POSTED BY STUART LEVINE
After thoroughly enjoying the Turner Classic Movies special last night, “Role Model: Gene Wilder,” I have to say it was as good as advertised.
Those firmly camped in middle age like me will remember Wilder as the comic foil in two of the funniest films of the 1970s, if not ever, with “Young Frankenstein” and “Blazing Saddles,” both from the bizarro mind of Mel Brooks. Both pics remain indelibly etched in my brain, with scenes from each making me laugh louder than the next.
From the opening shot with Wilder, as the good doctor, sticking a scalpel in his leg, to trying to delicately discuss Marty Feldman’s humps, to asking Teri Garr to “put the candle back!,” Wilder was wildly underrated in “Frankenstein” and other comedic gems. He played the straight man with Zero Mostel in “The Producers,” moved on to “Frankenstein” and “Saddles,” where he developed a huge following, and then, only a few years later, co-starred with Richard Pryor in “Silver Streak” and “Stir Crazy.” It was quite a run, indeed.
Alec Baldwin did a nice job of setting a pleasant tone and getting Wilder to recall how he felt working on those films, his initial meeting with Brooks, his on-set relationship with Pryor (and how drugs affected Pryor’s performances) and his comfort zone in front of the camera compared to being on stage.
When Wilder chatted about his relationship with comedy icon Gilda Radner, it was hard to believe that it’s been 19 years since she passed away and that he’s been married to his second wife for 16 years now.
Anyway, there’s certainly no shortage of celebrity interviews on the air these days — “Inside the Actors Studio” is still probably the best at it — but it felt good to see Wilder, who’s pretty much retired from showbiz and lives in Connecticut, far away from the hubbub of L.A., to get his due in an interview that felt not too fawning or personal.
In an era where some actors don’t know when to step away, Wilder’s virtual disappearance from film and TV (he last appeared in “Will and Grace” about five years ago) has worked to his benefit.