Archive for Billy Wilder in Hollywood

Great Directors Made Little #3 / Film Directors with their Trousers Off

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2010 by dcairns

Saul Wilder, AKA Billy, demonstrating that Jean Renoir was not alone in being dragged up by his parents. I thought this was mainly an inter-war custom, where mothers dressed their boys as girls because, consciously or unconsciously, they were afraid of losing them in another Great War. But this image predates WWI and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Maybe he’s just in rehearsal for SOME LIKE IT HOT.

Excitingly for regular Shadowplayers, the other kid in this picture is W. Lee Wilder, Billy’s idiot brother, who traded handbags for motion pictures and gave the world THE MAN WITHOUT A BODY, or parts of it, anyway. Even at this tender age he is unable to look down on his little brother.


Maurice Zolotow’s Billy Wilder in Hollywood isn’t very well-written, and the chapter on Wilder’s witticisms selects some questionable examples, but it’s invaluable research material because it was written years and years before the other Wilder books and documentaries, when Billy was somewhere near his prime (even if the movies were flopping) and it deploys different anecdotes and opinions from the ones Wilder dined out on in later years.

In particular, there are a few unmade films mentioned — the Marx Bros vehicle A NIGHT AT THE UNITED NATIONS, for instance, and one which basically invents the “gangster with crying jags” gimmick from ANALYZE THIS! and THE SOPRANOS. Nobody gave Wilder credit for that at the time, but it’s his. There’s also one from the early fifties in which a Hollywood screenwriter can’t get work because he has no talent. Ashamed to admit this to his wife, he pretends to be a blacklisted communist. Trust Wilder to find the most infuriatingly un-PC angle to explore that particular tragedy.

There’s also a very promising one about an English lord (Charles Laughton was intended as star) who seems to be staying afloat financially while his peers, if you’ll pardon the pun, are all reeling from taxation. The plot twist reveals that Lord Laughton is earning a mint on the side in the US as a masked wrestler. Wilder reports pitching this to Laughton and having the Great Man rolling on the floor in hysterics, weeping and begging for mercy from the comic onslaught. But, as with most of these ideas, Wilder says he couldn’t crack the ending.

Maybe some creative type in Hollywood can appropriate this one and solve it for him?