Gene Wilder’s acting balances between hysterics and tenderness. Even though he often pointed out that his outer calmness is in fact a mask for his hysterics (or rather clowning), since 'my seven-year long psychanalysis became a habit'

Hysterics Hiding behind a Mask

Wilder began his career in the early 1960’s in theatre, starring in Brecht’s Mother Courage. At that occasion, he was noticed by Mel Brooks, whose future wife Anne Bancroft also starred in the same play. And the rest is (film) history. After several smaller TV roles, he had his film (cameo) christening in 1967 when Arthur Penn gave him the role of a kidnapped neurotic Eugene Grizzard in his classic Bonnie and Clyde. Afterwards he starred in Brooks’ The Producers. In this insane and utterly tasteless Jewish comedy/burlesque (by saying tasteless we pay it the biggest compliment) Wilder portrayed the hysterical Leo Bloom, an accountant hired by the theatre producer Zero Mostel for the biggest flop in the history of theatre, featuring the  legendary musical number Springtime for Hitler and oden with beer stains. With Brooks Wilder made two seminal comedies – Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein in which he starred together with Marty 'Igor' Feldman who had eyes that kill.

'Oh, Almighty, do we have enough strength to finish it in one night or are we just going to jerk off?' asks the preacher in Blazing Saddles, that began Wilder’s phase of films with his colleague Richard Pryor. The same questions could have been asked by Brooks himself, who showed that there are more corncobs in Hollywood than in Oklahoma. All the rest is the famous 'jerk off'. Pryor plays the black sheriff ('Up yours, Nigger!', says the archetypal gray-haired lady in the film), Wilder is the alcoholic gunman and the indispensable Madeleine Kahn is the western incarnation of Marlene Dietrich, called Lili von Schtupp. One of the legendary scenes is the one of cowboys farting after eating baked beans.

In 1971, Wilder became the favorite character of American kids thanks to Stuart’s film version of the eccentric novel for children by the classic writer Roald Dahl 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' in which he offered an unexpectedly controlled portrayal of the famous chocolate factory owner. In Burton’s remake he was replaced by the more playful Johnny Depp, but Wilder was not thrilled with that remake and described it as pure Hollywood greed ('It's all about money!'). However, Wilder’s exquisite talent was noticed by Woody Allen who gave him the role in his comedy Everything you always wanted to know about sex* - *But Were Afraid to Ask, a fine parody of self-help books about sex. In one of the seven sketches the film consists of, Wilder plays Dr. Ross who is in love with an Armenian goat for whom he throws away his career, marriage and place in society. This film represents Allen’s farewell to his humorous phase during which he attempted to 'combine each crazy idea about sex, including the one that cause my marriage to fail', and that spans from references to Antonioni (an estranged wife can only achieve orgasm in public places) to parody of sci-fi ('What happens during ejaculation?') in which a miniature scientist dressed as a sperm (who else than our beloved Woody) enters a female robot and sets off on a travel in the manner of the 'Fantastic Voyage'.

Soon Brooks and Allen were replaced by Richard Pryor, with whom Wilder made several box office hits (Silver Streak, Stir Crazy) during the 1970’s. On the set of the comedy Hanky Panky, Wilder met another comedian Gilda Radner, who was at the time the star of the cult TV show Saturday Night Live. She was also his partner in The Woman in Red, directed by Wilder and featuring the loud soundtrack by Stevie Wonder and Kelly LeBrock’s long legs. In early 1990’s Wilder and Pryor’s collaboration came to an end (code: Funny About Love), and after a failed attempt at TV (Something Wilder) where his career actually began, his days in show business were over. He last appeared in several episodes of the popular TV show Will and Grace as Mr. Stein for which he was awarded an Emmy award. (Dragan Rubeša)