Gene Wilder Remembered: 5 of His Biggest Movie Roles

1:08 PM 8/29/2016

by Mike Barnes

The legendary comedic actor starred in movies ranging from 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' to 'Blazing Saddles.'

Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory 1971 Still H 2016

Hollywood is mourning the death of Gene Wilder, whose family said Monday that he died at age 83.

Here’s a look at five of his most memorable roles.

  • The Producers (1968)

    In 1963, the Milwaukee native appeared on Broadway opposite Anne Bancroft in Jerome Robbins’ Mother Courage and Her Children. The actress introduced Wilder to Brooks, her future husband, and the couple invited him to Fire Island, where he got a look at the first 30 pages of a screenplay titled Springtime for Hitler. Springtime for Hitler would become The Producers, written and directed by Brooks. For his portrayal of stressed-out accountant Leopold Bloom in his first major movie role, Wilder earned an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.

  • Willa Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

    For the 1971 musical fantasy based on Roald Dahl’s 1964 book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fred Astaire and Joel Grey were recommended for the role of Willy Wonka. But director Mel Stuart wanted Wilder. “He had been in The Producers, but he wasn’t a superstar,” Stuart told The Washington Post in 2005. “I looked at him and I knew in my heart there could only be one person who could play Willy Wonka. He walked to the elevator after he read and I ran after him and I said, ‘As far as I’m concerned, you’ve got it.’ ”

  • Blazing Saddles (1974)

    Brooks cast Gig Young for the part of the washed-up gunfighter The Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles (1974), but the actor, who was an alcoholic, got sick playing his first scene and had to be taken away by ambulance. “I called Gene and said, “What do I do?” Brooks recalled in a 2014 interview with Parade magazine. “Gene said, “Just get a horse for me to try out and a costume that fits and I’ll do it.” And he flew out and he did it. Saved my life.”

  • Young Frankenstein (1974)

    While working on Blazing Saddles, Wilder fiddled with an outline he had written for Young Frankenstein and asked Brooks to do it with him. Wilder played Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, who creates a monster just like his grandfather, and he and Brooks shared a screenplay Oscar nom for the 1974 classic, released in theaters just 10 months after Blazing Saddles. It was Wilder’s idea to have Frankenstein and his monster (Peter Boyle) do the song-and-dance number, “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

  • Richard Pryor collaborations

    Wilder starred  in four films alongside stand-up legend Richard Pryor. They first teamed up on the train comedy Silver Streak (1976), followed by Stir Crazy (1980), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) and Another You (1991), with Wilder writing and directing the latter pair. Watch a scene from Stir Crazy below.