Cover image for Conversations with Wilder
Conversations with Wilder
Wilder, Billy, 1906-2002.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1999.
Physical Description:
xix, 373 pages : illustrations ; 27 cm
General Note:
Includes indexes.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN1998.3.W56 A5 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PN1998.3.W56 A5 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize
PN1998.3.W56 A5 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize

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"In Conversations with Wilder, Hollywood's legendary director Billy Wilder agrees for the first time to talk extensively about his life and work." "Here, in a 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 insider 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."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Author Notes

Cameron Crowe is the writer-director of "Say Anything..." & "Singles". His latest film is "Almost Famous", the screenplay of which is also available from Faber.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

For Crowe, Billy Wilder is "the greatest living writer-director." And Crowe came to interview Wilder as a fledgling anxious to head out beyond the horizon and toward the sun. He had been an associate editor at Rolling Stone, had written the novel Fast Times at Ridgemont High (and subsequently adapted it for film), and had gone on to write and direct Say Anything, Singles, and Jerry Maguire. But he's no Billy Wilder. Not yet. So, like Trauffaut approached and canonized Hitchcock, Crowe sought out Wilder. It started out as a magazine interview, which was the only way Crowe could gain access, because Wilder had not been pleased with other books written about him. Crowe interweaves this subterfuge with the interview, narrating their times together outside the interview arrangement. Finally, after much tape (enough to fill half a book), Wilder confronts Crowe, who haltingly pleads his case. When he confesses to "selfishly" wanting "to create the book" that he wanted to read, his wildest dream comes true--Wilder becomes his collaborator. It's a poignant moment. Crowe's filmic sensibilities are very sharp, so one is never disappointed with his inquisition. He inquires about those visual memories (the dead soldiers on the tanks, rolling across the desert in Five Graves to Cairo, or the famous shot of the unscrupulous reporter in Ace in the Hole falling dead into a low-angle close-up) and into the crackling, so-called cynical dialogue (the rich guy's response after discovering the woman he's fallen in love with is a man--"Nobody's perfect") that are legendary and that, most important, reestablish interest in Wilder's films. Whether Crowe can now rise to that pantheon of all-time great writer-directors, who can say; but he has captured his passion for Wilder in this remarkable book. There are more than 400 photographs illustrating these conversations, taken from the films, from the making of the films, from Wilder's life outside the films--it's like viewing a great documentary. --Bonnie Smothers



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. Excerpted from Conversations with Wilder by Cameron Crowe All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. xi
Jack 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
William 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
Jean 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"
The 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"
Picasso 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"
Fleeing 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
Scoring 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"
The 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 Barry-more
Wilder's women
"I'm at my best writing against my mood"
Working with I. A. L. Diamond
Good sentimentality
The 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 Moviesp. 332
Miscellanyp. 355
Index of Film Titlesp. 361
General Indexp. 364