circa 1965:  Austrian-Hungarian-born director Billy Wilder (1906 - 2002) smiles while sitting in front of a cameraman on one of his film sets. The cameraman looks through the viewfinder on a Panavision motion picture camera.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Movies - TV
The Studio’s Plan To Rein In Billy Wilder Backfired Completely
Before Hollywood
Billy Wilder was born to a Jewish family in what is now Poland before moving to Berlin, and while he started in journalism, he quickly transitioned to movies, writing 14 different movies in the German film industry. To escape Germany’s growing antisemitism, Wilder moved to Paris in the 1930s, where he had his directorial debut with 1934’s “Mauvaise Graine.”
To escape the Nazis, Wilder fled to the States, and he quickly began writing movies at Fox and then Paramount, where he met his future co-writer, Charles Brackett. Although just a writer, Wilder would show up on set, earning him the nickname “’The Terror” because as the crew said, “’…he’s always raising hell, he wants everything done his way.’”
While many producers and executives were annoyed by Wilder's incessant notes, Arthur Hornblow Jr, who had produced two films written by Wilder and Bracket, enjoyed Wilder’s perspective. Hornblow gave Wilder the chance to direct “The Major and the Minor,” and while other executives thought Wilder would fail, the movie was a financial and critical success.
Best Picture
Having established himself as a brilliant writer and director, Wilder’s sophomore film, “Double Indemnity,” was an even greater success. The movie is one of the best examples of film noir and earned seven Academy Award nominations. Wilder’s third film, “The Lost Weekend” continued the successful streak with seven Oscar nominations and four wins.
The 1950s
After winning Best Picture, Wilder dominated the 50s. He started off with “Sunset Blvd.” another film noir masterpiece, and followed it up with “Ace in the Hole,” before ending the decade with “Witness for the Prosecution” which was nominated for six Oscars, and “Some Like It Hot,” which many people consider the greatest comedy ever made.
One of the Greats
Wilder made movies filled with tremendous wit, never took the audience for granted, and always tried to push boundaries wherever he could. Transitioning from “The Terror” to one of the greatest filmmakers ever was no easy feat, but his passionate refusal to accept anything but what he wanted eventually paid off, and cinema is much the better for it.