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Billy Wilder

Updated on August 22, 2014
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Nerd, cinephile, TV-junky, research-loving, left-leaning, science-fiending, atheist from the gutter. Follow me on Twitter @TheGutterMonkey.

Introduction

Billy Wilder began his career by working as a reporter for a Viennese newspaper. Using this experience, he moved to Berlin, where he worked for the city's largest tabloid. In 1929 he broke into films as a screenwriter and wrote scripts for many German films until Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. Wilder immediately realized his Jewish ancestry would cause problems, so he emigrated to Paris, then the US. Although he spoke no English when he arrived in Hollywood, Wilder was a fast learner, and thanks to contacts such as Peter Lorre (with whom he shared an apartment), he was able to break into American films.

Since then Bill Wilder has become known as one of the most brilliant and revered directors and screenwriters of Hollywood's Golden Age. With a career spanning over 50 years, Wilder made over 60 versatile films that ranged from the wildly 1959 popular cross-dressing buddy comedy Some Like It Hot to the critically acclaimed film noir drama's Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity.

Things you may not know about Billy Wilder

Did you know...

  • Tom Cruise and Cameron Crowe begged Wilder to appear in Jerry Maguire (1996), but he turned them down flat.
  • He wanted to direct Schindler's List (1993), but Steven Spielberg preferred doing it himself. Wilder has been quoted saying it would have become his most personal film.
  • Long famous for the modern-art collection he put together over his lifetime (he sold only a portion of it in 1989 for $32.6 million)
  • An inveterate clotheshorse, at age 83 he still owned over 60 cashmere sweaters.
  • Once told Billy Bob Thornton that he was too ugly to be an actor and he should write a screenplay for himself in which he could exploit his less than perfect features. Thornton later collected an Oscar for his Sling Blade (1996) screenplay.
  • Not having seen his parents since he went to Berlin to make films, he joined American patrols through war-torn Europe shortly after the war. Through intense research he found out that both his mother and grandmother were killed in concentration camps, a subject that he usually declined to discuss. However, when shooting a film with Wilder, an actor expressed sympathy for his own Nazi character, to which the usually cool-headed Wilder roared, "Those bastards killed my mother!"
  • The song, "Isn't it Romantic?" is featured in many of Wilder's films, not particularly because he liked the song, but, as he said of himself, "I'm cheap." Wilder got a great deal when he originally licensed the song for use, which allowed him to use in over and over.

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Billy Wilder Videos

 

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The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

The acting, photography and score are tops (Leonard Maltin) in this lively satirical homage from seven-time Academy AwardÃ(r) winner* Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard) and his long-time writing partner I.A.L. Diamond (The Apartment). When a beautiful woman claims that her dear husband has disappeared, the investigation takes Sherlock Holmes (Robert Stephens) and Dr. Watson (Colin Blakely) to Scotland, whereto their surprisethey uncover a plot involving clandestine society, Her Majesty's Secret Service and the Loch Ness Monster! But before he can deduce matters to the elementary, Holmes makes an error that may jeopardize the national safety of Britain and ruin his reputation! *1960: The Apartment (Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay (with I.A.L.Diamond)); 1950: Sunset Boulevard (Original Screenplay (with Charles Brackett and D.M. Marshman, Jr.)); 1945: The Lost Weekend (Director, Adapted Screenplay (with Charles Brackett)); 1987: Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award

 
Some Like It Wilder: The Life and Controversial Films of Billy Wilder (Screen Classics)
Some Like It Wilder: The Life and Controversial Films of Billy Wilder (Screen Classics)

One of the most accomplished writers and directors of classic Hollywood, Billy Wilder (1906--2002) directed numerous acclaimed films, including Sunset Boulevard (1950), Sabrina (1954), The Seven Year Itch (1955), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), and Some Like It Hot (1959). Featuring Gene D. Phillips's unique, in-depth critical approach, Some Like It Wilder: The Life and Controversial Films of Billy Wilder provides a groundbreaking overview of a filmmaking icon. Wilder began his career as a screenwriter in Berlin but, because of his Jewish heritage, sought refuge in America when Germany came under Nazi control. Making fast connections in Hollywood, Wilder immediately made the jump from screenwriter to director. His classic films Five Graves to Cairo (1943), Double Indemnity (1945), and The Lost Weekend (1945) earned Academy Awards for best picture, director, and screenplay. During the 1960s, Wilder continued to direct and produce controversial comedies, including Kiss Me, Stupid (1964) and The Apartment (1960), which won Oscars for best picture and director. This definitive biography reveals that Wilder was, and remains, one of the most influential directors in filmmaking.

 
Billy Wilder, Movie-Maker: Critical Essays on the Films
Billy Wilder, Movie-Maker: Critical Essays on the Films

Billy Wilder's work remains a masterful combination of incisive social commentary, skilled writing and directing, and unashamed entertainment value. One of Hollywood's foremost emigre filmmakers, Wilder holds a key position in film history via films that represent a complex reflection of his European roots and American cultural influences. This wide-ranging collection of essays by an international group of scholars examines the significance of Wilder's filmmaking from a variety of original perspectives. Engaging with issues of genre, industry, representation and national culture, the volume provides fresh insights into Wilder's films and opens up his work to further exploration.

 
One Two Three [VHS]
One Two Three [VHS]

Hardly ever mentioned in the category of lightning-paced comedies--the His Girl Friday and Preston Sturges kind--is this breathless cold war farce from the great Billy Wilder. Adapted from a one-act play by Ferenc Molnár, Wilder and collaborator I.A.L. Diamond's hilarious screenplay is a whirlwind collection of one-liners, gags, and double-entendres, anchored for the cameras by Jimmy Cagney's cagey and frenetic performance (one of his best), and, under Wilder's direction, executed with diamond-like precision. The gangster-movie icon plays a Coca-Cola executive in West Berlin (the film's 1961 release put it squarely in the middle of the world's laserlike focus on East vs. West tensions) who has parlayed expanding American consumerism into a chance to break through the Iron Curtain and sell "the pause that refreshes" to thirsty comrades. But when his Atlanta boss's visiting 17-year-old daughter (Pamela Tiffin), a boy-crazy Southern tornado, reveals that she has secretly married an American-hating German Commie (Horst Buchholz), Cagney's big-American-fish-in-a-European-pond lifestyle is threatened, especially once Daddy hops a plane to Germany. As the plot accelerates, the lines literally spit out of the cast's mouths--the title refers to Cagney's character's rapid-fire rattling off of lists of tasks--and Wilder's penchant for urbane nastiness is perfectly measured by the order of the whole crazy circus. This movie takes gleeful potshots at both sides of a conflict that terrified audiences in its day, but has aged beautifully to become a fascinating time capsule, an exhilarating litany of zingers and a potent blueprint for razor-sharp political satire. Cagney would retire after this movie for 20 years (returning for 1981's Ragtime), and it's hardly any wonder: he has the energy of 10 performances in this one film. --Robert Abele

 

Amazon Spotlight

 

Amazon Spotlight

 

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Shout Out For Billy Wilder!

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    • goldenrulecomics profile image

      goldenrulecomics 

      5 years ago from New Jersey

      One of the true greats who could work in various genres!

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