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'He never was from this place': 'Wonka' writer remembers Gene Wilder




File: American comic actor Gene Wilder, originally Jerry Silkman, stars with comedian Richard Pryor in the action comedy
File: American comic actor Gene Wilder, originally Jerry Silkman, stars with comedian Richard Pryor in the action comedy "Silver Streak."
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Gene Wilder died on Monday of complications from Alzheimer's disease. He was 83.

Wilder was known for his comedic work in films such as "The Producers," "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein." 

But perhaps his most memorable role was the wonderfully bizarre candy magnate he played in the film "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."

David Seltzer wrote the screenplay for the film. He joined host Alex Cohen to remember Wilder.

Interview Highlights

Why Gene Wilder was cast as Willy Wonka:

"Well, I was actually brought aboard a bit late, Gene had already been cast. But I heard all the stories about how many people wanted to do it, how many people didn't want to do it, they wanted a dancer, they wanted a comedian. Gene came in and said, 'I'm really none of those things. I'd do it, but I'm not it. I'm not really a comedian, I don't give punch lines. I'm a reactor, I'm a funny reactor, so whoever writes that has got to understand.' ...I can only repeat a story, I wasn't there. He came in and saw Mel (Stuart, the director). Gene had read the book, and at that time there actually was a piece of a screenplay written by Roald Dahl, who never finished it... But Gene, he came in and said to Mel, 'Look, I'll do this part if it's written in a way that no one knows what I'm thinking, and no one really knows if I'm nice, or evil, or sane, or insane.' So he picked up something that wasn't even in the book. When we finally got together on the set, we were already shooting the musical numbers and didn't have a script, Gene told me what he wanted and I said, 'Gene, I'm confused.' He said, 'Good! Stay confused. Stay confused. Write it that way.'" 

What Gene Wilder was like when the cameras stopped rolling:

"I'm sure everybody will describe Gene as being unlike anybody they ever met before. He was the most open, warm, generous, delightful person. He had a smile that I described as warmed the back of my knees. He could just, just thrill you with his openness and generosity and curiousness, and the way he would listen, and the way he would advise. You know, somebody asked me how it felt for people who had been calling in the last few days what it was like to not have Gene on the planet, and I said, 'Well, he never was from this place. We visited him. He was from some place better.'"

To listen to the full interview, click on the blue audio player above.