The Kennedy Center

Billy Wilder


Billy Wilder
(writer/director, born June 22, 1906, Vienna, Austria; died March 27, 2002)

For six decades Billy Wilder has created one movie masterpiece after another--as a writer, director, producer, or sometimes as all three. Add this extraordinary endurance record to the fact that he has not limited himself to one genre of film but has applied his talents to romantic comedies, film noir, suspense, farce, and courtroom dramas with equally splendid results--and Wilder's oeuvre becomes not just another brilliant career but the very history of American film.

Wilder began writing for films in Berlin during the late 1920s and arrived in the United States in 1934 with little English in his vocabulary, yet by 1939 he had co-written with Charles Brackett the screenplay to what is arguably the finest comedy of the 30s, Ninotchka. Three years later, he made his directorial debut with another memorable comedy, The Major and the Minor

From then on he would create a series of delicate images never to be forgotten by movie lovers around the world: Gloria Swanson as the legendary Norma Desmond descending the staircase at the end of Sunset Boulevard; Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in high heels precariously running away from killer gangsters in Some Like It Hot; a tarted up Shirley MacLaine walking the streets of Paris with her poodle in Irma Las Douce, and, perhaps most memorably of all, Marilyn Monroe surrounded by her billowing white skirt as she cools off by standing on top of a New York subway grate in The Seven Year Itch.

In addition to Charles Brackett, Wilder's other great script collaborator was I.A.L. Diamond, who began working with him in 1957 with Love in the Afternoon. Nominated some 20 times, WIlder has won six Academy Awards: for directing and co-writing The Lost Weekend (1945); and for directing, co-writing, and producing The Apartment (1960), which took Best Picture honors.

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