The Curtain Falls On A Wild Legacy

Eccentric candy man, delusional scientist, or drunken gunfighter, Gene Wilder lived many lives throughout his 50 years on the silver screen.

Greg Jones, Reporter

Gene Wilder, born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1933 as Jerry Silberman, was an actor famous for his roles in Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, Young Frankenstein, and Blazing Saddles. Wilder passed away on August 29th, 2016 at the age of 83 due to complications in his battle with Alzheimer’s.

“When my mom told me he died, at first I didn’t have much of a reaction,” Aidan Comstock ‘20 said, “in commemoration we watched Young Frankenstein, and after it was over I realized how big of a loss he was.”

Wilder played the titular character in Willy Wonka, a popular children’s movie of the time, and as such was thought of as a childhood figure by some.

“His passing really affected me,” AJ Boulund ’17 stated, “It was kind of like finding out that Santa died.”  

The majority of Wilder’s films were released in the 1970s, so millennials may not be familiar with his work. One of Wilder’s more popular movies, released 1968, was the comedy The Producers. The film was directed by Mel Brooks, a director who collaborated often with Wilder.

“My favorite role of all time would be his role in The Producers,” Edie Knoop ‘18 said, “It’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, comedies at least.”   

The film in question was Gene Wilder’s first lead role in a major motion picture. Gene played Leopold Bloom, an accountant who finds out that through fraud, a play that flops can bring in more money than a successful one, and he sets out to try and create a horrible play.

In his most successful roles, like Jim in Blazing Saddles and Dr Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein, Wilder portrayed high energy and quick release characters.

“He did really well with physical humor,” Knoop said, “He was good at portraying a sort of manic twitchiness that many of his characters had.”

Troy Peters, one of the teacher organizers of the City High Drama Department, agrees with Knoop.

“I think of his ability to go completely over the top and pull it back,” Peters said,  “His range as an actor was amazing.”

Even after his death, Gene Wilder continues to be an inspiration.

“The fact that he went to the U of I was always inspiring,” Peters said, “I was always thinking ‘Cool, A hawkeye can make it big’.”

In 1978, Wilder was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role of Willy Wonka in the classic movie Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. Often regarded as his most famous role, Wilder became the face of fantasy and the unknown for many children.