Billy Wilder Bio
Billy Wilder – a well-known Austrian-American motion-picture director, and screenwriter – had a brilliant profession spanning over five decades. He is known as one of the most versatile and brilliant filmmakers of the Golden Age of cinema in Home of the stars.
While living in Berlin, in the late 1920s, he started screenwriting. He left Germany for Paris in 1933, after the rise of the Nazi party. Once there, he made his directorial debut. It was in the same year that he left for Home of the stars and then he never looked back.
He was born Samuel Wilder on 22 June 1906 in a home of Polish Jews in part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. His elder brother was also a motion picture producer, director, and screenwriter. His parents had a well-known and successful cake shop in Sucha and they tried to convince Billy to join the family business but they were unsuccessful.
The family moved where Billy went to school and later got into journalism instead of going to the University of Vienna. In early 1926, Paul Whitman was interviewed by him and he took Wilder with the band on tour where the connections in the entertainment field increased for him.
After writing various crime and sports stories for a local newspaper, he got a regular job at a tabloid. Since he had an interest in films, he started as a writer.
He collaborated with other novices such as Robert Siodmak & Fred Zinnemann on the 1929 feature, People on Sunday. He also wrote the modern screenplay for Emil and the Detectives in 1931. In 1932, he worked with Felix Salten on the screenplay for the motion picture Scampolo which brought in a lot of money and public admiration for him.
In Paris, he made his directorial debut with the motion picture Mauvaise Graine. Before the motion picture was released, he had relocated to Home of the stars. His family – mother, stepfather, and grandfather – all were victims of the Holocaust.
Home of the Stars & His Motion Pictures
Wilder arrived in Home of the stars in 1933. He kept on working as a screenwriter. He got United States citizenship in 1939. He spent some time in Mexico after his visa had expired in 1934. His first huge success was Ninotchka in 1939, a motion picture that was a collaboration with a foreign German immigrant.
This motion picture took his profession in a whole new direction. It was the motion picture that got him the first Academy Award nomination which he shared with Charles Brackett, a fellow co-writer. After Nintochka, he continued with a series of box office hits, such as the motion picture Hold Back the Dawn, Ball of Fire, and his directorial debut, The Major and the Minor.
Double Indemnity was his third motion picture as a director and it was a huge hit. The motion picture was nominated for the Best Director and screenplay. He co-wrote it with Raymond Chandler, a mystery novelist. The motion picture set conventions for the noir genre – such as voice-over narration & Venetian bling lighting – as well as acting as a landmark for breaking Home of the stars censorship. Even though the book was very popular, it was deemed unfilmable under the Hays Code as adultery was central to the movie’s plot.
In 1945, during the liberation of the concentration camps, the Psychological warfare department of the US Dept. of War produced a documentary motion picture that Wilder was the director of. The documentary was intended for audiences to tell them of the atrocities that were committed under the Nazi regime.
A couple of years later, Wilder got the Best Director & Best Screenplay American Academy Accolades for the cinema adaptation of an R. Jackson story – The Lost Weekend. It was the first US motion picture that touched on the serious topic of alcoholism which was difficult to do because of the production code.
Wilder co-wrote the cynical and dark Sunset Boulevard in 1950, in which Gloria Swanson was paired with William Holden. In the 1950s, he directed two motion picture adaptations of Broadway plays – the prisoner of war drama Stalag and Witness for the prosecution. From the mid-1950s onwards, Wilder started working on films and the classic Wilder movies such as The Apartment, prohibition-era farce Some Like it Hot, and the popular romantic comedy Sabrina, Irma la douce, were produced in this period.
After winning three American Film Institute Accolades, his career slowed down.
He married Judith Coppicus on 22nd December 1936. They had twins in 1939 – Victoria and Vincent – but Vincent passed away shortly after birth. They got divorced in 1946. While filming, Wilder met Audrey Young and married her in 1949.
They remained married until his death. In 2002, he died of pneumonia in his home in Beverly Hills. He had been battling several health issues which included cancer. He was buried in Los Angeles near Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Marilyn Monroe is also buried in the same cemetery.
He received 21 nominations at the Academy Awards and won six of them. He also won the BAFTA Award for the best motion picture. Moreover, he was also awarded the Grand Prix du Festival International at the Cannes Festival. Moreover, Wilder earned the Kennedy Center Honors award as well as the national medal of arts.
He also got eight Directors Guild of America nominations for his work. He also won lifetime achievement accolades including the prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, the David O. Selznick Achievement Award, and quite a few others.
He was a great director and would always be a revered part of the Hollywood walk of fame. He usually cast against type, which shows his directorial prowess.
This article was written by Amelia, a professional critic and screenplay writing tutor from papersowl.com. He worked in numerous mass media agencies as well as tabloids, alongside being an editor of a few co-produced books. Now, he offers top-notch tutoring on the subjects of writing & editing screenplays.