Edit
Gene Wilder Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (4)  | Trade Mark (6)  | Trivia (52)  | Personal Quotes (70)  | Salary (1)

Overview (4)

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Died in Stamford, Connecticut, USA  (complications from Alzheimer's disease)
Birth NameJerome Silberman
Height 5' 10½" (1.79 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Gene Wilder was born Jerome Silberman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Jeanne (Baer) and William J. Silberman, who manufactured miniature whiskey and beer bottles. His father was a Russian Jewish immigrant, while his Illinois-born mother was of Russian Jewish descent.

Wilder caught his first big break playing a small role in the off-Broadway production of Arnold Wesker's "Roots" and followed quickly with his Broadway debut as the comic valet in "The Complaisant Lover" (both 1961), for which he won the Clement Derwent Award. His other Broadway credits included "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1963, with Kirk Douglas), "The White House" (1964, with Helen Hayes) and "Luv" (1966), but it was a 1963 Broadway production of "Mother Courage and Her Children" that altered the course of his life forever. In its cast was Anne Bancroft, who was dating Mel Brooks at the time, and the relationship established between the two men eventually led to Wilder's becoming part of Brooks' "stock company". Wilder's Actor's Studio connection may have helped him land his first feature, Bonnie and Clyde (1967), in which he drew much favourable attention in a small but memorable role as a frightened young undertaker abducted by the legendary duo. Wilder's performance as the endearingly frantic Leo Bloom in The Producers (1967) kicked off his celebrated collaboration with Mel Brooks and garnered him an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor. His career gained momentum as he played a swashbuckler in Start the Revolution Without Me (1970), the candy impresario of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) and a sheep-smitten doctor in Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972). Wilder re-teamed with Mel Brooks for the inspired lunacy of Blazing Saddles (1974) and Young Frankenstein (1974), earning his second Oscar nomination for his first-time screen-writing efforts (along with Mel Brooks) on the latter. Spurred by these triumphs, Wilder made his directorial debut (in addition to acting and starring) with The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975). His first association with Richard Pryor had come on Blazing Saddles (1974), but Richard Pryor (co-screenwriter) had lost out in his bid for the Cleavon Little role. Richard Pryor and Wilder first acted together in the highly entertaining and commercially successful Silver Streak (1976) and scored at the box office again with Stir Crazy (1980), but their later efforts were mediocre. Ironically, Hanky Panky (1982), Wilder's first of three films with his late wife Gilda Radner, originally was written to pair him with Richard Pryor again, but Richard Pryor's unavailability necessitated rewriting the part for Gilda Radner.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: q

Spouse (4)

Karen Boyer (8 September 1991 - 29 August 2016) ( his death)
Gilda Radner (18 September 1984 - 20 May 1989) ( her death)
Mary Joan Schutz (27 October 1967 - 24 November 1980) ( divorced) ( 1 child)
Mary Mercier (22 July 1960 - 1965) ( divorced)

Trade Mark (6)

Soft mellow voice
Curly brown hair and blue eyes
Often played highly eccentric yet likeable characters
Often worked with Richard Pryor
Often worked with Mel Brooks
Frequently did comedic pauses in his dialogue

Trivia (52)

Had played a man wrongly accused of committing a crime in five movies: Silver Streak (1976), The Frisco Kid (1979), Stir Crazy (1980), Hanky Panky (1982) and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989).
Had starred with Richard Pryor in four movies: Silver Streak (1976), Stir Crazy (1980), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) and Another You (1991).
Won the Clarence Derwent award for the Broadway play "The Complaisant Lover" in 1962.
Attended and graduated from Washington High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (1951).
After his wife Gilda Radner died of ovarian cancer, Gene co-founded Gilda's Club, a support group to raise awareness of the disease.
Wife Karen Boyer, is a former speech pathologist. They first met when he consulted with her about playing the role of a deaf man in See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989).
Received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa (1955). Was a lifelong brother of the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity.
Said he picked the name 'Gene Wilder' because he could not see a 'Jerry Silberman' playing Hamlet. He admitted that he could not see 'Gene Wilder' playing Hamlet either.
Uncle of director-screenwriter Jordan Walker-Pearlman.
Campaigned with Elaine May and Renée Taylor for Eugene McCarthy, Allard Lowenstein and Paul O'Dwyer. [1968]
Served with the United States Army from 1956-1958. Served in the Medical Corps section in the United States Army.
He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and underwent chemotherapy. [1999]
Treated his cancer with an adult stem-cell treatment. Made a full recovery from cancer. [2000]
When he chose his stage name, he chose "Wilder" because he loved Thornton Wilder's play "Our Town". He chose the name "Gene" simply because he liked this, not realizing until later this was because his mother's name was Jeanne (she was sick for most of his childhood, and he spent much of his time entertaining her as a kid to keep her happy and her spirits up. He subconsciously chose the name because he loved her so much and in honour of her).
While serving in the United States Army, he was assigned as a Medic to the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Valley Forge General Hospital in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. He worked in treating psychiatric patients.
He claimed that before Mel Brooks recruited him, he regarded himself as more of a dramatic actor than a comedic actor.
His performance as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein ("that's FRONKensteen") in Young Frankenstein (1974) is ranked #9 on Premiere magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
His performance as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) is ranked #38 on Premiere magazine's 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.
Attended the University of Iowa, as did Ashton Kutcher, Mary Beth Hurt and Ben Rollins.
He adopted Mary Joan Schutz's daughter, Katharine Anastasia, but became estranged from her when she was in her early 20s.
Was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Producers (1967) but lost to Jack Albertson, who won for The Subject Was Roses (1968). Both Wilder and Albertson would later co-star in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971).
According to his memoir "Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art", his cancer was in complete remission.
According to his memoir "Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art", he considered his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman, whom he helped raise, his son.
His father was a Ukrainian Jewish immigrant. His mother was born in Illinois, to Russian Jewish parents. Gene had a Bar Mitzvah ceremony.
For an American Film Institute poll, Wilder designated The Circus (1928) as his favourite film.
In 1991, the Best Man at his wedding was his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman. Twenty-four years later, Wilder served as Best Man Emeritus, Ring Bearer, and Parent of the Groom at Walker-Pearlman's wedding to Elizabeth Hunter. He was recorded dancing down the aisle.
Wilder was a supporter of the Democratic Party for many years, and staunchly opposed U.S. actions in the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. He supported Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 presidential election.
Longtime resident of Fairfield County's Stamford, Connecticut until his death.
He was considered for a supporting role in Lady in the Water (2006).
He was considered for the role of Royal Tenenbaum in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), which went to Gene Hackman.
He was offered a cameo role in The BFG (2016), which, like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971), was based on a book by Roald Dahl, but he declined.
He was considered for the Moon King in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), which went to Robin Williams.
He auditioned for the role of the drifter Vin Tannen in The Magnificent Seven (1960), which went to Steve McQueen.
He turned down Jon Voight's role in Catch-22 (1970) in order to play twins in Start the Revolution Without Me (1970).
Mel Brooks wanted him to star in High Anxiety (1977), which he turned down due to scheduling conflicts. Brooks took the role himself.
Mel Brooks offered him the role of Ippolit in The Twelve Chairs (1970). But Wilder wanted to play the role of Ostap instead. Brooks refused to cast Wilder because Ostap is described in the novel as "devilishly handsome". Wilder said that he was not offended by this, but still decided not to do the film. The roles went to Ron Moody and Frank Langella.
He was offered Red Buttons' role in The Poseidon Adventure (1972), which he turned down due to scheduling conflicts.
Died on August 29, 2016 from complications of Alzheimer's Disease. His nephew said in a statement, "We understand for all the emotional and physical challenges this situation presented we have been among the lucky ones - this illness-pirate, unlike in so many cases, never stole his ability to recognize those that were closest to him, nor took command of his central-gentle-life affirming core personality. The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition 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 be then 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." (Statement Via Variety).
In October 2001, he read from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" as part of a special benefit performance held at the Westport Country Playhouse to support families affected by the September 11 attacks. Also in 2001, Wilder donated a collection of scripts, correspondences, documents, photographs, and clipped images to the University of Iowa Libraries.
He was set to reunite with Richard Pryor in Trading Places (1983) until Pryor dropped out. When Eddie Murphy was cast, he requested that Wilder be replaced, as he did not want to come-off as a poor substitute for Pryor.
Pursued a career in comedic acting to cheer up his mother when she was suffering from heart disease.
Gene guest-starred in Will & Grace: Boardroom and a Parked Place (2002) as Will's new boss, Mr. Stein. As Will is trying to boost Mr. Stein's confidence, he has Stein shout "I am Stein! I am Stein!" In an outtake from the episode, Will stands up and shouts "You're Frankenstein!".
Upon his death, he was cremated and his ashes given to his family.
Has appeared in four of the American Film Institute's 100 Funniest Movies: Blazing Saddles (1974) at #6, The Producers (1967) at #11, Young Frankenstein (1974) at #13 and Silver Streak (1976) at #95.
Acting mentor and friends with Kelly LeBrock.
He became a surrogate father to Kelly LeBrock, when she lost her father in real-life.
Remained close friends with Kelly LeBrock after the release of The Woman in Red (1984).
In early 2001, Gene was grocery shopping in a supermarket near his home in Stamford, Connecticut, when a mother approached him and asked him if she could tell her kids who he was, and Gene said "Yes, if you promise not to say it loud." And the mother whispered to her kids "That's Willy Wonka!" She then turned to Gene and said "What a legacy!".
His final novel, "Even Dogs Learn How to Swim", was released in April 2017. The audio version, for which he performed the narration, was directed by his nephew filmmaker Jordan Walker-Pearlman. It was created over five days in a recording studio near the actor's Stamford, Connecticut home two years before his death.
One of his all-time favorite songs was "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", and particularly the version sung by Ella Fitzgerald. According to his family, as Wilder laid on his deathbed, the music player (which was set to random) changed to this song. Wilder then smiled, closed his eyes, and peacefully passed away.
Was friends with Mel Brooks, whom he worked with in three films: The Producers (1967), Young Frankenstein (1974) and Blazing Saddles (1974).
He was offered roles by Steven Spielberg in The BFG (2016) and Ready Player One (2018) and respectfully declined both.

Personal Quotes (70)

[on Mel Brooks] A loud kind of Jewish genius--maybe that's as close as you can get to defining him.
Woody [Woody Allen] makes a movie as if he were lighting 10,000 safety matches to illuminate a city. Each one is a little epiphany: topical, ethnic or political.
[on the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) to the Daily Telegraph] It's all about money. It's just some people sitting around thinking, "How can we make some more money?" Why else would you remake "Willy Wonka" [Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)]?
[on his role in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972)] And that's not an easy task, being in bed with a sheep, especially if you make the sheep nervous. I'm not going to go on, if you know what I'm talking about.
I'm not so funny. Gilda [Gilda Radner] was funny. I'm funny on camera sometimes. In life, once in a while. Once in a while. But she was funny. She spent more time worrying about being liked than anything else.
[on Mel Brooks] We are not interested in polite titters, we want the audience rolling on the floor and falling about. Mel works on his feet -- it's a hit and miss, hit and miss, hit and miss. Then in the editing he will take out the misses!
[on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), the remake of his Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)] I haven't seen it. I like Depp [Johnny Depp], but when I heard they were doing a remake, I heard, "Mistake". When I saw clips on television, and I saw what Depp was doing, I thought, "Don't see that movie--you like Depp too much." I always get comments: "Yours is better". I know they're talking about "Willie Wonka".
[on his relationship with Richard Pryor] We were never good friends, contrary to popular belief. We turned it on for the camera, then turned it off. He was a pretty unpleasant person to be around during the time we worked together. He was going through his drug problems then and didn't want a friendship outside of what we did on the screen.
[on being asked to play Willy Wonka] I said, "I'd like to come out with a cane, and be crippled," and I said, "because no one will know from that time on whether I'm lying or telling the truth." And he said, "You mean--if we don't do that, you won't do the part?" And I said, "Yeah, that's what I'm saying." [imitates the producer mumbling to himself] "Okay. Okay. We'll do it." And I, and I meant it, too. Because it was a tricky part. But that element, of "who knows? is he lying, or is he telling the truth?" is what my main motor was. And I liked that; it appealed to me a lot.
[on Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)] Well, you know, it wasn't a success when it came out. And I heard some talk about mothers who thought it was cruel to the children. What... what they and everyone else found out later on was that maybe some mothers felt that way, but the children didn't feel that way. The children understood the movie very well. That there are limits. And they want to know the limits. And it's reassuring to know that someone can tell you what the limits are, and that's what Willy Wonka did.
[on his longtime comedic partnership with Richard Pryor] Silver Streak (1976) was very good, we got along really swell. But when we did Stir Crazy (1980), he would come in 15 minutes late, 30 minutes late, 45 minutes late, an hour late. [Director] Sidney Poitier was going nuts.
[on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)] I think it's an insult. It's probably Warner Brothers' insult. Johnny Depp, I think, is a good actor, but I don't care for that director [Tim Burton]. He's a talented man, but I don't care for him doing stuff like he did.
[on why he doesn't make movies anymore] I like writing books. I'd rather be at home with my wife. I can write, take a break, come out, have a glass of tea, give my wife a kiss, and go back in and write some more. It's not so bad. I am really lucky.
[on Mel Brooks] There's not much white sugar in Mel's veins. He would never ask an audience for sympathy.
[on Zero Mostel] You may have heard stories about how bombastic, aggressive, and dictatorial Zero might be. It didn't happen with me. He always took care of me. I loved him. He looked after me as if I were a baby sparrow.
I never thought of it as God. I didn't know what to call it. I don't believe in devils, but demons I do because everyone at one time or another has some kind of a demon, even if you call it by another name, that drives them.
So my idea of neurotic is spending too much time trying to correct a wrong. When I feel that I'm doing that, then I snap out of it.
My mother was suffering every day of her life, and what right did I have to be happy if she was suffering? So whenever I got happy about something, I felt the need to cut it off, and the only way to cut it off was to pray. "Forgive me Lord." For what, I didn't know.
Great art direction is NOT the same thing as great film direction!
A lot of comic actors derive their main force from childish behavior. Most great comics are doing such silly things; you'd say, "That's what a child would do.".
Actors fall into this trap if they missed being loved for who they really were and not for what they could do - sing, dance, joke about - then they take that as love.
I write funny. If I can make my wife laugh, I know I'm on the right track. But yes, I don't like to get Maudlin. And I have a tendency towards it.
I don't mean to sound - I don't want it to come out funny, but I don't like show business. I love - I love acting in films. I love it.
I wanted to do - there was this film called Magic (1978) that Anthony Hopkins did. And the director wanted me. The writer wanted me. Joe Levine said no, I don't want any comedians in this.
I'm not so funny. Gilda was funny. I'm funny on camera sometimes. In life, once in a while. Once in a while. But she was funny. She spent more time worrying about being liked than anything else.
I love the art of acting, and I love film, because you always have anther chance if you want it. You know, if we - if this isn't going well, you can't say - well, you could say - let's stop. Let's start over again, Gene, because you were too nervous.
My basic mistake in The World's Greatest Lover (1977) was that I made the leading character a neurotic kook and sent him to Hollywood. I should have made him a perfectly normal, sane, ordinary person, and sent him to Hollywood. The audience identifies with the lead character.
Lots of things are hard work, but I think writing, for me, after I started acting at 13 years old. I like writing now much more than I do acting only because, well, partly because the scripts that are offered are junk.
I'm going to tell you what my religion is: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Period. Terminato. Finito. I have no other religion. I feel very Jewish and I feel very grateful to be Jewish. But I don't believe in God or anything to do with the Jewish religion.
I'm quietly political. I don't like advertising. Giving money to someone or support, but not getting on a bandstand. I don't want to run for president in 2008. I will write another book instead.
[2013, asked whether he would ever act again] I'm tired of watching the bombing, shooting, killing, swearing and 3-D. I get 52 movies a year sent to me, and maybe there are three good [ones]. That's why I went into writing. It's not that I wouldn't act again. I'd say, "Give me the script. If it's something wonderful, I'll do it". But I don't get anything like that.
[on why he retired from acting] I don't like show business, I realized. I like show, but I don't like the business.
When I'm not working on something, I seem to go through periods of depression. It helps to keep busy.
I'm going to tell you what my religion is. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Period. Terminato. Finito.
Pride is not the worst of sins. In fact, it's one of the most interesting ones.
Success is a terrible thing and a wonderful thing. If you can enjoy it, it's wonderful. If it starts eating away at you, and they're waiting for more from me, or what can I do to top this, then you're in trouble. Just do what you love. That's all I want to do.
I'm an actor, not a clown.
When your mother gives you confidence about anything that you do, you carry that confidence with you.
I'm funny on camera sometimes. In life, once in a while. Once in a while.
If my mother hadn't laughed at the funny things I did, I probably wouldn't be a comic actor. After she had her first heart attack, the doctor said, 'Try to make her laugh.' And that was the first time I tried to make anyone laugh.
What do actors really want? To be great actors? Yes, but you can't buy talent, so it's best to leave the word 'great' out of it. I think to be believed, onstage or onscreen, is the one hope that all actors share.
My mother was suffering every day of her life, and what right did I have to be happy if she was suffering? So whenever I got happy about something, I felt the need to cut it off, and the only way to cut it off was to pray. 'Forgive me Lord.' For what, I didn't know.
I love the art of acting, and I love film, because you always have another chance if you want it. You know, if we - if this isn't going well, you can't say - well, you could say - let's stop. Let's start over again, Gene, because you were too nervous.
I didn't want to be a comedian. I wanted to be an actor - maybe a comic actor, but a real actor - by real, I mean not a comedian. I wanted to be an actor.
I don't want to do 'Hamlet.' I don't want to do Robert Redford roles or Mel Gibson roles or Kevin Costner roles, because I'm not going to be good at them.
Sidney Poitier was directing a film called Hanky Panky (1982). And he said, 'Do you want to come with me to New York to see Gilda Radner in 'Lunch Hour' on Broadway? I said, 'I don't need to see her, I love her. I've wanted to write something for her for a long time. So it's OK by me.'
If something comes along that's really good, and I think I would be good for it, I'd be happy to do it. But not too many came along. I mean, they came along for the first, I don't know, 15, 18 films, but I didn't do that many. But then I didn't want to do the kind of junk I was seeing.
We all grew up on movies with scenes where the actor is lying, and you know he's lying, but he wants to make sure you know it's a lie, and so he overacts and all but winks at you, and everybody in the world except for the girl he's talking to knows he's lying.
I worked two days in Texas and two days in Hollywood on Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and that was it. I had no idea how it was going to turn out. And when I saw it, I was so upset, or fascinated, or something, by the sight of myself on the screen that I could hardly pay attention to the rest of the movie.
I want to do what I can lend my talents to, but I want it to be as a human being and not as a two-dimensional character.
I'm not from Hollywood, and I'm also not one of the people who wants to do a tell-all, and I hate tell-alls. I didn't want to tell all.
The thing I love about making movies is the peace of mind that I know I don't have to be perfect the first time. I can be perfect the second time or the third time.
When I was in desperate trouble for maybe eight or nine years, I went to a neuropsychiatrist.
I feel very Jewish, and I feel very grateful to be Jewish. But I don't believe in God or anything to do with the Jewish religion.
What good is a character who's always winking at the audience to let them in on the secret?
I'm stopped by mothers who say, 'Mr. Wilder, what advice would you give to my young boy? He's really talented.'
I'm not a natural writer like, let's say - I'm not talking about Arthur Miller; that's a whole other thing - but let's say Woody Allen. But the more I've written, the more I've found that there is a deep well in me somewhere that wants to express things that I'm not going to find unless I write them myself.
I don't like giving speeches. It makes me nervous.
My favorite author is Anton Chekhov, not so much for the plays but for his short stories, and I think he was really my tutor.
I'd like to do a comedy with Emma Thompson. I admire her as an actress so much. I love her. And I didn't know it until recently that her whole career started in comedy.
I said something really stupid once. I told a friend that my mother was so beautiful, but my dad was ugly. My dad heard it and just laughed it off, but I felt guilty. It haunted me for years. I should never have said that.
When you fall in love, and you're very young, you think that that's the love of your life. And maybe it is, but it usually doesn't turn out that way.
I was a milksop as a kid. I had no confidence, no guts. I felt I was going to be someone else someday - someone who didn't have my weaknesses.
I know a lot of sad people who aren't comedians.
There seems to be a pattern. I get one good script every two years.
I've read everything printed in English that Freud has written. It helped me a great deal.
I like writing books. I'd rather be at home with my wife. I can write, take a break, come out, have a glass of tea, give my wife a kiss, and go back in and write some more. It's not so bad. I am really lucky.
If there's an audience, I think they're going to expect me to be funny. But what if I'm not funny? What if I fail?
I live in a small town in Connecticut, and they don't write scripts there, but I get them anyway because my agent is in Los Angeles.
I feel alone and safe in public.

Salary (1)

The Producers (1967) $10,000

See also

Other Works |  Publicity Listings |  Official Sites

View agent, publicist, legal and company contact details on IMDbPro Pro Name Page Link

Contribute to This Page


Recently Viewed