Born in Poland, Billy Wilder (1906-2002) arrived in Hollywood in 1933 as a young screenwriter. His initial success was the comedy “Ninotchka,” which starred Greta Garbo, resulting in the first of 20 Academy Award nominations for Wilder. While continuing to write, Wilder began directing as well, helping establish Hollywood film noir in “Double Indemnity”(1944), and overseeing the first major motion picture to examine the subject of alcoholism, “The Lost Weekend” (1945), Wilder won Oscars for both Best Director and Best Screen Play for “The Lost Weekend.”. By the 1950’s, Billy Wilder had hit his stride, writing and or directing many all time classics, including “Sunset Boulevard”(1950), “Stalag 17” (1953), and “Sabrina” (1954). Although his 1959 comedy, “Some Like It Hot” is considered by many as his masterpiece, it was 1960’s “The Apartment” where Wilder enjoyed his greatest success, winning Academy Awards in three categories: Best Director, Best Writing, and Best Picture. Regrettably, one picture that Wilder did not get the chance to make was a movie titled “A Day at the U.N.” that would have reunited the Marx Brothers, but the project was scrapped when Chico Marx died in 1961.
Billy Wilder’s legacy is his innovation and versatility, as well as his role in broadening the range of subjects that could be considered material for major motion pictures .The American Film Institute lists five of his films their 100 funniest American Films, with “Some Like It Hot” holding the top spot. Four Wilder efforts can be found in AFI’s top 100 American films of the 20th century, with “Sunset Boulevard” coming in at number 12 .In 1987, Wilder received his seventh and final Oscar, when the Motion Picture Academy awarded him with the Irving G Thalberg Memorial Award.
Notes: Billy Wilder died the same day, March 27th, 2002, as Milton Berle and Dudley Moore. Wilder’s tombstone, borrowing a line from “Some Like It Hot,” says “I’m A Writer, But Then, Nobody’s Perfect.”