Born in Vienna, Billy Wilder started out as a newspaperman, and fled to America to escape the Nazi occupation. He had already started his forays into screenwriting that would lead him to working as a writer and later director of some of the Hollywood’s most famous and successful films. In this book, he talks about his life and work, often cracking wise and remembering his life in his own words, which were recorded by his friend, Charlotte Chandler.
I like this biography, because it’s a more anecdotal book than other biographies. It’s taken from taped conversations about his work and life, as well as loads of interviews with people who worked with him. I really liked that. It made for really interesting reading. It’s not a dry, fat biography, but a more accessible book about a cinema giant.
There are other books on Billy Wilder, and perhaps the most well known is Conversations With Wilder by Cameron Crowe, which is also well worth a look if you’d like to learn more about the man and his working practices.
- He loved worked with some of cinemas greatest actors and often their work with him became part of their mythos: Marilyn Monroe, William Holden, Jack Lemmon, Gloria Swanston, Shirley MacLaine, Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Audrey Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, and more.
- He was generally known as a kind director, who was supportive to actors and made his sets a happy place to be.
- He preferred sets to locations for shoots.
- Starting as a screenwriter, he usually worked with writing partners, famously Charles Brackett and IAL Diamond, and he moved into directing to have more creative control over what was done to his scripts.
- He was a bit of a romantic, saying that his second wife Audrey was the love of his life and the woman who he loved more and more over the course of his life.
- He was a great collector of paintings and fine arts, and an auction of his collection late in his life brought in millions.
- Though he was very quick with a joke, and quite funny, a lot of people felt that he was a serious person, which isn’t surprising considering the history he lived through, including losing his mother and other family members who were killed at Auschwitz.
The Essential Wilder:
There are so many wonderful films by this man, the below are arguably his most well known and must see (though this is not an exhaustive list).
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Some Like It Hot (1959)
The Apartment (1960)
The Seven Year Itch (1955)
The Ace In The Hole (1951)
Wilder is known for humor and quick wit in his films, as well as a certain cynicism. Sometimes films that he felt were serious, like The Apartment, were considered to be dark comedies by the audience or studio. Though his films could be a little subversive and take on serious themes, they’re never heavy or maudlin.
Do you have a favourite Billy Wilder quote or film? Let me know in the comments below. Or you can find me on Twitter @hermioneflavia or on Instagram @hermioneflavia.