'm terribly fond of Jack. We understand each other very well and it's a pleasure to work with him. He is a thinking actor, but not an argumentative one. By that way I mean if we start shooting at nine o'clock, he would be there at 8:15 and would come to my office and say, "Hey, I've got a great idea! Look, why don't we do this? Blah, blah, blah, blah." And I just look at him, and he says, "I don't like it either." And he walks out.
Everybody in the audience is an idiot, but taken together they're a genius.
When you say that I am searching for truth, and uh so and so, you French really know how to flatter somebody. I'm just trying to make a living. Get two hours of film, and I don't really give a shit if whether how true it is, great it is. Just get it over with. Where's that?
I don't think that making movies is my entire life. But there's one thing, you know, that I hate more than not being taken seriously, is to be taken too seriously.
[on why his films rarely feature children]: I could direct a dog. Kids, I don't know.
There was an actress named Marilyn Monroe. She was always late. She never remembered her lines. She was a pain in the ass. My Aunt Millie is a nice lady. If she were in pictures she would always be on time. She would know her lines. She would be nice. Why does everyone in Hollywood want to work with Marilyn Monroe and no one wants to work with my Aunt Millie. Because no one will go to the movies to watch my Aunt Millie.
[on film critic Judith Crist ] Inviting her to review one of your pictures is like inviting the Boston Strangler to massage your neck.
[Billy Wilder on Holden's death] If someone had said to me, 'Holden's dead,' I would have assumed that he had been gored by a water buffalo in Kenya, that he had died in a plane crash approaching Hong Kong, that a crazed, jealous woman had shot him, and he drowned in a swimming pool. But to be killed by a bottle of vodka and a night table - what a lousy fade-out of a great guy!

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