BILLY WILDER Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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Name: Billy Wilder                                                                     
Birth name: Samuel Wilder                                                               
Born: 22 June 1906 Sucha, Galicia, Austria-Hungary                                     
Died: 27 March 2002 Beverly Hills, California, U.S.                                     
Billy Wilder (June 22, 1906 – March 27, 2002) was an Austrian-born, Jewish-American   
journalist, screenwriter, Academy Award-winning film director, and producer             
whose career spanned more than 50 years and 60 films. He is regarded as one of         
the most brilliant and versatile filmmakers of Hollywood's golden age. Many of         
Wilder's films achieved both critical and public acclaim.                               
Born Samuel Wilder in Sucha Beskidzka, Austria-Hungary (now Poland) to Max             
Wilder and Eugenia Dittler, Wilder was nicknamed Billie by his mother (he               
changed that to "Billy" after arriving in America). Soon the family moved to           
Vienna, where Wilder attended school. After dropping out of the University of           
Vienna, Wilder became a journalist. To advance his career Wilder decided to move       
to Berlin, Germany.                                                                     
While in Berlin, before achieving success as a writer, Wilder allegedly worked         
as a taxi dancer. After writing crime and sports stories as a stringer for local       
newspapers, he was eventually offered a regular job at a Berlin tabloid.               
Developing an interest in film, he began working as a screenwriter. He                 
collaborated with several other tyros (with Fred Zinnemann and Robert Siodmak,         
on the 1929 feature, People on Sunday). After the rise of Adolf Hitler, Wilder,         
who was Jewish, left for Paris and then the United States. His mother,                 
grandmother and stepfather died at Auschwitz concentration camp.                       
After arriving in Hollywood in 1933, Wilder continued his career as a                   
screenwriter. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1934.             
Wilder's first significant success was Ninotchka, a collaboration with fellow           
German immigrant Ernst Lubitsch. Released in 1939, this screwball comedy starred       
Greta Garbo (generally known as a tragic heroine in film melodramas), and was           
popularly and critically acclaimed. With the byline, "Garbo Laughs!", it also           
took Garbo's career in a new direction. The film also marked Wilder's first             
Academy Award nomination, which he shared with co-writer Charles Brackett. For         
twelve years Wilder co-wrote many of his films with Brackett, from 1938 through         
1950. He followed Ninotchka with a series of box office hits in 1942, including         
his Hold Back the Dawn and Ball of Fire, as well as his directorial feature             
debut, The Major and the Minor.                                                         
Wilder established his directorial reputation after helming Double Indemnity (1944),   
an early film noir he co-wrote with mystery novelist Raymond Chandler, with whom       
he did not get along. Double Indemnity not only set conventions for the noir           
genre (such as "venetian blind" lighting and voice-over narration), but was also       
a landmark in the battle against Hollywood censorship. The original James M.           
Cain novel Double Indemnity featured two love triangles and a murder plotted for       
insurance money. The book was highly popular with the reading public, but had           
been considered unfilmable under the Hays Code, because adultery was central to         
its plot. Double Indemnity is credited by some as the first true film noir,             
combining the stylistic elements of Citizen Kane with the narrative elements of         
Maltese Falcon.                                                                         
Two years later, Wilder earned the Best Director and Best Screenplay Academy           
Awards for the adaptation of a Charles R. Jackson story The Lost Weekend. This         
was the first major American film to make a serious examination of alcoholism.         
Another dark and cynical film Wilder cowrote and directed was the critically           
acclaimed Sunset Boulevard in 1950, which paired rising star William Holden with       
Gloria Swanson. Swanson played Norma Desmond, a reclusive silent film star who         
dreams of a comeback; Holden is an aspiring screenwriter and becomes a kept man.       
In 1951, Wilder followed up Sunset Boulevard with the remarkably cynical Ace in         
the Hole (aka The Big Carnival), a tale of media exploitation of a mining               
accident. It was a critical and commercial failure, but its reputation has grown       
over the years. In the fifties, Wilder also directed two vibrant adaptations of         
Broadway plays, the POW drama Stalag 17 (1953), which resulted in a Best Actor         
Oscar for William Holden, and the Agatha Christie mystery Witness for the               
Prosecution (1957).                                                                     
In 1959 Wilder introduced crossdressing to American film audiences with Some           
Like It Hot. In this comedy Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis play musicians on the           
run from a Chicago gang, who disguise themselves as women and become                   
romantically involved with Marilyn Monroe and Joe E. Brown.                             
From the mid-1950s on, Wilder made mostly comedies. Among the classics Wilder           
produced in this period are the farces The Seven Year Itch (1955) and Some Like         
It Hot (1959), satires such as The Apartment (1960), and the romantic comedy           
Sabrina (1954). Wilder's humor is cynical and sometimes sardonic. In Love in the       
Afternoon (1957), a young and innocent Audrey Hepburn who doesn't want to be           
young or innocent wins playboy Gary Cooper by pretending to be a married woman         
in search of extramarital amusement. Even Wilder's warmest comedy, The Apartment,       
features an attempted suicide on Christmas Eve.                                         
In 1959, Wilder teamed with writer-producer I.A.L. Diamond, a collaboration that       
remained until the end of both men's careers. After winning three Academy Awards       
for 1960's The Apartment (for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay), Wilder's         
career slowed. His Cold War farce One, Two, Three (1961) featured a rousing             
comic performance by James Cagney, but was followed by the lesser films Irma la         
Douce and Kiss Me, Stupid. Wilder garnered his last Oscar nomination for his           
screenplay The Fortune Cookie in 1966. His 1970 film The Private Life of               
Sherlock Holmes was intended as a major roadshow release, but was heavily cut by       
the studio and has never been fully restored. Later films such as Fedora and           
Buddy, Buddy failed to impress critics or the public.                                   
In 1988, Wilder was awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. He has a star       
on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.                                                         
Billy Wilder died in 2002 of pneumonia at the age of 95 after battling health           
problems, including cancer, in Los Angeles, California, and was interred in the         
Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, Los Angeles, California.           
Wilder died the same day as two other comedy legends: Milton Berle and Dudley