Gene Wilder. Don’t know the guy at all, other than through his work, but his passing made me think again of how much I’ve been entertained by Mr. Wilder throughout the years.
For me, Willy Wonka is perhaps one of the more inspirational movies from childhood that I return to over and over in my life. A poor nothing of a boy gets a lucky break, explores a highly creative manufacturing establishment, and ends up being given the chocolate factory. Wilder’s Wonka is the only one worth watching.
A few guiding lessons that stick with me from lyrics and lines in the film:
1. If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it. Anything you want to, do it. Want to change the world? There’s nothing to it.
2. We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of the dreams.
and of course,
3. Willy Wonka: And Charlie, don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he’d ever wished for.
Charlie: What happened?
Willy Wonka: He lived happily ever after.
Just seeing his face on a movie poster in the 70’s was a seal of approval - you will laugh. Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, Silver Streak, Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, and so on.
He was a star mom wanted to see (she thought he was cute) and so it was easy to arrange to see these films, sometimes more than once. The whole family could laugh together about eating too many beans around a campfire.
The Producers, in one of his first major roles, is non-stop funny from the moment he comes on the screen. He does panic better than anyone. When he’s lying on the floor begging Zero Mostel not to jump on him.. that would be funny enough, but it keeps going to absurd levels. He panics, He gets wet. He gets hit. He’s in pain and wet and panics more. Each level gets funnier and funnier.
I have to say, I don’t feel that bad about his passing. He was 83 and was declining via Alzheimers, a cruel disease that takes life away slowly. His body of work was behind him, and dying would most likely be somewhat a relief for him and family.