Conversations with Wilder

Conversations with Wilder


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Conversations with Wilder by Cameron Crowe, Karen Lerner, Cameron Crowe

In Conversations with Wilder, Hollywood's legendary and famously elusive director Billy Wilder agrees for the first time to talk extensively about his life and work.

Here, in an extraordinary book with more than 650 black-and-white photographs — including film posters, stills, grabs, and never-before-seen pictures from Wilder's own collection — the ninety-three-year-old icon talks to Cameron Crowe, one of today's best-known writer-directors, about thirty years at the very heart of Hollywood, and about screenwriting and camera work, set design and stars, his peers and their movies, the studio system and films today. In his distinct voice we hear Wilder's inside view on his collaborations with such stars as Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, William Holden, Audrey Hepburn, and Greta Garbo (he was a writer at MGM during the making of Ninotchka. Here are Wilder's sharp and funny behind-the-scenes stories about the making of A Foreign Affair, Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Love in the Afternoon, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, and Ace in the Hole, among many others. Wilder is ever mysterious, but Crowe gets him to speak candidly on Stanwyck: "She knew the script, everybody's lines, never a fault, never a mistake"; on Cary Grant: "I had Cary Grant in mind for four of my pictures . . . slipped through my net every time"; on the "Lubitsch Touch": "It was the elegant use of the super-joke." Wilder also remembers his early years in Vienna, working as a journalist in Berlin, rooming with Peter Lorre at the Chateau Marmont — always with the same dry wit, tough-minded romanticism, and elegance that are the hallmarks of Wilder's films. This book is a classic of Hollywood history and lore.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375709678
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/25/2001
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 8.04(w) x 9.99(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Cameron Crowe was an associate editor and frequent contributor to Rolling Stone. In 1979, he wrote the book Fast Times at Ridgemont High and later adapted it as a screenplay. He wrote and directed Say Anything, Singles, and the Academy Award-winning Jerry Maguire. He lives in Los Angeles and Seattle.

Read an Excerpt

CAMERON CROWE: You've written women characters so well over the years. You had no sisters. Is there a character who resembles your mother in any of the movies?

BILLY WILDER: No. My mother was different. No, you see, we were not a family of readers, of collectors, of theatergoers. My father was a man who dabbled in many directions. He was an owner of a string of railroad restaurants. In those days we didn't have diners, I am talking about the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. So he had restaurants at various stations, where the trains stopped. The guy came with the bell, "We are staying here for forty-five minutes!" People are stuck there. The menus are all printed already. They ate there.

CC: Did you ever feel the desire to do an autobiographical movie, about your childhood?

BW: No. I graduated from the worst high school in Vienna. The students were either retarded, or they were crazy geniuses, absolutely. And the sad thing was that when I came to Vienna the last time, three years ago, I told the newspaper people, "Please write, anybody who went to school with me, please call me, I am at the Bristol Hotel." Not one called me all day. Five years before that, when I was in Vienna, I had a big lunch, and I told the concierge, "If somebody asks for me, I'm not here. I'm going to bed." Fifteen minutes later, the phone rings, and he says, "I'm very sorry, Mr. Wilder, but there is a man who went to school with you — his name is Martini." And I said, "Martini, of course! Martini! Have him come up!" Then the guy comes there. Bowed forward. Bald-headed. "Hello, Mr. Wilder." And I say, "Martini! Do you remember this guy, this professor? . . . Do you remember these things!?" [Quietly:] And he looks at me and says, "I think you are talking about my father. He died four years ago." He had the son that looked like him. So the guys are gone, you know.

This is ninety years old. If somebody would have come to me when I was twenty, and said, "How would you like to get to be seventy?" I would have said, "You've got a deal! Seventy!" Now I am twenty and a half years older than that, and nobody will make that bet anymore. [Laughs.]

CC: Did you have a sense that you would live a long life?

BW: Not at all. No. I've had so many crazy things happen in my life. But it would not have ended by suicide. It would not have been being caught with somebody's wife, or something like that. This is not my style. I'm too clever for that. I wrote that too often.

CC: It's interesting, because when I first became a director, somebody said to me, "Well, you know, your life expectancy just went down, because the average age of a director is fifty-eight."

BW: Don't tell anybody my age. Shhhhhh.

CC: You think to yourself, I could be a dentist and live twenty years longer.

BW: I believe it. A director — a serious director, not a director of television, or something like that — it eats you inside. You just have to absorb so much. And the thing is that you have to swallow so much shit from people. It's a very, very simple formula. You've got to live with them, once you've started with them. Because if the picture is half-finished, if there's anything wrong, they're gonna throw me out, not one of the actors.

CC: I had that thought when Tom Cruise signed on for Jerry Maguire. My first thought was that if there were a serious problem, I would be gone and he would still be there. I would wake up on a desert island, someone would put a drink with an umbrella in my hand, and I would say, "Excuse me, but wasn't I directing a movie with Tom Cruise yesterday?" [We laugh.]

BW: But that did not happen. He is a thinking actor. He makes it look effortless. For example, Rain Man. It took several years for everyone to realize that the roles could have been switched. That is a movie I would have liked to have seen — the crazy guy is the good-looking one. The ease in which he handles the hardest roles . . . Tom Cruise, he's like Cary Grant. He makes the hard things look simple. On film, Cary Grant could walk into the room and say "Tennis anyone?" like no one else. You don't value the skill until you see a less skilled actor try the same thing. It's pure gold.

Table of Contents

1Jack Lemmon and George Cukor
Final scene of Some Like It Hot
"Cary Grant slipped through my net every time"
On Spielberg and Kubrick
"Mr. Goldwyn knew what was working"
Charles Boyer and the cockroach
Dancing in Berlin
"Laughton was everything that you can dream of, times ten"
The "Lubitsch touch"
Marilyn Monroe
Collaborating with Charles Brackett and I. A. L. Diamond
2William Holden for Sunset Boulevard
Double Indemnity
"You dig?"
Audrey Hepburn
"It was a picture that looked like a newsreel"
"Fritz Lang told me, 'Look for the good shooters'"
The broken compact mirror
Thonet furniture and art direction in The Apartment
Shooting in black-and-white
Dietrich lit herself
On not losing the straight line
3Jean Arthur
A Foreign Affair
"Dietrich would do anything that I wanted her to do"
The look
Ace in the Hole
"You can never predict an audience's reaction"
The Seven Year Itch
Lindbergh and The Spirit of St. Louis
Gary Cooper
"I don't shoot elegant pictures"
Dirty men and Stalag 17
"When I write, I'd like to direct. When I direct, I'd like to write"
4The ghost of Sunset Boulevard hung over Fedora
"I'm a company man"
"There are no rules"
Romantic comedies
"Jack Lemmon was my Everyman"
First love
The Fortune Cookie
Mother at Auschwitz
"I never introduce anybody to an agent"
Jean Renoir and Fellini
"Print number one"
5Picasso and Freud
"Make it true, make it seem true"
Leading men and leading ladies
"You are attracted to something which is on the screen only"
Love in the Afternoon
"I never raise my voice on the second or third take"
Witness for the Prosecution
Charles Laughton
Dean Martin
Some Like It Hot
"I never knew what Marilyn was going to do"
One Two Three
"Overall, audiences are much smarter than what they are getting"
6Fleeing Berlin for Paris after the Reichstag fire
"Mom was a good cook"
Reflection in the monocle
"Capra hit the times right on the head"
Preston Sturges in the Cafe Alexandre
Howard Hawks and Ball of Fire
Barbara Stanwyck dancing "Drum Boogie"
A script on scratch paper
Writing for other directors
Final shot of Ace in the Hole
"I never put much camera direction into the screenplays"
Marx Brothers
Mars and time capsules
7Scoring a film
Shooting at the Hotel del Coronado
Givenchy for Audrey Hepburn
Drag in Some Like It Hot
"We have sold out to the guys making special effects"
Newspapermen in Vienna and Berlin
Ghostwriting for movies
Ginger Rogers
"I always need a plot"
Jazz in Berlin
"I write with the camera, but not too much"
8The Front Page
Pauline Kael
"Famous 'lost sequences'"
Woody Allen
Hiding the plot point
Roommate Peter Lorre at the Chateau Marmont
Five Graves to Cairo
"Pictures were made to play for a week"
The Lost Weekend
John Barrymore
Wilder's women
"I'm at my best writing against my mood"
Working with I. A. L. Diamond
Good sentimentality
9The small movie
Exercising with Billy
Salinger and Catcher in the Rye
Lubitsch and Ninotchka
"We made fifty pictures a year then. But we wrote a hundred and fifty"
"I don't make cinema, I make movies"
Monday Night Football at the Wilders'
"I am mostly a writer"
Timing and casting
"Lubitsch did it better"
The Movies332
Index of Film Titles361
General Index364

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Conversations with Wilder 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is truly the most enjoyable Billy Wilder book I have ever read, for the simple fact that it is in his own witty words. We should be grateful that Cameron Crowe took on this incredible task and assembled these intelligent and entertaining interviews with Billy, the last great cinematic genius of his era.