This isn't the first time I've had to do an obituary after a celebrity's death. But this might be the first where a colleague, or in this case, a former colleague had such rich, personal memories.
Thomas Ubelacker was an audio engineer at Fox 11 but retired recently to a home in Lake Elsinore.
In 1970, he was a young man in Germany, excited to work as a boom man on the set of an American movie with big star, Gene Wilder. By then, Wilder was already well known for his Oscar nominated role in Mel Brooks' comedy, The Producers. But according to Thomas, Wilder never acted the star. He would hang out with the crew between scenes, even if he the camera wasn't on him, he'd read the lines for the child actors to respond to; no stand in.
Thomas remembers that Wilder would ask the crew about the best places to eat and drink near the set. One day, he suggested, Thomas take him to a wine pub. Thomas agreed and drove to Wilder's hotel to pick him up. "I drove to the hotel in my tiny Fiat 700. He folded himself into the front seat. He then told me not to tell anybody who he was. He wanted to stay incognito. He said, he'd rather have people wonder who the guy was with Thomas, not who's the guy with Gene Wilder.
Thomas remembers Wilder to be always on time, always ready and always friendly.
He regrets not keeping in touch with the actor who went on to do such iconic comedies as Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles as well as the films where he paired up with Richard Pryor. Remember Silver Streak and Stir Crazy?
He also paired with Saturday Night Live alum, Gilda Radner. The two met on the set of Hanky Panky and later married and starred in two other films together. She later died of ovarian cancer.
The managing editor of The Wrap. Thom Geier says, there is really no modern entertainer that compares to Wilder. He not only acted, but he was also a writer and director. Perhaps, the closes might be Seth McFarlane, Geier told me, but then said, Wilder had a sweetness and a humanity to his performances that set him apart.
Lots of celebrities and fans are tweeting their sentiments about Wilder. Arguably the best, came from Cloris Leachman, who co-starred in Young Frankestein. She released this statement.
'Gene was in a class by himself. I looked up to him, yet on the set he was just one of us. I remember when we were shooting Young Frankenstein, there was a scene where I had to get the group up the stairs immediately. I had to say, "Shtay close to zee candles" and turn toward him. As I turned around I could see his face was in two pieces. We had to do our scenes 14 times opver because he'd be laughing so hard. Alas... Alas... So dear Gene I will say, Goodnight. '
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