Never did I imagine adding two posts about humor in as many days.
When I heard Gene Wilder died, I felt a pang of sadness but nothing overwhelming. Then social media exploded. There is a universal sentiment being expressed:
Gene Wilder was a huge part of my childhood.
I realized I hadn’t allowed myself to feel sad.
A big part of my journey has been recognizing my feelings real-time. For those who find the previous sentiment alien, I’m envious of you.
It turns out we’re not all the same.
Some people naturally understand how life’s moments affect them as they happen and then choose how to respond. I don’t.
A byproduct of my role models or my wiring? Could be.
While why is important, what is more so are my efforts to be in the moment, to be more honest, and by doing so, create more authentic connections with those who are important to me.
I squelched my feelings about Gene Wilder.
Rather than taking a moment or two to think about how his gifts related to my coming of age, to appreciate his genius, I rationalized his death. He was eighty-three after all. People die all the time.
I realized this morning I wanted to reflect on Gene Wilder.
There’s little I can say about Wilder’s body of work that isn’t being more eloquently expressed all over the place, so I won’t. What I can do is talk about how his performances made me feel.
Gene Wilder made me laugh. Guffaw. even cry because I was laughing so hard.
I have a crystal clear memory of going to see Young Frankenstein the week it opened in 1974. It was my father, sister and me. I don’t remember why mom didn’t come. Not important.
This was pre-Internet, a time I described in Sunday Night Salvation.
When we walked into the Georgetown Square in Bethesda, Maryland, I had no idea of what I was about to see. I hadn’t seen a commercial promoting the movie. I didn’t have a single friend who had seen it.
I was Aristotle’s tabula rasa, a blank tablet with no preconceptions.
Gene Wilder was brilliant. The undercurrent of madness in his portrayal of Frankenstein was hysterical. The subtleties, and not-so-subtle ways in which his character interacted with Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Terri Garr, Cloris Leachman, were beyond hilarious.
Young Frankenstein is the funniest movie I’ve ever seen. And it feels pretty damn good savoring this moment, reflecting on how much WIlder meant to me.
With Gene Wilder’s body of work so accessible, he may have shed his mortal coil, but Gene Wilder remains. He lives!
I’m not sure it gets much better than that.
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PS: In 1978 I was backstage at Rutgers University where the Not Ready For Primetime Players were performing in fundraiser for Bill Bradley. I sat on a couch with Gilda Radner, who told me how nervous she was performing before so many people as I tried to reassure her. While it wasn’t the same as meeting Wilder, it is a memory I cherish.