When I think of Gene Wilder, I do like most people go to his now iconic performance as Willy Wonka in the (my God) 1971 film “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”. However just beyond that, he reminds me of the early days of cable TV, when channels were expanded from the 13-channel dial to a box with 43 notches which opened up a whole new world. For me it introduced films I was much too young to understand. But hey, they were on TV and they were new to me, so I watched everything. One of the staples of cable movies were the teaming of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in “Stir Crazy”. That movie was always on as was Wilder’s two follow-ups from that, “Hanky Panky” and “The Woman in Red”. I watched these movies constantly, again I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but Wilder’s comedic charisma was always ever-present and along with the adult content, his films always had my attention. Even “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” which was more in the ‘video rental’ portion of my life than the cable one, but a film I still enjoy.
Years later I would catch up on his classics like “Young Frankenstein”, “Blazing Saddles” and “The Producers”, and of course, the afore mentioned “Willy Wonka” which my kids love (though they do often ask that I skip the wicked boat ride scene). But I never forgot those cable movies and have been meaning to revisit them, but as it invariably goes, it’s harder to look back when so many films come out every year. Only at unfortunate times like these do you force yourself to make time to see if the things of your youth hold up and if so, you feel that need to pass them on to your children. Most of Wilder’s filmography I couldn’t let my children see, but I’m glad that they have Willy Wonka to hold on to until they are old enough to see how talented Wilder was in his other films and while he had memorable facial features, and a voice that could calm or terrify you, he had an even greater acting talent and tremendous comedic timing that elevated anything he worked on. He will be remembered fondly and surely missed. Thank you Mr. Wilder, rest in peace Jerome Silberman.
–Robert L. Castillo