Gene Wilder (Actor) as Willy Wonka - Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
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Updated: 3/26/09

Name: Gene Wilder

Birth Name: Jerome Silberman

Born: June 11, 1933, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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Claim To Fame: Wilder is known for his portrayal of Willy Wonka in 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and for his four films with Richard Pryor: Silver Streak (1976), Stir Crazy (1980), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989), and Another You (1991).

Family Life: Wilder was married to Mary Mercier from 1960- 1965. He was married to Mary Joan Schutz for seven years, and he adopted her daughter Katherine. In 1984, he married Gilda Radner, with their marriage ending with her death from cancer. He is currently married to Karen Webb.

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Info: The curly-haired actor began studying drama while attending the University of Iowa, and continued his studies at England's Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. He joined the Actors Studio in the early 1960s after gaining off-Broadway experience, and this led to many successful Broadway appearances. His first feature film role was that of a shy undertaker who is kidnapped in Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

The following year Wilder hooked up with Mel Brooks for the first time to appear in Producers, a role which earned the actor an Oscar nomination. After roles in Start the Revolution Without Me and Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx, Wilder starred in what many consider one of his best roles, that of the mad chocolatier Willy Wonka in the darkly comic musical Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. However, Wilder did not earn major star status until Young Frankenstein (1974), which he co-wrote with Brooks.

Wilder made his solo screenwriting and directorial debut with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother in 1975, but this and subsequent efforts taught Wilder that he was better suited as an actor. In 1976, he paired with comedian Richard Pryor for the romantic/comedic/adventure hit Silver Streak. This was the first of three successful films the pair made. The second movie, Stir Crazy, was also a hit, but the third and fourth pairings in See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Another You fell flat. After 1991, he stopped making and appearing in films, but did try his hand at situation comedy in the short-lived Something Wilder.

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Trivia: Following Radner's death, he became active in promoting cancer awareness and treatment, helping found the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in Los Angeles and co-founding Gilda's Club, a support group to raise awareness of cancer.

Won the Clarence Derwent award for the Broadway play "The Complaisant Lover" in 1962.

Graduated from the University of Iowa with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Is a life long brother of the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity.

Says he picked the name Gene Wilder because he couldn't see a Jerry Silberman playing Hamlet.

Uncle of director-screenwriter Jordan Walker-Pearlman.

Served with U.S. Army, 1956-58.

Has been a staunch liberal Democrat for many years, and was staunchly against the Vietnam War. He is now against the War in Iraq.

His performance as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein (1974) is ranked #9 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).

His performance as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) is ranked #38 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.

Was the uncredited singer of Pure Imagination in the 1971 hit film Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.

Is a talented swordsman who represented his University at fencing.

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Where Are They Now: Wilder was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1999, but confirmed in 2005 that the cancer was in complete remission following chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. On March 1, 2005, he released his personal memoir, Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art, an account of his life covering everything from his childhood up to Radner's death. In March 2007, his first novel, My French Whore, was released. He released his second novel, The Woman Who Wouldn't, in 2008.

Write To Gene Wilder:
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