He was a gifted writer and storyteller. He was a champion of the fight against ovarian cancer after losing his wife, Gilda Radner, to the disease in 1989. But most of all, Gene Wilder was an actor. A pioneer who persevered through struggling to land gigs, Wilder honed his skill on Broadway and eventually became one of the most influential comedic actors of the 20th century. When most think Wilder, they remember him for his iconic role as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. If that’s all you remember him for, or if you’d just like to celebrate his life, here’s a handful of other Wilder greats’ you need to watch this week.
1974’s Young Frankenstein was Brooks’ breakthrough as a director. The story, however, was Wilder’s idea. He thought it’d be funny if a descendant of the Frankenstein family wanted nothing to do with his namesake, and, though it took plenty of convincing and arguing with his creative partner, Brooks eventually agreed to sign on as director and helped Wilder wrap up the script. Wilder plays Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, a neurosurgeon who has a change of heart after discovering his grandfather’s journal. Fun Fact: Young Frankenstein is one of my dad’s favorite movies!
Also debuting in 1974, Blazing Saddles is simply riddled with laughs from the get go. Both a parody of western films and racism, Wilder plays Jim quirky gunslinger and recovering alcoholic Jim who helps Bart, the black sheriff in an all white town, foil railroad construction in the 1874 West.
Silver Street was the first pairing of Wilder and the equally hilarious Richard Pryor, who would appear together in three more films. Silver Street tells the story of a goofy book editor’s cross country train trip gone wrong, where Wilder is thrust into a an awkward murder mystery.
Originally dubbed Springtime for Hitler, the 1968 Mel Brooks classic was initially a box office flop, just as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was, but it signifies the beginning of a career of collaborations between Wilder and Brooks. The story follows a producer and an accountant who intend to intentionally swindle investors out of their contribution by overfunding a Broadway disaster.