on June 11, 2005
About a month ago, I heard Gene Wilder being interviewed about this book on NPR from a theater in Berkeley, and was fascinated. He had a pleasant way of speaking, said intelligent things, and much to my delight, every time the audience would titter politely in the wrong places to show how hip they were, would ask in a perplexed voice, "What's funny about that?" (Are you listening Garrison Keillor?)
I remembered Wilder from "Young Frankenstein," but other than that, knew little about him, including his marriage to Gilda Radner. This was an advantage, since I approached the book without preconceived expectations.
Having enjoyed the interview, I bought the audio CD version, and listened to it in the evening over several weeks while nursing a bad back. Audio books read by the author are usually a good buy, because the author adds meaning through pronunciation, timing, and inflection. Moreover, Wilder as an actor knows how to deliver his lines.
He has spent his life as an intelligent misfit, and most of the book is taken up with his efforts to adjust to an outside world that proved both friendly and hostile. Thus his use of the psychiatrist Margie as a foil. One reader review suggests that Margie is merely a "hackneyed and lame device." I disagree; it's clear to me that Wilder has undergone psychoanalysis throughout his adult life, and because he prefers women to men, I suspect that the model for Margie actually exists.
The best parts of the book are his descriptions of various movies he worked in and people he has known. He makes a good case for at least some of the people in that world being decent, while excoriating others. I found his descriptions of dealing with racial issues to be particularly thoughtful and moving.
As for other readers' criticisms:
1. The book is not sufficiently serious: Wilder's previous literary experience was writing screenplays, which tend to focus on visual and auditory images, and be lean on intellectual content. So it is with this book, which is why I recommend buying the audio CD version. Anyone who has read novels by Terry Southern (also a screen writer) will recognize this phenomenon.
2. He does not sugarcoat his relationship with Gilda Radner: Sorry folks, but successful actors make their livings pretending to be someone other than the person they really are, and so it appears to have been with Gilda.
Henry James once observed that the only test for a novel is whether the author achieves what he set out to do. Applying that test to this book, I think Wilder meets it. Perhaps most importantly, he at least tried to be honest, and to a large extent, succeeds.
on July 8, 2007
I read Gilda Radner's book, "It's Always Something" which she completed only weeks before she died. And so when I was recently taking a flight, I picked up Gene Wilder's book to read on the plane. Sadly, I DID need another book on the way back. This one won't take you cross country.
There are two camps in these reviews. People who blindly give this book 5 stars and say they love Gene Wilder. But they never actually tell us what they thought was so great about this book. WHY do they give it five stars?
The other group, generously giving this book 2 stars, comments on his narcissism, his unwillingness to feel needed by anyone in his life, his current wife's greatest asset being that she hangs poetry on her refrigerator reminding her she is on her own.
Here's the thing. Gilda Radner loved Gene Wilder unconditionally, even to the day she died. She loved every thing about him, even his insistence on pushing her away. She loved the way he smelled, his looks, his humor, his mind, his character. She loved him totally. Gene Wilder on the other hand, doesn't seem to have loved her at all. He seems at best to have tolerated her---and that not very well or consistently. In one chapter he describes not having had sex with Gilda for about 6 months, (because she had had a grapefruit sized tumor removed from her body, was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation!) and perhaps as a tribute to what he sees as his own nobility, comments that he didn't ask her to "relieve" him in other ways. He then goes on to describe how, as a result of his deprivation he was of course immediately attracted to the woman who became his fourth wife, when he saw her skirts swishing about her legs.
Gilda was sick in bed having chemotherapy, and he is having dinner in a new woman's apartent. And then, when Gilda dies, he discusses with his therapist whether it's too soon for him to get married again, because the tabloids might make him look like a selfish jerk (Because he IS one!).
Look, I am all in favor of celebrity memoirs. Their artistic and celebrated lives create narratives of experience that we don't normally have access to. I like to read the kinds of books that give insight into famous people and in the circles in which they work and live, and I especially enjoy one person's reactions to them. Shelley Winters' three part autobiography revealed so much about the theatre scene of New York in the 50's, so much about her roommate, Marilyn Monroe, and so much about "the method". I felt as though I learned something in reading those books.
Here I learned that a Gilda Radner was sadly mistaken in whom she chose to love, and maybe the best book to read would have been one from HER therapist. I'd like to understand how someone so consumed with love could have chosen someone so consumed with avoiding it. It's pretty easy to understand why Gene Wilder, one of the greatest narcissists ever, would have chosen Gildan Radner---America's sweetheart who adored HIM above all others. When I put this book down, I felt disgust.
on March 12, 2005
If someone asked me to sum - up this book in one word, I'd say 'succinct'.
If a friend had given it to me as their autobiography and asked me for an opinion I'd tell them that it needed 'fleshing out'.
That's not to say it's a bad book - it really, really isn't! It's warm, funny, sad and an enjoyable read...but there are gaps: if you weren't a Gene Wilder fan, you'd have thought he'd made no films after 'Hear No Evil' as it's the last movie he mentions. Okay, as GW says, this isn't so much a biog as events in his life which have made an impact on his life (Serendipity?), but a better sense of 'history' would have been appreciated.
Now maybe I'm being a bit picky as I've been a fan of GW's since Young Frankenstein and would have preferred reading a 'proper' sutobiography with all his movies and recent TV work chronicled. I also have no sense of his family during this time: yes, we know how his marriage is failing, his adopted daughter angry...but they almost appear to be 'bit players' in the overall scheme of things. What did they think of his fame? How did they cope with that? What were THEY doing whilst GW made movies, etc.?
This work really ends with him getting over cancer and enjoying life with his current wife, Karen (nice Review Karen, BTW) and that's nice and warm and fuzzy...but it almost comes across as if his life has stopped somehow. And that's not true; even if you didn't know he'd recently worked in Theatre, you'd have seen Gene in Will & Grace, or his TV Movies, all of which garnered praise.
The writing style is easy to read and bounces along nicely, but there seems to me an underlying anger which was never really expressed in the words on the page, and oddly enough that sums up a lot of GW's life.
I only wish he'd told us more...
on June 15, 2005
I bought this book in anticipation of a signing Mr. Wilder was going to do. It's a quick read, and I managed to finish it in two days. I wouldn't say it is by any means perfect, but it offers good insights into an interesting persona. Don't expect much "this is what it was like to work on Willy Wonka" type passages, for they are sparse and only used to make other points. Wilder's intention is not to give an overview of his career, but to use that career to discuss some of the lessons he's learned along the way. The title means what it says: expect a good deal of exploration into what "love and art" mean to him.
I would have been happier with the book had he provided a bit more of the "art" aspect--ie, he's considered a great actor, so it would have been nice had he given some insights into technique. But, again, perhaps that was not the point. For those reviewers who seem to think that Wilder is an oversexed chauvinist--that does not show in any way throughout. From what I read in the book, and from what I saw when I finally met him (albeit briefly) at the signing, he's a nice, genuine person. Pick it up!
on September 12, 2015
I loved this book for more than one reason. He spoke about his loves and his career. I liked the way he incorporated his career with his love life. Not only did i enjoy reading about the many movies he made , directed, and wrote, and the people he met along the way and how, but i also found myself looking forward to reading about the women he met along the way, and the connection he had with each one. This is the first biography i've ever read and i'd like to read more like this. I found his relationships interesting, and i loved the way he candidly spoke about intimate details of his relationships. In his career, I enjoyed reading about how he felt about the character the people he met had and the effects it had on him in his life.
I don't want to say i disagree with another review i read on this book, where the reviewer had a problem with how Mr Wilder described his relationship with Gilda Radner, but i disagree because I feel like its almost like he said in the book, that a lot of people were captivated by the relationship they had together and thats the only relationship they wanted to see them in and wanted to always hear great things about. I think based on how well known he is as an entertainer, i give him credit for coming out and expressing how he actually felt about this relationship, and i agree that it didn't really sound like he was in love but there are also different types and levels of love. The relationship he had with Gilda, seemed to me to be more on a level of admiration and respect for the business that they shared a common interest in, which is also another form of love. Throughout this book, you got to read about the development of his career and his relationships based on who he was becoming in the world as a person, and how he felt at different stages of his life internally. i liked that a lot. One thing i have to say about the relationship with Gilda is that i didn't quite understand that relationship as well as the other ones he wrote about because it was so well publicized that i thought they would have had some ind of a steamy love affair or something, and less of a dependency/admiration/understanding, all circling around common career interest and human decency.
Overall, this book held my interest and kept me wanting to read more. I was sorry when i finished it and read it a second time.
I like biographies but I always struggle through the first few chapters of the obligatory growing up, here's what I did till I was famous. And while that is in this book, Wilder's flippant writing presented this part in an interesting manner before quickly moving the book to his career in New York. After reading this book, you'll realize he is not exactly who you thought he was.
Being 52 I just assumed this older actor was a comedian by training. I couldn't have been further from the truth as he was trained as an actor from the beginning and really only fell into the comedic roles after studying with Lee Strasberg at the Actor's Studio. It's interesting to hear him describe his early connection with Mel Brooks through Anne Bancroft that eventually led to great fame in Blazing Saddles and other hilarious movies. Wilder used a unique strategy at the end of many chapters concerning his career successes. In a sentence he states the contact that led to the contact that led to the person hiring him that got him the famous role. I've always felt life is a series of forks in the road where you never know what is on the other fork and deal with what you have chosen. He gives credit for his successful forks by showing how this contact was reached. One of them was through his very short unhappy marriage to his first wife so even though the marriage was a complete flop, relationships were made through acting together that eventually led to Mel Brooks.
Wilder does a great job of exhibiting his warts. He fits the role of a typical neurotic, Jewish actor? Years of psychotherapy may have helped him or it may have been just a crutch he needed. It's really never clear. All of these issues center on his inability to maintain healthy relationships. The most serious example is the loss of his adopted daughter (his second wife is the real mother) who for reasons not explained does not interact with him. Of course the most famous relationship is with Gilda Radner. Unfortunately, many "fans" will be disappointed that the "fairy tale" is not the same in true life. Personally, I believe he honestly let you into his life and exposed himself instead of giving the publicity package we are so often given.
In summary, this is his life told truthfully, both good and bad, in a flippant funny writing style that I really enjoyed. It is a fast read that I couldn't put down finding it quite touching in many parts. I strongly recommend this book for a great beach read or a deeper look in to Gene Wilder's soul.
on July 23, 2016
I have admired and loved Gene Wilder for many years. He's a wonderful actor, and human being. This book was well written, and informative. They have Willy Wonka games at our local casino, with a large picture of him in costume. I don't care much for the game, but I always walk over to them just to look at him. He has the most beautiful blue eyes. Looking at them makes me feel a happiness inside I can't even explain. It's as if I can see a beautiful soul in them. This book is well worth reading. He seems to have stayed relatively humble throughout his life. I wish him many more years of happiness. I am a big fan. God bless you, Gene.
Gene Wilder is one weird cat.
I'm not sure if it was the attempted rape at military school - where he described in two sentences which most celebrities would write entire volumes about - but I was tipped off pretty early that this would not be the typical celebrity biography.
I don't know that I'd call this a 'good' book, but it's a good read. He keeps most of the gossip about his own personal life, and while some reviews have commented about his somewhat negative descriptions of Gilda Radner, I think it makes her appear as she probably was - highstrung, emotional, a step away from crazy - which made her funny.
The collection of very odd anecdotes about Radner and his other relationships make this an interesting account. He bounces around from story to story, without dwelling on any one thing for very long, which is the main flaw. It's not that I wanted a lot of gossip, but he could have spent a little more time delving into his relationships with Richard Pryor, or Mel Brooks, or anyone...but it's not that kind of book.
If you like Gene Wilder as an actor, and you wonder about the personality behind his quirky performances, then this book offers that. He played some pretty daffy characters on-screen, and that wasn't all an act.
on March 24, 2005
Don't expect the usual Hollywood saga from gifted funny man Gene Wilder. This book is devoid of professional boasting, score settling, or gossip about unnamed stars. Wilder is more reflective and straightforward. His views of fellow actors are honest but never mean. He shows how serendipity plays a major part in an actor's career. He relates how he came to be married for the wrong reasons, and how he later learned to love. He is honest about his experiences with love and sex, his early ineptitude, his growing abilities to commit to and support a partner, his love of his stepdaughter and bewilderment as their relationship founders.
These honest memoirs seem to offend some other reviewers, but I am impressed with his ability to look back at his younger self with acceptance. He discusses Gilda Radner with love, while acknowleding the difficulty of living with her neurotic temperament. Wilder spends more time covering Gilda Radner's illness than his own very serious cancer.
I've liked Wilder since his breakout in The Producers, and admire his comic abilities and manic zaniness. But this book shows a serious artist, a mature and grounded man, who has written thoughtful reflections with more honesty than most of us could manage.
on May 20, 2013
This book is just fine, not good or bad,
I have to say that the more that I got to know Gene Wilder in this book, the less that I like him (this may have a bearing on my enjoyment of the book)