Wilder, Gene: Genius Actor Remembered

Variety Reports:

Beloved actor Gene Wilder died August 28 at the age of 83.

Before he achieved movie superstardom in the 1970s, Gene Wilderdid Brecht on Broadway, Shaw in Louisville, and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” with Kirk Douglas on the Great White Way.

He received 7,000 in an arbitration case waged by the Writers Guild of America West because of four little words: “A Mel Brooks Film.”

The year of 1963 was a busy one for Wilder. In March he co-starred with Anne Bancroft in a Broadway production of Bertolt Brecht’s political drama “Mother Courage and Her Children,” directed by Jerome Robbins. (Wilder met Bancroft’s future husband, Mel Brooks, during the production and the rest is showbiz history.) Come July he was on the boards in Louisville, Ky., opposite Carol Channing in George Bernard Shaw’s “The Millionairess.” By the end of the year he was playing the stuttering Billy on Broadway in the well-received adaptation of Ken Kesey’s “Cuckoo’s Nest,” toplined by Douglas.

Wilder was part of the company that did a two-hour live staging of “Death of a Salesman” for CBS in April 1966. He was in good company, with Lee J. Cobb reprising his legendary stage performance as Willy Loman, with George Segal and James Farentino as his sons.

By the end of 1966, Wilder landed his first major movie role, Bonnie and Clyde. He had a bigger role in another 1967 movie that would make a mark, The Producers

Wilder received his first Supporting Oscar nomination for The Producers

Wilder was recruited by Bud Yorkin and Norman Lear (pre-“All in the Family”) to co-star with Donald Sutherland in the farce “Start the Revolution Without Me.”

By the end of 1969, Wilder was rumored to be the top choice for the lead in the anticipated film rendition of Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint.” (The role went to Richard Benjamin.)

On June 17, 1970, Wilder was among a group of actors in New York who mounted a one-day work stoppage to protest the Nixon administration’s bombing campaign in Cambodia. He was joined by his “Producers” co-star Zero Mostel as well as Warren Beatty, Elaine May, Ossie Davis, Milt Kamen, Hope Lange, Martin Balsam, Ruby Dee, Louise Lasser, Myrna Loy, Renee Taylor, and Linda Lavin.

Wilder made his directing debut with 1975’s “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother.”