With the death last week of Billy Wilder at the age of 95,the world lost one its greatest ever film-makers, a brilliant screenwriter andendlessly innovative director who created some of Hollywood's finestfilms.
The director of Sunset Boulevard (1950),The Lost Weekend (1945), DoubleIndemnity (1944), Some Like ItHot (1959) and The Apartment (1960) was born in 1906 in Vienna, Austria. He startedhis career as a reporter for the city newspaper, later moving to Berlin for atabloid and spending his spare time as a taxi-dancer and would-be screenwriter.He got his break working with Robert Siodmak on People On Sunday in 1929 andsubsequently wrote the scripts for numerous German films but he fled to Parisin 1933 when Hitler came to power and to the US the following year.
On arriving in Hollywood, Wilder moved in with Peter Lorreand struggled to learn English and scrape together a living as a screenwriter.In 1938, he teamed with Charles Brackett and wrote some sparkling comedyscripts such as Ernst Lubitsch's Ninotchka and Howard Hawks' BallOf Fire; in 1942, Wilder started directinghis first film Five Graves To Cairo,followed by Double Indemnity and TheLost Weekend which won the Academy Awardfor best picture in 1945 and Wilder his first best director Oscar. Brackettproduced and co-wrote all these films as well as The Emperor Waltz (1948), A Foreign Affair (1948) and the legendary Sunset Boulevard (1950). Wilder and Brackett won screenwriting Oscarsfor The Lost Weekend and SunsetBoulevard.
Breaking up from Brackett, Wilder continued to build hisextraordinary body of work in the 1950s with Ace In The Hole (1951), Stalag 17 (1953), Sabrina (1954), The Seven Year Itch(1955), The Spirit Of St Louis(1957), Love In The Afternoon(1957), Witness For The Prosecution(1958) and the perennially popular Some Like It Hot (1959). In these films, he worked with most of thestars in the Hollywood galaxy from Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn to CharlesLaughton and Marlene Dietrich, Kirk Douglas, Humphrey Bogart and William Holdento Gary Cooper, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis.
In 1960, he became the only man to win three Oscars in onenight for writing, producing and directing The Apartment starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine.
Since The Apartment, Wilder never reached the same dizzyheights despite some critical and popular hits such as James Cagney-starrer OneTwo Three (1961), Irma La Douce (1963) reteaming Lemmon and Maclaine, KissMe Stupid (1964) with Dean Martin and KimNovak, The Fortune Cookie (1966)with Lemmon and Walter Matthau and The Private Life Of SherlockHolmes (1970) with Robert Stephens. Hislast film was Buddy Buddy in 1981again teaming Lemmon and Matthau.
The stinging cynicism, spot-on satire and oftenbittersweet comedy which infused his later films marked out Wilder as a uniquevoice working comfortably within the Hollywood system, and while he was unableto get a movie made in the last twenty years, his legacy was refreshed by thepopular book Conversations With Wilder by Cameron Crowe, the director of JerryMaguire and Almost Famous who idolizes Wilder as his inspiration.