- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

LOS ANGELES (AP) Oscar-winning filmmaker Billy Wilder, the Austrian-born cynic whose gifts for writing and directing led to such classics as "Sunset Boulevard," "Some Like It Hot" and "Double Indemnity," has died, a family friend said yesterday.

He was 95.

Mr. Wilder died Wednesday night at his home, said George Schlatter, a producer and longtime friend. Mr. Schlatter said his friend of 40 years had been in failing health in recent months and he believed Mr. Wilder had been suffering from a bout with pneumonia.

"We've lost a biggie," said Mr. Schlatter, producer of the 1960s comedy show "Laugh In." "I met him when I was just a kid, you know. And I was a fan all that time."

As co-writer, director and producer of the 1960 film "The Apartment," Mr. Wilder collected three Oscars, the first person to do so for one film.

Mr. Wilder was also noted as one of Hollywood's best wits. He once remarked of postwar France: "It's a country where you can't tear the toilet paper, but the currency crumbles in your hands."

His films were notable for their clever dialogue and an overlay of cynicism and betrayal. William Holden said Mr. Wilder had "a mind full of razor blades."

He was born Samuel Wilder on June 22, 1906, in the small town of Sucha, 100 miles east of Vienna, Austria. After short stints at the University of Vienna and working as a journalist, he broke into the movies when he was hired to write a semidocumentary, "People on Sunday," in 1929.

Mr. Wilder's screenwriting career flourished until 1933, when Adolf Hitler captured power in Germany. Mr. Wilder, a Jew, fled to Paris; his mother, grandmother and stepfather died at Auschwitz.

A first marriage to a California socialite ended in 1947 after nine years; they had a daughter, Victoria. In 1949, Mr. Wilder married a former starlet and band singer, Audrey Young.

Mr. Wilder came to Hollywood in 1934 knowing 100 words of English. His fortunes turned in 1938 when he first teamed as a scriptwriter with Charles Brackett, a polished, erudite member of New York's literary establishment.

Mr. Wilder began directing in 1942 at a time when writers rarely were allowed to direct their own scripts. He made "The Major and the Minor," a comedy with Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland. With "Double Indemnity" and "The Lost Weekend," he became a major director as well as writer; copping Oscar nominations in both categories for both films, with "The Lost Weekend" winning.

After directing Marilyn Monroe in two of her most-popular comedies, "The Seven Year Itch" and "Some Like It Hot," Mr. Wilder said he would never again direct the chronically tardy star.

"I have discussed this with my doctor and my psychiatrist and my accountant, and they tell me I am too old and too rich to go through this again," he said.

The Wilder career peaked with his triple Oscar win for "The Apartment," in which Jack Lemmon played an underling who lends his apartment to company executives for trysts with secretaries. Shirley MacLaine was the romantic victim of a lying boss, Fred MacMurray.

Mr. Wilder continued making films for 20 years, but only achieved limited commercial and critical success with such films as "Irma La Douce," "One, Two, Three," "The Fortune Cookie" and "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes."

His last film was "Buddy Buddy" in 1981 with Mr. Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

In his late years, Mr. Wilder was laden with honors, including the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award in 1988.

When the institute did a survey to pick the 100 best American movies of all time in 1998, four directed by Mr. Wilder made the list; when it picked the 100 funniest American movies in 2000, "Some Like It Hot" was No. 1.


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