“Billy said he was going to go have dinner with his wife, then come by to say hello and goodbye,” confided program host Curtis Hanson. “But then right before we were going to start, he said he wanted to watch the clips, so I told Bob Rehme to save two seats for him.”
And so it was that 93-year-old Billy Wilder, who is well-known for not wanting to dwell on the past or sit through his own films, increased the excitement for the SRO crowd at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Thursday as it watched nearly two hours’ worth of brilliant excerpts from the six-time Oscar winner’s pictures, along with listening to hosannas from Hanson as well as admiring young directors Paul Thomas Anderson and David O. Russell.
The announced Wilder stalwarts Jack Lemmon (down with a 104-degree fever) and Shirley MacLaine (detained out of town) couldn’t make it, but it didn’t really matter since Wilder himself was the one everyone was there to see.
After the yacht seduction scene from “Some Like It Hot” was shown, Tony Curtis bounded to the stage and brought down the house with a story of how, after the costumer for the film complimented the actor for having “a better ass than Marilyn,” co-star Monroe flung open her blouse and proclaimed, “Yeah, but he doesn’t have tits like these.”
Kevin Spacey, who could easily have played any number of the anti-heroes in Wilder films, was there, along with Wilder associates Walter Mirisch (whose company co-produced “Some Like It Hot” and “The Apartment,” among others), Juliet Mills (“Avanti”), Evelyn Keyes (“The Seven Year Itch”) and Edie Adams (“The Apartment”). Also mingling at the pre-program reception were Saul Zaentz, Paul Mazursky, Irwin Winkler, Karl Malden and Anderson’s singer girlfriend Fiona Apple.
As for Wilder himself, he received three sustained standing ovations — when he entered from the rear of the theater, and upon taking and leaving the stage — and answered questions from Hanson for 10 minutes before heading out into the night, leaving a throng of admirers thrilled that they had been honored to breathe the same air as him for an evening.
Evening kicked off a Wilder retrospective that plays through the end of January at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theater in Hollywood and the UCLA Film and Television Archives.