Gene Wilder – many know him as Willi Wonka and as the comedy genius behind the Young Frankenstein. Although he said goodbye on the 29th August 2016 at the age of 83, his legacy will surely remain forever etched in our minds. A fan of Gene Wilder and think you know all about him? See if you already knew all his secrets.
- Real name – it all starts with the name and it may not be that much of a surprise that Gene Wilder is not the name that he was born with. Jerome Silberman changes his name to Gene Wilder once he decided to become an actor because he just couldn’t envision a Jerome Silberman playing Hamlet in a Shakespearean play. Gene was inspired by Angel, Of Time and the River and Look Homeward’s Eugene Gant while Wilder was chosen after Our Town scribe Thornton Wilder. He has also mentioned that ‘Gene’ may also be a tribute to his mother Jeanne.
- 2. Discriminated – Gene was Jewish and because of this he underwent scores of anti-Semitism when he was young. Growing up in Wisconsin, he was sent to the Hollywood military school Black-Foxe where he was constantly bullied and even sexually assaulted by classmates because of his faith.
- 3. Inspiration – Gene drew his inspiration for acting from his sister who was taking acting courses and he too followed course.
- Multi- Religious – Gene is known to have drifted from one faith to another right throughout his life. Being brought up Jewish, he has navigated from one religion to another and describes himself as “Jewish-Buddhist-Atheist”
- Stint at the Army – Gene enlisted in the Army in 1956 where he served as a paramedic at Valley Forge Army Hospital, in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.
- Fencing – Gene succeeded in becoming the first ever freshman to win the All-School Fencing Championship at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol, England. This was after his graduation from the the University of Iowa.
- 7. Fraternity – Just like Mark Zuckerberg, James L. Brooks and Jerry Lewis, Gene was a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi, the nationally Jewish fraternity.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Although Gene auditioned for the part of Willy Wonka in the adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he left the production at the early stages. However he was tracked down by director Mel Stuart. Gene would accept the role under one condition – “When I make my first entrance, I’d like to come out of the door carrying a cane and then walk toward the crowd with a limp. After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all whisper to themselves and then become deathly quiet. As I walk toward them, my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I’m walking on and stands straight up, by itself… but I keep on walking, until I realize that I no longer have my cane. I start to fall forward, and just before I hit the ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause.” When asked why, Gene replied that the audience would not be able to tell if he was telling the truth throughout the rest of the story if this was the case.
- Gilda – Gene had been already married and divorced twice when he met Radner on the Hanky Panky. They became instant friends and after some time, Radner divorced her husband to be with Gene whom she married in 1984. It was a tragic stroke for both when Radner was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Gene believed she could overcome it and helped her fight it right until she succumbed to it 3 years later.