Wilder Than Fiction

Hello Lovelies,

It’s been just over a week since the world lost the magnificent Gene Wilder. Just over a week and it still doesn’t seem real.

Wilder had many iconic roles throughout his career, but his most memorable role for me was as Willy Wonka in the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. 

willy wonka flickr david churbuck
“Pure Imagination” Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in the 1971 film. Image retrieved from Flickr CC user David Churbuck.

Wilder’s portrayal of Willy Wonka was fabulously eccentric and with so many quotable lines and memorable characters, in addition to Mr Wonka of course, it’s no surprise that this movie is still a favourite movie for many, including my own children.

Wilder was memorable in all of his roles, his presence, style and eccentricity were a trademark he brought to all of the characters he portrayed, as well as the depth of his feelings.

I regret I never saw the 1974 film The Little Prince as a child, but even watching it as an adult, I marveled at Wilder’s portrayal of the The Fox. The Fox showed the same depth of emotion Wilder brought to all of his characters, the characters he portrayed were real, because he brought them to life.

In recent years I have also seen many of Gene Wider’s comedic roles, especially the films with Richard Pryor such as See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Stir Crazy. In these roles we get the same remarkable eccentricity and emotion that we expect from Wilder, along with brilliant comedic timing.

What is even more amazing than Wilder’s film roles is the man himself and Gene Wilder was every bit as brilliant in his own life, you might say that the truth about Gene Wilder is Wilder Than Fiction, hence the title of today’s post!

In fact, when offered the role of Willy Wonka, Wilder accepted on one condition that they allow him to make some changes to Wonka’s entrance (you know the one when all the winners of the Golden Tickets, along with a huge crowd, are eagerly awaiting for Wonka himself to appear at the gates of the factory?) These conditions were granted and we now have one of the most memorable scenes from the movie, where Willy Wonka first limps out leaning heavily on a cane, for the cane to get stuck in the cobblestones, leaving Wonka falling forward to the ground upon realising this, only to turn the fall into a forward roll at the last minute. Here is where we glimpse the wilder than fiction greatness that was Gene Wilder.

Another glimpse into the wilder than fiction Gene was when he wrote a letter to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory director Mel Stuart, giving some advice on the costume design for his character,


July 23rd

Dear Mel,

I’ve just received the costume sketches. I’ll tell you everything I think, without censoring, and you take from my opinion what you like.

I assume that the designer took his impressions from the book and didn’t know, naturally, who would be playing Willy. And I think, for a character in general, they’re lovely sketches.

I love the main thing — the velvet jacket — and I mean to show by my sketch the exact same color. But I’ve added two large pockets to take away from the svelt, feminine line. (Also in case of a few props.)

I also think the vest is both appropriate and lovely.

And I love the same white, flowing shirt and the white gloves. Also the lighter colored inner silk lining of the jacket.

What I don’t like is the precise pin pointing in place and time as this costume does.

I don’t think of Willy as an eccentric who holds on to his 1912 Dandy’s Sunday suit and wears it in 1970, but rather as just an eccentric — where there’s no telling what he’ll do or where he ever found his get-up — except that it strangely fits him: Part of this world, part of another. A vain man who knows colors that suit him, yet, with all the oddity, has strangely good taste. Something mysterious, yet undefined.

I’m not a ballet master who skips along with little mincy steps. So, as you see, I’ve suggested ditching the Robert Helpmann trousers. Jodhpurs to me belong more to the dancing master. But once elegant now almost baggy trousers — baggy through preoccupation with more important things — is character.

Slime green trousers are icky. But sand colored trousers are just as unobtrusive for your camera, but tasteful.

The hat is terrific, but making it 2 inches shorter would make it more special.

Also a light blue felt hat-band to match with the same light blue fluffy bow tie shows a man who knows how to compliment his blue eyes.

To match the shoes with the jacket is fey. To match the shoes with the hat is taste.

Hope all is well. Talk to you soon.

All my best,


I think Gene Wilder was one of the only people who could get away with such a letter, accepting the role on his own conditions and then giving constructive criticism on the costume design.

We all know the magnificent person Gene Wilder became, actor or film and theatre, author, screenwriter and film director, but where did the magnificence of Gene Wilder begin?

Gene Wilder was born on the 11th of June, 1933 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as Jerome Silberman. He became interested in acting around the age of eight, when his mother was diagnosed with rheumatic fever and the doctor told him to try and make her laugh. Many things led to his desire to act, including seeing his sister, who was studying acting, performing on stage when he was eleven. With the support of his parents and encouragement from  teachers, Wilder went on to pursue his desire to become an actor, adopting the stage name of Gene Wilder at age 26. (Information retrieved from Wikipedia)

With a long list of film and theatre credits to his name, as well as his published writings, Wilder has left us his legacy. His loss is felt by those across the globe, but the gifts that he has left us will last forever. So far in 2016 we the world has suffered the loss of many great contributors to the Arts; writers, directors, actors, musicians and the list goes on.

Gene Wilder inspires a world of “pure imagination”, he was a man that was “wilder than fiction” and will be missed forever.

Thanks for the memories

gene wilder flickr cc alberto botella
Image retrieved from Flickr CC user Alberto Botella

 “Wilder than Fiction”

Gene Wilder

11.06.1933 – 29.08.2016



© Katherine A. Kovács and The Writer Within, (2013-2016). Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Katherine A. Kovács and The Writer Within with appropriate and specific direction to the original content