Gene Wilder

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Willy Wonka, one of Wilder's best known roles

Gene Wilder (born Jerome Silberman on June 11, 1933 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin) is an American actor, who has starred in more than thirty movies.

He is best known as Willy Wonka and also known for his collaborations with writer, producer, director Mel Brooks. Gene Wilder made many movies with Brooks starting with The Producers in 1968. He was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role in The Producers. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for co-writing Young Frankenstein with Brooks.


Born in Milwaukee, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Wilder studied drama at the University of Iowa and later attended Britain's Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. He served in the United States Army from 1956 to 1958.

Returning to the United States, Wilder sought work in the theater supporting himself by driving a limousine and teaching fencing. His career started with the theater in various off Broadway shows before making it on the Great White Way. It was on Broadway that he had a particularly good year in 1961 with the plays "The Complaisant Lover" and "Roots" and garnered the Clement Derwent Award. It was several years later when casting for "Mother Courage and Her Children" in 1964 with actress Anne Bancroft that gave his career an even greater boost. She was dating comedian Mel Brooks at the time. Brooks took a liking to Wilder and cast him in several films.

His first big part was in Bonnie and Clyde where he played an undertaker abducted by the couple. Perhaps one of his best known roles is that of Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

In the late 1970s and 1980s he appeared in a number of movies with Richard Pryor, making them the most prolific inter-racial comedy double act in movies during the period.

In 1979 he starred alongside Harrison Ford in the comedy 'The Frisco Kid'.

Wilder was married to Saturday Night Live actress Gilda Radner from 1984 until her death from ovarian cancer in 1989. Since then he has remained active in promoting cancer awareness and treatment. Wilder himself was hospitalized with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1999 and made a full recovery in 2000.

He has been married to actress Karen Boyer since 1991.

On March 1, 2005 Wilder released his highly-personal memoir Kiss Me Like A Stranger, an account of his life covering everything from his childhood, when his mother died of heart disease, up through his wife's death. He has been praised for the openness and honesty of his writing, setting it apart from other Hollywood memoirs.

Recent controversy

Gene Wilder is probably best known for his role as Willy Wonka in 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Prior to the release of Tim Burton's 2005 remake of the movie (entitled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Wilder said the remake was "all about money," and that there was no need to remake the 1971 film. Wilder has noted that, if the remake "has to be done," he saw Johnny Depp as a perfect choice to reprise the role of Willy Wonka. Tim Burton felt that the 1971 version was "sappy" and that he "rate[s] [the musical] Chitty Chitty Bang Bang higher."

Selected Filmography

Television Series

  • Something Wilder (1994)

Stage appearances

  • The Complaisant Lover (Broadway, 1962)
  • Mother Courage and Her Children (Broadway, 1963)
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Broadway, 1963)
  • The White House (Broadway, 1964)
  • Luv (Broadway, 1966)


Wilder was the voice of "Letterman" on the children's educational television series The Electric Company from 1972 to 1977.

External links

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