|Gene Wilder as a Polish Rabbi in the Wild West in The Frisco Kid|
Interviewed on stage by Robert Osborne, the film historian and host of Turner Classic Movies, Wilder revisited many of his 18 films with an obvious delight that was shared by the audience.
Born Jerry Silberman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1933, Wilder became a favorite of Mel Brooks and had major roles in Brooks' films -- Blazing Saddles, The Producers, and Young Frankenstein. They were introduced by Brooks' girlfriend and later wife, Anne Bancroft. Much of the interview was spent reminiscing about Mel Brooks and their collaborations. But he drew distinctions between Brooks' Borscht Belt origins and his own classical training with Actors' Studio director Lee Strasberg and at the Old Vic Theater in England.
He liked acting with Harrison Ford, who was "wonderful" as a co-star in The Frisco Kid, a film in which he could be serious and funny at the same time. He spent time with two rabbis and learned to sing in Hebrew.
Asked why he hasn't made a film in 20 years, the gentle, soft-spoken actor became outspoken about the trend in movies to fill many scenes with swearing and using dirty words. He didn't want to swear and didn't want to do 3D films. He acknowledged that occasionally the use of a word is reasonable, but he got turned off by their use throughout a film.
Wilder also heaped praise on Woody Allen, saying "Midnight in Paris -- how can you do better?"
He also talked about his five-year marriage to comic Gilda Radner, most of which was spent caring for her after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Following Radner's death in 1989, 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.
In 1991, he married Karen Boyer, who was in the audience, and they have been happily married for 23 years. Now he prefers writing books to acting and writing screenplays for movies. His favorite activity is writing, pausing for a glass of tea and a kiss for his wife, who was in the audience last night, and returning to his writing.
Here's a video clip of Wilder as Rabbi Avram Belinski, just arrived from Poland, in one of our favorite scenes from The Frisco Kid.
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