"'Nobody's perfect' is the line that most sums up my work," Billy Wilder told writer Charlotte Chandler. "There is no comedy, no drama about perfect people."
Film is the Cinderella Art of the 20th century, and Billy Wilder was one of its most legendary figures. When he died recently, Wilder left behind an incredible celluloid legacy. "Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, Double Indemnity, The Apartment, Lost Weekend, Sabrina," and other Wilder films have become a part of our shared experience and collective memory.
In "Nobody's Perfect," Billy Wilder speaks for himself, in what is as close to an autobiography as there ever will be. Charlotte Chandler, author of earlier authorized biographies of Groucho Marx and Federico Fellini, met Wilder in the mid-1970s and began a friendship that continued until his death. Over the course of more than twenty years, she interviewed not only Wilder, but many of the actors and other creative people who worked with him. The result is this remarkable book, a very personal look at one of Hollywood's true creative geniuses.
In a life as dramatic as his films, Wilder survived World War I and escaped the Holocaust, though his mother and grandmother both died at Auschwitz. When he arrived in Hollywood, he found himself a writer without a language, a man without a country.
Wilder's great gift as a screenwriter soon became apparent, as did his easy rapport with actors. As a writer-director, he worked with such stars as Greta Garbo, William Holden, Tony Curtis, Barbara Stanwyck, Marlene Dietrich, Ginger Rogers, Gloria Swanson, Audrey Hepburn, Gary Cooper, James Cagney, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and Marilyn Monroe -- most of whom were interviewedfor this book.
He gave Garbo her laugh, Swanson her comeback, Holden his stardom, Lemmon a career, Matthau an Oscar, and contributed greatly to Marilyn Monroe's immortality.
Actors from Wilder's films talk enthusiastically about Wilder. Danielle Darrieux, the star of the first picture he directed, remembers him from 1933. Ginger Rogers tells how "The Major and the Minor" paralleled her own life. Jack Lemmon reveals how wearing a dress affected him as a man. Tony Curtis talks about what it was like to work with Billy Wilder -- and under Marilyn Monroe.
Chandler's conversations with Wilder and the others began when he was still a working director and continued through the time he was retired but didn't know it. A man of the 20th century, Billy Wilder lived into the 21st century, alone from his time, a legend forever.
This revealing and vastly entertaining book is a wonderful, timely tribute to this great writer-director, a legacy of Wilder's wit, insight, and remarkable wisdom.