August 29, 2016

NO ESCAPING:

Gene Wilder Dies at 83; Star of 'Willy Wonka' and 'Young Frankenstein' (DANIEL LEWIS, AUG. 29, 2016, NY Times)

With his haunted blue eyes and an empathy born of his own history of psychic distress, he aspired to touch audiences much as Charlie Chaplin had. The Chaplin film "City Lights," he said, had "made the biggest impression on me as an actor; it was funny, then sad, then both at the same time."

Mr. Wilder was an accomplished stage actor as well as a screenwriter, a novelist and the director of four movies in which he starred. (He directed, he once said, "in order to protect what I wrote, which I wrote in order to act.") But he was best known for playing roles on the big screen that might have been ripped from the pages of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

He made his movie debut in 1967 in Arthur Penn's celebrated crime drama, "Bonnie and Clyde," in which he was memorably hysterical as an undertaker kidnapped by the notorious Depression-era bank robbers played by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. He was even more hysterical, and even more memorable, a year later in "The Producers," the first film by Mr. Brooks, who turned it into a Broadway hit.

Mr. Wilder played the security-blanket-clutching accountant Leo Bloom, who discovers how to make more money on a bad Broadway show than on a good one: Find rich backers, stage a production that's guaranteed to fold fast, then flee the country with the leftover cash. Unhappily for Bloom and his fellow schemer, Max Bialystock, played by Zero Mostel, their outrageously tasteless musical, "Springtime for Hitler," is a sensation.

The part earned Mr. Wilder an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. Within a few years, the anxious, frizzy-haired, popeyed Mr. Wilder had become an unlikely movie star.

He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as the wizardly title character in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (1971). The film was a box-office disappointment, partly because of parental concern that the moral of Roald Dahl's story -- that greedy, gluttonous children should not go unpunished -- was too dark in the telling. But it went on to gain a devoted following, and Willy Wonka remains one of the roles with which Mr. Wilder is most closely identified.

He had the one quality that separates great comic actors from their peers, the ability co convince us of their empathy, on the one hand, but frighten us with the hint that they could be genuinely mad or even evil , on the other.  

 





Posted by at August 29, 2016 7:14 PM

  

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