Gene Wilder on Young Frankenstein

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 01, 2008 7:56 pm    Post subject: Gene Wilder on Young Frankenstein Reply with quote

'Young Frankenstein'
Acclaimed comic actor reflects on career, 'Young Frankenstein' and accolades
By Mark de la Viña
Mercury News

Gene Wilder is one of the most gifted comic actors of his generation, but don't count on seeing his trademark tangle of frizz popping up in any new movies. The 74-year-old actor has contentedly adopted the quiet life of a writer in the North Stamford, Conn., home he shares with wife Karen Webb. The two met shortly after Wilder's third wife, former "Saturday Night Live" star Gilda Radner, died of ovarian cancer in 1989.

Wilder will discuss his new novella, "The Woman Who Wouldn't" (St. Martin's Press, 176 pp., $19.95), and his eventful film career in SF Sketchfest's "A Salute to Gene Wilder" on Wednesday at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. The tribute will include a book signing and a screening of "Young Frankenstein." The Oscar-nominated performer spoke by phone from his home about the salute, the enduring popularity of "Young Frankenstein," which was recently turned into a Broadway musical, and the origins of a comedy career that put him in the company of such giants as Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor, Zero Mostel and Woody Allen.

Q Though your background is not in sketch comedy, the organizers of SF Sketchfest said you were an obvious subject of a tribute because you are one of their "all-time heroes." How do you digest being regarded by a generation of comic performers as such an icon?

A If you ask me what it is like being a comedian, I'd say, "I have no idea." I wouldn't have the guts to be a comedian. I'd be scared stiff. But a comic actor, yes. I thought that when I was 12, 13, 14, maybe I would be a comedian. I loved Jerry Lewis and Danny Kaye. My favorite was Sid Caesar. But when I saw "Death of a Salesman" - I had just turned 16 and had done my first summer theater - I said, "I don't want to be a comedian anymore; I want to be an actor. Maybe a comic actor, but an actor." I wouldn't have the guts to be what they call "in one," to just get up "in one" and make the audience laugh. I wouldn't be good at it at all. But in a movie, it's quite different. And that I like.

Q The tribute will include a screening of "Young Frankenstein." Are you surprised at how that movie has become increasingly beloved as the years have gone by?

A Of all the films that I have done, it's my favorite and it grew in popularity year after year. When I do a book signing, they want to talk about "Young Frankenstein." I think it's the most perfectly realized of all the films I've done. "The Producers," "Blazing Saddles," "Cisco Kid," "Stir Crazy," "Silver Streak" - they're all good movies, but since I wrote ["Young Frankenstein"], I think that was the best realization of what I intended of all the other films that I did or wrote.

When I was writing the first draft, I said, "I wonder if anybody would get it when someone said "Frau Blücher" and the horses neigh. Mel (Brooks) said, "Keep it in." Well, the audience loved it in the previews. Actually, I chose the name because I wanted an authentic German name. I took out some of the books I had of the letters to and from Sigmund Freud. I saw someone named Blücher had written to him, and I said well that's the name. Later on, I heard from about two or three sources, who said Blücher refers to a horse going to a factory and being turned to glue. I just thought it was a funny name.

Q When did you realize you had a gift for comedic performance?

A My mother had a heart attack when I was 7 or 8 years old, and the heart specialist who brought her home, he pulled me down to him on his way out and said "Don't ever get angry with your mother, 'cause you might kill her." I was scared to death when I heard that. And then he said, "Try to make her laugh." I had never tried consciously to make anyone laugh before, but I did then. And I knew I was successful when I made my mother pee in her pants. When your mother thinks you're good at something, it gives you confidence.

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Joined: 29 Apr 2006
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 01, 2008 10:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for this article. I loved Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. Two of my favorites.
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