A maker of film miracles, writer-director Billy Wilder was born Samuel Wilder (1906-2002) on this day in the small town of Sucha, Austria and nicknamed after wild west hero Buffalo Bill.
"You have to have a dream so you can get up in the morning," he once said.
Wilder fled Nazi Germany in 1934 and arrived in Hollywood with no money, but a heart full of dreams. He learned how to speak English by listening to baseball games on the radio and going to movies.
At first a successful screenwriter with collaborator Charles Brackett, Wilder directed his first film The Major and the Minor in 1942. He followed that with the film noir thriller Double Indemnity (by Raymond Chandler, 1944).
"Making movies is a little like walking into a dark room," he explained. "Some people stumble across furniture, others break their legs, but some of us see better in the dark than others."
Famous for teaming Jack Lemmon with Walter Matthau, Wilder was nominated for 21 Academy Awards and won six: two for writing and directing The Lost Weekend (1945), one for writing Sunset Boulevard (1950), and three for producing, writing and directing The Apartment (w/Jack Lemmon, 1960).
"Hindsight is always twenty-twenty," said Wilder. His remarkably creative film legacy also included what has been called the greatest American film comedy, Some Like It Hot (w/Marilyn Monroe, 1959) and the brilliant Sabrina (w/Audrey Hepburn, 1954).
Actors loved working with him. "I thought Billy Wilder was a god," recalled actor Matthau. And directors learned from him. "His movies are a worldwide language of love, intelligence, and sparkling wit," praised director Cameron Crowe. "To any fan of film or any student of how a great life is lived, all roads lead to Billy Wilder."
Wilder was a master at witty one-liners who defined an associate producer as "the only guy who will associate with a producer." The great filmmaker once admitted, "I just made pictures I would've liked to see."
More Film-Making Quotations
Believe in miracles.