Wilder's first professional acting job was in Cambridge, Massachusetts , where he played the Second Officer in Herbert Berghof 's production of Twelfth Night. He also served as a fencing choreographer. Grodin persuaded him to leave the studio and begin studying with Strasberg in his private class. Several months later, Wilder was accepted into the Actors Studio.
Feeling that "Jerry Silberman in Macbeth " did not have the right ring to it, he adopted a stage name. He also liked "Gene" because as a boy, he was impressed by a distant relative, a World War II bomber navigator who was "handsome and looked great in his leather flight jacket. In , Wilder was cast in a leading role in Mother Courage and Her Children , a production starring Anne Bancroft , who introduced Wilder to her boyfriend and later husband Mel Brooks. Brooks elicited a promise from Wilder that he would check with him before making any long-term commitments. After three years of not hearing from Brooks, Wilder was called for a reading with Zero Mostel , who was to be the star of Springtime for Hitler and had approval of his co-star.
Mostel approved, and Wilder was cast for his first leading role in a feature film, 's The Producers. Nevertheless, Brooks' first directorial effort did not do well at the box office and was not well received by all critics; New York Times critic Renata Adler reviewed the film and described it as "black college humor".
Both men began searching for the perfect director for the film. Jean Renoir was the first candidate, but he would not be able to do the film for at least a year, so British-Indian director Waris Hussein was hired. After reciting some lines, director Mel Stuart immediately offered him the role. The film was not a big success on its opening weekend,  although it received positive reviews from critics such as Roger Ebert , who compared it to The Wizard of Oz. After he wrote a two-page scenario, he called Mel Brooks, who told him that it seemed like a "cute" idea, but showed little interest.
Having just seen Feldman on television, Wilder was inspired to write a scene that takes place at Transylvania Station, where Igor and Frederick meet for the first time. The scene was later included in the film almost verbatim. Medavoy liked the idea and called Brooks, asking him to direct. Brooks was not convinced, but having spent four years working on two box-office failures, he decided to accept. When filming was about to begin in London, Wilder received an urgent call from Brooks, who was filming Blazing Saddles , offering Wilder the role of the "Waco Kid" after Dan Dailey dropped out at the last minute, while Gig Young became too ill to continue.
After Young Frankenstein was written, the rights were to be sold to Columbia Pictures , but after having trouble agreeing on the budget, Wilder, Brooks, and producer Michael Gruskoff went with 20th Century Fox , where both Brooks and Wilder had to sign five-year contracts.
In , Wilder's agent sent him a script for a film called Super Chief. Wilder accepted, but told the film's producers that he thought the only person who could keep the film from being offensive was Richard Pryor. Pryor accepted the role in the film, which had been renamed Silver Streak , the first film to team Wilder and Pryor. They became Hollywood's first successful interracial movie comedy duo.
The film was to star John Wayne , but he dropped out and was replaced by Harrison Ford , then an up-and-coming actor. Pryor was struggling with a severe cocaine addiction , and filming became difficult, but once the film premiered, it became an international success. Poitier and Wilder became friends, with the pair working together on a script called Traces —which became 's Hanky Panky , the film where Wilder met comedian Gilda Radner. Through the remainder of the decade, Wilder and Radner worked on several projects together.
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The Woman in Red was not well received by the critics, nor was their next project, 's Haunted Honeymoon , which failed to attract audiences. Many critics praised Wilder and Pryor, as well as Kevin Spacey 's performance, but they mostly agreed that the script was terrible.
Roger Ebert called it "a real dud ";  the Deseret Morning News described the film as "stupid", with an "idiotic script" that had a "contrived story" and too many "juvenile gags",  while Vincent Canby called it "by far the most successful co-starring vehicle for Mr. Pryor and Mr. Wilder", also acknowledging that "this is not elegant movie making, and not all of the gags are equally clever". After starring as a political cartoonist who falls in love in the film Funny About Love , Wilder performed in one final movie with Pryor, the feature Another You , in which Pryor's physical deterioration from multiple sclerosis was clearly noticeable.
Wilder's remaining work consisted of television movies and guest appearances in TV shows.
He went back to the small screen in , appearing in three television movies, one of which was the NBC adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Stein, Will Truman 's boss.
Although the couple had not been together long, they married on July 22, They spent long periods of time apart, eventually divorcing in A few months later, Wilder began dating Mary Joan Schutz, a friend of his sister. Schutz had a daughter, Katharine, from a previous marriage. When Katharine started calling Wilder "Dad", he decided to do what he felt was "the right thing to do",  marrying Schutz on October 27, , and adopting Katharine that same year. Schutz and Wilder separated after seven years of marriage, with Katharine suspecting that Wilder was having an affair with his Young Frankenstein co-star, Madeline Kahn.
After the divorce, he briefly dated his other Frankenstein co-star, Teri Garr. Wilder eventually became estranged from Katharine.
Radner was married to guitarist G. Smith at the time, but Wilder and she became inseparable friends. When the filming of Hanky Panky ended, Wilder found himself missing Radner, so he called her.
The relationship grew, and Radner eventually divorced Smith in She moved in with Wilder, and the couple married on September 14, , in the south of France. The couple wanted to have children, but Radner suffered miscarriages , and doctors could not determine the problem. After experiencing severe fatigue and suffering from pain in her upper legs on the set of Haunted Honeymoon , Radner sought medical treatment.
Following a number of false diagnoses, she was found to have ovarian cancer in October Radner died on May 20, Following Radner's death, Wilder became active in promoting cancer awareness and treatment, helping found the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in Los Angeles and co-founding Gilda's Club , a support group to raise awareness of cancer that began in New York City and now has branches throughout the country.
Webb coached him in lip reading. In , Wilder stated, "I'm quietly political. I don't like advertising. Giving money to someone or support, but not getting on a bandstand.
I don't want to run for president in I will write another book instead. The Wilders spent most of their time painting watercolors , writing, and participating in charitable efforts. In , Wilder collaborated on the book Gilda's Disease with oncologist Steven Piver, sharing personal experiences of Radner's struggle with ovarian cancer. Wilder himself was hospitalized with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in , but confirmed in March that the cancer was in complete remission following chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. In October , he read from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as part of a special benefit performance held at the Westport Country Playhouse to aid families affected by the September 11 attacks.
When asked in a Time Out New York magazine interview whether he would act again if a suitable film project came his way, Wilder responded, "I'm tired of watching the bombing, shooting, killing, swearing and 3-D. I get 52 movies a year sent to me, and maybe there are three good [ones]. That's why I went into writing. It's not that I wouldn't act again.
I'd say, 'Give me the script. If it's something wonderful, I'll do it. Wilder died at the age of 83 on August 29, , at home in Stamford, Connecticut , from complications of Alzheimer's disease. He had kept knowledge of his condition private, but had been diagnosed three years prior to his death.
The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn't vanity, but more so than the countless young children that would smile or call out to him 'there's Willy Wonka ,' would not have to be then exposed to an adult referencing illness or trouble and causing delight to travel to worry, disappointment, or confusion.
He simply couldn't bear the idea of one less smile in the world. According to his family, Wilder died while listening to one of his favorite songs, a rendition of " Over the Rainbow " sung by Ella Fitzgerald. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. American actor and comedian. Milwaukee , Wisconsin, U.