Tag Archives: Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder: “After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all…”

Today, the excellent website Letters of Note posted this:


Happy 50th Birthday Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

In 1970, when originally offered the lead role in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory by director Mel Stuart, the great Gene Wilder accepted on one condition.

“When I make my first entrance,” he explained, “I’d like to come out of the door carrying a cane and then walk toward the crowd with a limp. After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all whisper to themselves and then become deathly quiet. As I walk toward them, my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I’m walking on and stands straight up, by itself; but I keep on walking, until I realize that I no longer have my cane. I start to fall forward, and just before I hit the ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause.”

Asked why, Wilder said, “Because from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”

His request was granted, but thankfully his input didn’t stop there. Just one example: Soon after seeing some early sketches of Willy Wonka’s eccentric outfit, Wilder wrote the following letter to Stuart and offered some charmingly constructive feedback.


Dear Mel

I’ve just received the costume sketches. I’ll tell you everything I think, without censoring, and you take from my opinion what you like.

I assume that the designer took his impressions from the book and didn’t know, naturally, who would be playing Willy. And I think, for a character in general, they’re lovely sketches.

I love the main thing — the velvet jacket — and I mean to show by my sketch the exact same color. But I’ve added two large pockets to take away from the svelt, feminine line. (Also in case of a few props.)

I also think the vest is both appropriate and lovely.

And I love the same white, flowing shirt and the white gloves. Also the lighter colored inner silk lining of the jacket.

What I don’t like is the precise pin pointing in place and time as this costume does.

I don’t think of Willy as an eccentric who holds on to his 1912 Dandy’s Sunday suit and wears it in 1970, but rather as just an eccentric — where there’s no telling what he’ll do or where he ever found his get-up — except that it strangely fits him: Part of this world, part of another. A vain man who knows colors that suit him, yet, with all the oddity, has strangely good taste. Something mysterious, yet undefined.

I’m not a ballet master who skips along with little mincy steps. So, as you see, I’ve suggested ditching the Robert Helpmann trousers. Jodhpurs to me belong more to the dancing master. But once elegant now almost baggy trousers — baggy through preoccupation with more important things — is character.

Slime green trousers are icky. But sand colored trousers are just as unobtrusive for your camera, but tasteful.

The hat is terrific, but making it 2 inches shorter would make it more special.

Also a light blue felt hat-band to match with the same light blue fluffy bow tie shows a man who knows how to compliment his blue eyes.

To match the shoes with the jacket is fey. To match the shoes with the hat is taste.

Hope all is well. Talk to you soon.

All my best,

Gene

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Filed under Acting, Movies

Frank Skinner & Mr Methane TV act banned by the BBC (and Phil Spector)

Mr Methane ended up looking like a Muppet

Someone on the BBC TV show ended up looking like a Muppet

The comedy ‘Rule of Three’ and Fate have combined to decree that Mr Methane appears in my blog for the third day running.

One of his better stories can never be told because, before the performance, he had to sign a non-disclosure agreement that he would never tell anyone the performance had taken place in that location to those people…

However, yesterday he reminded me about one publishable non-appearance he made.

Mr Methane is the Farter of Alternative Comedy, a phrase I will repeat until someone else copies it.

Comedian Frank Skinner used to have a chat show on BBC TV.

One week, Frank had actor Gene Wilder on his show and the subject of Blazing Saddles came up: a movie with a famous farting scene.

Frank mentioned Mr Methane’s performances to Gene and, in Mr Methane’s words, “slagged me off in a comic fashion, said I had played a few ‘bum notes’ and then did a bad impression.”

Mr Methane, a self-publicist experienced in blowing his own trumpet, took Frank to task about slagging him off and the result was he ended up on Frank’s TV show the next week, doing a duet of Da Doo Ron Ron, the 1963 Crystals song originally produced by Phil Spector.

Mr Methane appeared with Frank Skinner, but the BBC got windy

Frank appeared with Mr Methane, but the BBC got windy

“Frank was genuinely sorry about what he’d said the previous week and meant no offence,” Mr Methane tells me. “It was just a comedy slag off.”

According to Frank Skinner’s autobiography Phil Spector was not happy about the farted version of Da Doo Ron Ron. Neither was the BBC who got windy – not because of the song but because of the references to farting in the previous week’s show and the amount of complaints it had generated.

The BBC insisted that Frank edited out the Da Doo Ron Ron performance from his show before it was transmitted.

The act was unseen on the Unseen video

Act still unseen on the Unseen video

Later, the farted version of Da Doo Ron Ron was included on a video titled The Unseen Frank Skinner TV Show, but, Mr Methane tells me, “Phil Spector’s music publishers had an injunction put in place and all the videos had to be withdrawn just before Christmas. My section was edited out and a sticker put on sleeve saying This Video Does Not Contain Mr Methane… because most of sleeve artwork was basically press cuttings about our duet being axed from the original show: Beeb Blow Out Musical Bum, etc. All the re-editing delayed the video’s release and Frank missed the Christmas sales boom. No-one was happy.”

In his highly-recommended autobiography, Frank Skinner also talks about the occasion when Phil Spector, while receiving a lifetime music award, went into a rant live on Australian TV about the farted duet of Da Do Ron Ron, saying that Mr Methane and Frank Skinner had taken his work of art and desecrated it.

In 2009, Phil Spector was convicted of murder – shooting actress Lana Clarkson in 2003. He is serving a prison sentence of 19 years to life.

There is a YouTube video of the banned BBC footage which also features Ronnie Verrel (who did the drumming for Animal on The Muppet Show) on drums.

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Television