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Nobody's Perfect: Billy Wilder: A Personal Biography Hardcover – October 22, 2002

3.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Everyone knows Wilder's reputation as a consummate storyteller who had one true or not for every occasion. Upon his death in March of this year, homages to the great director were filled with well-known anecdotes, passed along like great jokes. They were always funny and showed the filmmaker at his sharpest, but they also helped obscure the man behind a wall of wit and showmanship. This new biography from Groucho Marx and Federico Fellini biographer Chandler, which takes its title from the last line of Some Like It Hot, avoids this trap by simply letting Wilder talk at length. Unlike Cameron Crowe in his 1999 book of conversations with Wilder, Chandler keeps herself mostly in the background, popping up only occasionally to point out which actor had led her to interview which director, and so on. As a result, the book is a rich compendium of primary source material, containing interviews with Wilder himself, Kirk Douglas, Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Ginger Rogers, Jimmy Stewart, Gloria Swanson and others. The book doesn't offer lengthy discussions of Wilder as a cinematic genius; readers will not find critical appraisals of Ace in the Hole or Sunset Boulevard. However, the author does richly document the making of some of Wilder's masterpieces and open the sluice gates for the voluble Wilder as well as the recondite storytellers mentioned above. Altogether, it makes for a comprehensive portrait of Wilder that goes beyond the witty stories. Photos.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Chandler (Hello, I Must Be Going: Groucho and His Friends; I, Fellini) here adds the late Billy Wilder to her list of celebrity subjects. Best known as one of Hollywood's most prolific writers, producers, and directors, Wilder grew up in Vienna and later moved to Berlin, where he became involved with German cinema. When the Nazis rose to power, he escaped to Hollywood. After covering Wilder's early years, Chandler devotes a chapter each to Wilder's best-known movies (e.g., Some Like It Hot and Sunset Boulevard). These chapters consist of transcribed interviews with Wilder and many of the stars he directed, which results in an unfortunate lack of technical information and context. Film students, then, won't find much to glean here. Chandler also skimps on Wilder's personal life (he was divorced and later remarried), rendering it uninteresting to general readers. This biography is similar in format to Kevin Lally's Wilder Times, discussing many of the same films. Chandler fails to unearth new details on Wilder, and her filmography is not as informative as Lally's. With other biographies on Wilder available, this is not an essential purchase.
Rosalind Dayen, South Regional Lib., Pembroke Pines, FL
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (October 22, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743217098
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743217095
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,603,932 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
My love of films came to fruition during a brief period when the "auteur theory" held sway in the 1960s and 1970s. Auteurist critic Andrew Sarris classified Billy Wilder in his "Less Than Meets the Eye Category," primarily because he was "too cynical for the more serious demands of middle-class tragedy (DOUBLE INDEMNITY) and social allegory (ACE IN THE HOLE). A director who can crack jokes about suicide attempts ... and thoughtlessly brutalize charming actresses like Jean Arthur (FOREIGN AFFAIR) and Audrey Hepburn (SABRINA) is hardly likely to make a coherent film on the human condition."
It was only as a result of seeing Wilder's films that I discovered what Sarris was really saying was that the director was both too versatile and too successful -- and it didn't help that his approach to directing films was as a writer rather than as a visual artist.
Reading Charlotte Chandler's oral history of Wilder's career, I was impressed with Billy Wilder's ability to be able to create iconic native masterpieces of film noir (DOUBLE INDEMNITY) and Hollywood Gothic (SUNSET BOULEVARD) without the benefit of growing up in the United States. While his later comedies (such as SOME LIKE IT HOT) owe much to his collaboration with Lubitsch, Hawks, and Mitchell Leisen, Wilder developed his own style of comedy and retained his ability to make good films well into his eighties.
In the chapter on SUNSET BOULEVARD, actress Nancy Olson makes an astute comment: "Billy said, 'Every character in SUNSET BOULEVARD is an opportunist.' It seemed to me that what he is saying is that this picture is not only about opportunism, but about ... the consequences of it."
A little light bulb went on in my mind. Wilder's films are all, in their own way, about opportunism.
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Format: Hardcover
There is no one wilder in Hollywood than Billy - Billy Wilder, that is.  And the new bio of him, "Nobody's Perfect: Billy Wilder: A Personal Biography," is as close to the "perfect" non-critical, fun history of a man and his movies. Written by Charlotte Chandler (whose previous works include "I, Fellini" and "Hello, I Must Be Going: Groucho and His Friends"), the tome is based on interviews she conducted with Wilder and his friends over a period of years. The result is a wonderful kaleidoscope of movies, politicians, actors, geniuses and louses. From Sigmund Freud to Louis B. Mayer, from Richard Strauss to Joan Fontaine, from Prince Yussupov to Walter Matthau --- Wilder knew them all. He is the man who put Marilyn Monroe over a subway grate, Jack Lemmon in a dress and Gloria Swanson in the most famous close-up of them all. The great beacon shining through the entire book is, of course, the wit and humor of the man.  Wilder is certainly one of the great comic directors of all time, and his legacy is astounding. By structuring the book around the subject's work in a strictly chronological manner, Chandler creates a picture of Wilder that is at once true and wildly engrossing. The early stories about journalism in pre-war Berlin are as fascinating as the later tales of success in glittering Hollywood. That the last 20 years of his life, arguably the most creative time in an artist's life, were spent without a single film project is the underlying tragedy of this book, and Chandler doesn't exactly dwell on it, but the painful reality is certainly there. We like to think of him as this way: Billy Wilder, Somebody's Perfect. (Submitted by staff member Stephen J. Finn)
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Format: Paperback
Nobody's Perfect: Billy Wilder by biographer Charlotte Chandler is the personal and engaging story of one of the great figures of 20th century movie-making -- the legendary Billy Wilder (1906-2002). The great director perhaps best known for classics such as "Some Like It Hot", "The Apartment", "Sunset Boulevard", and many more, Billy Wilder narrates much of "Nobody's Perfect" in his own words, rendering it as close to an autobiography as any story of his life can be. A filmography complements this witty, insightful, life story of a creative visionary.
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Format: Paperback
I read Cameron Crowe's book a couple years ago, and it is head-and-shoulders above this. What Charlotte essentially does in this "personal" biography is string together a long series of celebrity interviews into one barely coherent narrative.

One gets the distinct impression it was far more important for Charlotte to "get to know" these interview subjects than it was for her to write this book. What makes me think that? Perhaps it's the photos of Charlotte and several of her interviewees sprinkled throughout this book.

On the whole, "personal" seems to be shorthand for "lazy."
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Format: Paperback
The author of this biography, Charlotte Chandler, has written several similar personal biographies. One feature they have in common is that the dialog was constructed by piecing together segments from celebrity interviews, especially those with Billy Wilder. This appears to me to produce dialog that is mechanical and somewhat incoherent.

For each of the main films that Wilder directed, produced, or served as screen writer, a plot outline is given, and they appear in smaller print, indented,so that they can be easily located.

Chandler's book contains a filmography which lists all of Billy Wilder's movies.

Two important collaborators who worked closely with Wilder for a number of years were Charles Brackett, who was a Harvard Law School graduate, and I.A.L. Diamond, whose humorous pieces in the Screen Writer's Guild magazine attracted Billy Wilder.

Some persons Wilder worked with found him to be too much of a disciplinarian, but nevertheless respected his film making knowledge and his intelligence and versatility.

Billy Wilder worked with some of the most respected actors of his time, his favorite being Jack Lemmon.

Wilder was somewhat of a risk taker, dealing with topics that were at that time considered prohibitive, such as adultery, alcoholism. and prostitution.

The expression "Nobody's Perfect" in Chandler's title is the last line in the film Some Like It Hot, which was directed and produced by Wilder. Other well known of his films are Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard, The Seven Year Itch, Witness for the Prosecution, and The Apartment.

Double Indemnity was nominated for seven Oscars, including best director (Billy Wilder) and best screenplay (Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler).
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