The borg.com flag is flying at half staff today in honor of Gene Wilder, one of America’s finest comedy actors. He passed away at 83 years old yesterday in Connecticut. We all benefitted through his unique style of humor, often playing the straight man stuck in outrageous circumstances. He may very well be America’s best comedic actor, as demonstrated by his starring role in three of the top thirteen comedies on the American Film Institute’s list of the funniest movies of all time (Blazing Saddles at #6, The Producers at #11, and Young Frankenstein at #13). And a fourth, Silver Streak, was listed as #95. Also, nominated? Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Stir Crazy, and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex. Basically every film he was known well for was pure comedic gold.
Wilder’s breakthrough performance was as an unassuming fellow in the wrong place at the wrong time in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), one of the AFI’s top 50 films of all time. His partnership with Mel Brooks was legendary, arguably producing the films he will always be best known for: The Producers (1967), Blazing Saddles (1974), and Young Frankenstein (1974). But you can’t stop there. There are his films directed by Arthur Hiller (who died earlier this month): Silver Streak (1976) and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989). And he directed himself and familiar circle of comedic actors in films like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975), The World’s Greatest Lover (1977), The Woman in Red (1984), and Haunted Honeymoon (1986) with wife Gilda Radner. And he has become a fixture with two generations of children as Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971).
He worked with all sorts of familiar names, starring in Funny About Love (1990) directed by Leonard Nimoy, and co-starred with Harrison Ford in The Frisco Kid (1979). He worked under director Sydney Poitier in two films, Stir Crazy (1980) and Hanky Panky (1982), also with Radner. Wilder’s films with Richard Pryor are practically their own sub-genre of comedy. They worked together in Silver Streak (1976), Stir Crazy (1980), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989), and Another You (1991). But it doesn’t stop there.