You’ve likely heard by now that Gene Wilder has passed away. He was 83. As has become tradition here on the blog, we like to look back at those icons of stage and screen who made life better with the help of Shakespeare.
Mr. Wilder’s most famous role must surely be that of the original, the one and only Willy Wonka. Here’s our good friend @Bardfilm’s video take on all the Shakespeare references in this masterpiece from our childhood:
Did you know that Wilder’s first performance in front of a paying audience was in a production of Romeo and Juliet when he was 15? He played Balthasar. (That’s ok, I didn’t know that either until I read his wikipedia page :))
But wait! There’s more. Gene Wilder was actually born Jerome Silberman. Where and why did he get Gene Wilder? “Jerry Silberman as Macbeth didn’t have the right ring to it,” he thought when he joined the Actor’s Studio, choosing Wilder from Thornton Wilder and Gene from Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel. He later said that he couldn’t imagine Gene Wilder playing Macbeth either :). Our loss – I can’t find any record of him ever trying.
Though it has nothing to do with Shakespeare, I love the trivia that Gene Wilder basically rewrote the part that made him famous, Willy Wonka, including such specifics as the entrance where his cane sticks in the cobblestones and he does his little somersault entrance. He also entirely redesigned the costume. So shines a good deed in a weary world…
Those who know a little more about Wilder’s personal story know that he never fully got over the death of his wife Gilda Radner from ovarian cancer. At last they’re reunited.
Good night, sweet prince. Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.