By: Graesyn Fenix
It’s sad to me that so many people saw images come across their screen and really didn’t know who the man was outside of the Willy Wonka memes that float around from time to time. But then that’s something every generation goes through I suppose. Gene Wilder probably wasn’t known to so many young people out there, his comedic brilliance, his warmth, his incredible talent something they’d never seen in their short lives. For many, though, he was a familiar face that brought back happy memories of times long past. Yesterday we lost a legend, and more than that, we lost a man who held the key to so many memories and so much laughter.
For me it reminded me of his co-stars that had gone before him—Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Peter Boyle, Gilda Radner, Richard Pryor, Marty Feldman…I could go on but it really just makes me more and more sad. These were stars of a time slightly before mine, but they made such an impact on my parent’s generation that their scenes and skits are still quoted today. Many people my age know these geniuses because our parents watched their movies and rewatched their comedy routines over and over as we grew up. They are timeless memories that I’ve heard over and over again when a movie like Blazing Saddles come on. “Oh i remember this one time when I was watching this with my dad…” or “I remember watching this with my parents…” are frequent utterances. Yes the movies are also legendary, but they’re also a deeper part of our lives.
How can you ever hear Puttin’ on the Ritz and not sing along like Peter Boyle’s monster or dance around like Boyle and Wilder miming a cane and top hat? How many times did your father get handed a pass or ID badge and remark that they “don’t need no stinkin’ badges”?
As we grew older, and as parents continued to watch, we watched with them. We started quoting alongside them, it was a bonding moment that would stay with us for decades, for lifetimes in some cases. They even bring us closer to new people, new acquaintances who utter lines from these movies are quickly looked at as long lost relatives you’ve known your whole lives, even if just for a moment. I interviewed with a company once and on the wall was a poster from Young Frankenstein and instantly I knew I wanted to work for that company.
And then, of course, there’s The Oompa Loompa movie as my brother dubbed it as a child. He watched that movie so many times that it drove my grandfather nuts. Up to his last days he loved to recount the cries of my brother to watch the Oompa Loompa movie again. If your life wasn’t touched by the 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory then please, stop reading and go find it. It’s a bit over 90 minutes of magical, wonderful imagination that holds within it a number of important life lessons that people probably need to be reminded of.
I never met Mr. Wilder, but if I had I would have thanked him for being such a wonderful, inspiring part of my life. You’ve given me so many smiles, so many memories, so much happiness. You’ve helped people connect To me, and to many others, he was more than an actor, a director, a writer, & a comedian, to us he was a dreamer of dreams.