Before he became the face of the “Condescending Wonka” meme for the digital generation, Gene Wilder was a talented comedian who had a way with expressive faces and one-liners and a gift for inhabiting memorable characters that touched the hearts and funny bones of children and adults alike.
For grown-ups of a certain era, t was no comedy team better than Wilder, who died Monday at age 83, and Richard Pryor in their four movies together.
The youngsters of that day could see Wilder in what would become his best-known roles: as the eccentric title chocolatier of 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, based on the Roald Dahl novel, and teamed with fellow funnyman Mel Brooks for Young Frankenstein, a black-and-white 1974 classic that was many children’s introduction to the horror genre and a 1930s cinema aesthetic.
That film also led to an Oscar screenplay nomination for Brooks and Wilder, who first teamed for 1967’s The Producers, a gig that earned Wilder an Oscar nod for supporting actor opposite Zero Mostel as a couple of guys trying to produce the worst Broadway show ever.
Gene Wilder starred in many of director Mel Brooks’ comedy classics, including the 1974 satire ‘Blazing Saddles.
Like the sweets the colorfully clad Wonka peddled, those Wilder hits would hook any young filmgoer – the genius banter alone between Wilder’s crazy doctor Frederick Frankenstein and Marty Feldman’s bug-eyed sidekick Igor was a master class in comedy writing.
Those with particularly understanding parents checked out his other films, such as Brooks’ decidedly non-PC Western Blazing Saddles, which cast Wilder as alcoholic outlaw Waco Kid opposite embattled black sheriff Bart in 1974.
Or Woody Allen’s 1972 comedy Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex*, which offered Wilder as a doctor who falls for a sheep.
Radner’s battle with ovarian cancer in the late 1980s and death in 1989 ultimately shifted Wilder’s focus toward his personal life and away from Hollywood.