I was saddened today (8/29/2016) when I read about the death of Gene Wilder from Alzheimer’s disease. I really enjoyed watching his movies from Young Frankenstein to those in which he teamed up with Richard Pryor, like Silver Streak and Stir Crazy. Who can forget the every zany Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. I don’t remember seeing him in The Producers, but I do recall watching him in Blazing Saddles. I watched his last interview tonight that he did with Robert Osborne in 2013. In it, he gives us some insight into many of his films. You can see during this interview that he had some trouble remembering things as he was probably struggling with the early stages of his disease. I was very interested to find out that Richard Pryor was supposed to play the part that Cleavon Little did in Blazing Saddles, but when Richard called the studio one day and said he was in Cleveland, and could not remember how he got there, the studio decided to go with Cleavon. However, Mel Brooks did keep Pryor on as a writer.
Gene Wilder didn’t consider himself a funny man by his own acknowledgement, but to many of his fans, he was hilarious. I especially recall the bathroom scene in “Silver Streak,” where he and Pryor are running from the cops and the bad guys, and Pryor puts black shoe polish on Wilder’s face in an effort to pass him off as a black man. What makes the scene so funny is that no matter how hard Gene tries to act like a black man, he has no sense of timing when he listens to a radio and tries to dance. I laughed so hard at this scene that tears came to my eyes.
In Young Frankenstein, Wilder is the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein, and inherits his lab and eventually his grandfather’s monster, whom he brings back to life. The jokes throughout the movie with Marty Feldman playing his assistant with a hump, which seems to move back and forth doing the movie, are just hilarious.
When Gene Wilder wasn’t starring in a movie, he was writing scripts for them. Sadly, he quit acting several years ago because according to him, he kept getting scripts with foul language in them which turned him off. He couldn’t find a decent script worth doing. He spent his final years writing books. His family kept his Alzheimer’s disease a secret, and I don’t blame them. The man deserved his privacy.
Mel Brooks who worked with Gene on so many films paid tribute to his friend today saying that Gene was a truly great talent, and that he blessed many of Brooks films they did together with special magic. He also blessed Brooks with his friendship.
Thank you Gene Wilder for all the great movies, gags, and laughs. You will be missed! For a man who didn’t consider himself very funny, we beg to differ with you. You were down right hilarious !