Billy Wilder

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Billy Wilder (born June 22, 1906 as Samuel Wilder in Sucha , Galicia , Austria-Hungary , † March 27, 2002 in Los Angeles , California ) was an American screenwriter , film director and film producer of Austrian origin.

Wilder shaped the style of the film comedy and drama genres and created as a director and screenwriter of comedies such as Some Like It Hot , One, Two, Three and The Girl Irma la Douce , but also of dramatic films such as The Lost Weekend , Woman Without a Conscience , Sunset Boulevard or Witness for the Prosecution Films of timeless relevance. His work includes more than 60 films that have been made over a period of over 50 years. As a writer, producer and director, he has been nominated 21 times for an Oscar and has received six awards. At the Academy Awards in 1961 alone , he received three awards as producer, screenwriter and director for the film Das Appartement , which only seven directors have achieved to date.

life and work


Wilder lived here as a teenager ( Fleischmarkt 7 , 1010 Vienna)

Samuel Wilder was the son of Jewish parents. His father Max Wilder ran the “City” hotel in Kraków as well as several train station restaurants in the area. The mother always called the son "Billie". Samuel therefore called himself "Billie Wilder" (pronounced German); in the USA he changed the spelling to "Billy".

In the middle of World War I , the family moved to Vienna in 1916 for fear of the approaching Russian army . In his youth he was close friends there with the later Hollywood director Fred Zinnemann , with whom he sometimes went to the same class (Juranek private high school in the 8th district ) and with whom he stayed in contact throughout his life. After graduating from high school , he worked as a reporter for the Viennese tabloid Die Hour . When he interviewed jazz musician Paul Whiteman in 1926 , he was so enthusiastic about him that he invited him to come to Berlin to show him the city. A week later, it turned out that the hour was blackmailing Viennese business people and celebrities with the threat of publishing unfavorable articles about them. The matter turned into the biggest media scandal of the First Republic in Austria and Wilder decided to stay in Berlin and work for another newspaper.

In Berlin

Memorial plaque on house number 11 on Viktoria-Luise-Platz , Wilder's first place of residence in Berlin

Wilder lived in Berlin-Schöneberg ( Viktoria-Luise-Platz 11) in 1927 to sublet: “One and a half years. A tiny room with somber wallpaper. Wall to wall with a constantly rushing toilet. ”This is also where his film career began when the director of a film company, Maxim Galitzenstein , had to flee from the neighbor's bedroom in Wilder's room in underpants and could therefore not avoid buying his first screenplay.

As a ghostwriter for well-known scriptwriters such as Robert Liebmann and Franz Schulz , Wilder was able to tap an additional source of income in addition to his work as a reporter. He contributed to the classic film Menschen am Sonntag (with Curt Siodmak , Robert Siodmak , Fred Zinnemann and Edgar G. Ulmer, among others ). In 1931, together with Erich Kästner , he wrote the screenplay for Emil und die Detektiven , the first film adaptation of Kästner's novel - back then as "Billie Wilder".

Emigration and work in the USA

Immediately after the seizure of power of the Nazis moved Wilder in 1933 to Paris , where he joined as a ghostwriter earned for French writers a living. Here he also directed his first film, Mauvaise graine , with Danielle Darrieux . In 1934 he was given a visitor's visa by Joe May to enter the United States. He now called himself "Billy", was signed by Paramount Pictures in 1936 and wrote the scripts for comedies such as Ninotschka , directed by his idol Ernst Lubitsch , and Reveal at Midnight, both of which were released in 1939. In 1942 Wilder directed the comedy The Major and the Girl with Ginger Rogers for the first time in Hollywood, as he was dissatisfied with the constant changes to his scripts and wanted to take the reins in hand. His second film Five Graves to Cairo with Franchot Tone served as a propaganda film against the Nazi regime in 1943 during World War II . In the following year he directed an important classic of film noir with Frau ohne Conscience , which shows Barbara Stanwyck as femme fatale . The film received seven Oscar nominations, including one for Wilder in the categories of Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay .

In 1945 Wilder received the order from the US Army Signal Corps to use the extensive material available from the American and British military and the like. a. condensing into a short film about the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp . It became the only documentary under his supervision, The Death Mills . Despite all the personal dismay - his closest relatives had been murdered in the Holocaust - he did not want a “horror film” because he immediately recognized: “Objectively speaking: as unsympathetic as the Germans may be, they are - and now I am quoting the good uncle word for word in Washington - our logical allies of tomorrow. "

After his nominations for Woman Without a Conscience , he received an Oscar for the film The Lost Weekend in 1946 as a director and as a screenwriter . The drama about an unsuccessful writer ( Ray Milland ) dealt with the problems of an alcoholic in an unusually realistic manner. Shortly thereafter, Wilder came to Germany on behalf of the American government with the rank of Colonel and directed the film A Foreign Affair with Jean Arthur and Marlene Dietrich in the main roles in war-torn Berlin in 1947/48 , which critically dealt with the Nazi past in occupied Germany . In the same year he also directed the musical I kiss your hand, Madame with Bing Crosby .

After 1950, Wilder was mostly involved in his films as a producer. He created classics like Twilight Boulevard (1950), with Gloria Swanson as the deluded ex-diva, The 7th year itch (1955) and Some Like It Hot (1959), both with Marilyn Monroe , witness for the prosecution (1958), with again Marlene Dietrich, as well as Das Appartement (1960) and Das Mädchen Irma la Douce (1963), both with Shirley MacLaine , and the comedy Eins, Zwei, Drei (1961) with James Cagney , Liselotte Pulver and Horst Buchholz in the leading roles. A film project planned in 1960 with the Marx Brothers , the anti-war satire A Day At The United Nations , ultimately did not materialize because of Chico Marx's poor health .

Billy Wilder's on-screen alter ego embodied Jack Lemmon and William Holden . While Holden was mainly active in dramatic works such as Boulevard der Twilight, Stalag 17 or Fedora , Lemmon was seen in comedies such as Some Like It Hot, The Girl Irma la Douce, The Lucky Boy and Extrablatt .

Wilder's later works could no longer build on the successes of his heyday. From the mid-1980s he limited himself to consulting activities for United Artists . Wilder, whose family perished in the Holocaust (see also private life ), was originally discussed as a director for Schindler's List . Due to his old age, however, Steven Spielberg himself took over the direction. Wilder was deeply touched by Spielberg's work and let him know in a letter, which Spielberg described in his reply as a great respect from the old master.

Billy Wilder 1989 in Berlin

In 1999 Billy Wilder took over the patronage of the Bonn-based " Billy Wilder Institute of Film and Television Studies oHG", which had to be closed in 2002 shortly before his death.

Billy Wilder died on March 27, 2002 in Los Angeles at the age of 95 of complications from pneumonia . He had been struggling with health problems for a long time but was still giving interviews. His grave is in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery .

In 2008, a street in Vienna's 3rd district was named after him (Billy-Wilder-Strasse).

Private life

Billy Wilder's tombstone

Wilder was married to Judith Coppicus-Iribe from 1936 to 1947. They had a daughter, Victoria (* 1939). In 1949 Wilder married the actress and singer Audrey Young (1922–2012).

In 1989 Wilder, who had mainly collected Picasso and European Impressionists, auctioned his extensive collection of paintings. The proceeds were 32.6 million US dollars.

His mother Gitla died in Plaszow concentration camp in 1943 , his stepfather Bernhard (Berl) Siedlisker was murdered in Belzec concentration camp .

Name pronunciation

Billy Wilder is known as Weilder . However, Wolfgang Glück reported that Wilder made himself known to him as Wilder in 1987 and always pronounced his name in this form.

Director style

The screenwriter as a director

“Is it necessary for a director to be able to write well?
No, but it helps if he can read! "

- Billy Wilder

When he had already written numerous scripts and was often annoyed about the implementation, Wilder decided to take over the direction of the realization of his scripts himself. The idea came to him when Charles Boyer refused to have a dialogue with a cockroach while filming The Golden Gate , as Wilder had intended in the script, and director Mitchell Leisen then rejected Wilder's protests. The scene was particularly important to him because he had processed memories of his own situation when he had to wait in Mexicali on the American-Mexican border in 1934 to be allowed to re-enter the United States in order to finally obtain American citizenship . In one of his later films, Wilder took up the motif in a modified form when he and James Stewart in Lindbergh - Mein Flug über den Ozean (1957) had the famous pilot talk to a fly that happened to be in the cockpit during his flight over the Atlantic.

Before that, Preston Sturges was the first screenwriter to switch to directing and to break through the strict " box thinking " of old Hollywood . Preston Sturges sold his screenplay for The Great McGinty to Paramount Pictures for ten dollars on condition that he could film it himself. The film became a box office hit.

Wilder's directorial style is shaped by his origins in the writing subject; He believed like no other in the power and importance of the script. Like Hitchcock , he didn't allow any changes to be made during filming. He turned down camera shots that were too extravagant because they could distract the audience from the action. Only when the audience is no longer aware that a camera team is present does the magic of a good film arise. Still, the composition of the picture was very important to him. In Das Appartement he cleverly exploited the cinemascope widescreen format , for example to portray the loneliness of his protagonist on film. He loved black and white film and still used it long after color film was standard. He has shot his most successful films in black and white.

Wilder liked to use the so-called "narration", i.e. the voice of one of the film heroes who commented on the plot from the off, mostly to introduce the plot of a film or to drive it forward. For example in Woman Without a Conscience , in Boulevard of Twilight , in Stalag 17 , in The Apartment , in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes , or in Fedora . According to Wilder, it is important that the voice does not tell something that the viewer can already see, but that it conveys additional information to the viewer.


In Volker Schlöndorff's TV documentary Billy Wilder, how did you do it? Wilder explained some of his principles to be followed in filmmaking; for example, when close-ups should not be taken. An actor who tries to portray a sudden realization, an inspiration, always looks stupid (“looks stupid”). The close-up of the face of a person who is currently receiving a death notice is also inappropriate. There are two important elements of a good script, the construction of a story and the dialogue. Agatha Christie was an excellent constructor of stories, but was rather weak in her dialogues. Raymond Chandler, on the other hand, was able to write very good dialogues, but had no idea of ​​the construction of a story. Wilder considered Ernst Lubitsch , for whom he wrote several scripts ( Ninotchka ), as his role model . In his office there was a sign that read: “How would Lubitsch have done it?” (How would Lubitsch have done it?)

"There are three important rules in filmmaking:
you shouldn't be bored,
you shouldn't be bored,
and you shouldn't be bored!"

- Billy Wilder


In terms of structure, Billy Wilder preferred to build the plot into three acts from classic theater plays. Wilder laid out his three-acts in such a way that the main actors had to make a moral decision at the end of the third act.

Wilder's films are characterized by a tight plot and lively, catchy dialogues. In his actions, he often succeeded in breaking through the boundaries of entertainment films and realizing slippery details or topics that were considered offensive in his films in order to hold the moral mirror in front of the bigoted society's nose. He used a sophisticated symbolic language and supposedly harmless formulations to dupe the Hays Office , the censorship office of the American film industry. He themed in his first directing a love affair of an adult with a (supposedly) minors, which especially in the pun of the original title The Major and the Minor ( The Major and the Minor ) became clear. He let men play in women's clothes ( some like it hot ) and thus created the basis to accommodate a wealth of suggestive and subtle allusions. Adultery appears in numerous variations in his films, as well as prostitution and homosexuality.

His protagonists are not radiant moral heroes, but rather average people with mistakes and weaknesses who, however, outgrow themselves due to special challenges in certain situations.


Wilder used certain set pieces from his films several times.

For example

  • the motif of gypsy music for romantic purposes in
  • the line of dialogue "I wish I were in hell with my back broken" in the original English versions of
  • the saying "Good night, Charlie" in
    • Some like it hot
    • One two Three

Filmography (selection)

Scriptwriter only

(until 1936 under the name "Billie Wilder")

Writer and director



Wilder's star on the Boulevard der Stars in Berlin
Films in the top 250 of the IMDb
space Movie
54 Twilight Boulevard
66 Witness for the prosecution
86 Woman without a conscience
107 The apartment
118 Some like it hot

Academy Awards

Golden Globes

Writers Guild of America

  • 1951: WGA Award (Screen) for the best-written American drama Boulevard of the Twilight (1950), with Charles Brackett and DM Marshman Jr.
  • 1955: WGA Award (Screen) for the best-written American comedy Sabrina (1955), with Samuel A. Taylor and Ernest Lehman
  • 1958: WGA Award (Screen) for the best-written American comedy Ariane - Love in the Afternoon (1957), together with IAL Diamond
  • 1960: WGA Award (Screen) for Best-Written American Comedy Some Like It Hot (1959), together with IAL Diamond
  • 1961: WGA Award (Screen) for the best-written American comedy The Apartment (1960), together with IAL Diamond

Directors Guild of America

  • 1961: DGA Award for excellent directorial work in Das Appartement (1960), together with Hal W. Polaire (assistant director)

Cannes Film Festival 1946

Laurel Awards

  • 1963: Golden Laurel for the top producer / director

PGA Golden Laurel Awards

  • 2000: PGA Hall of Fame - Movies for Some Like It Hot (1959)

British Academy Film Award

Blue Ribbon Award

  • 1951: Blue Ribbon Award for the best (foreign) film Boulevard of the Twilight (1950)


  • 1951: Bodil for the best (American) film Boulevard of the Twilight (1950)

Boulevard of the Stars

David di Donatello

  • 1975: David di Donatello for Best Director in Extra Sheet (1974)

German film award

  • 1973: Filmband in gold for many years of outstanding work in German film
  • 1997: Honorary award to a foreign personality for outstanding achievements in the field of film (complete works)

European film award

  • 1992: Felix for life's work

Berlin International Film Festival

Fotogramas de Plata

  • 1982: Fotogramas de Plata for the best (foreign) film Fedora (1982),

with Atlantic City (1980)

Sindacato Nazionale Giornalisti Cinematografici Italiani

  • 1951: Nastro d'Argento for best director (foreign film) in Twilight Boulevard (1950)

Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award

  • 1994: Career Achievement Award

Venice Film Festival

American Film Institute

Walk of Fame

  • (Year unknown) Star on the Walk of Fame, 1751 Vine Street

Further awards and honors


To mark the 60th anniversary of the Vienna Film Academy , Rudolf John donated the “Billy Wilder Award”, which is presented by the Film Academy.

In 2003 the Austrian Post issued a special postage stamp in his honor.

From 2000 to 2016 there was a bar called “Billy Wilder's” right next to the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin's Sony Center .

Furthermore, in the Berlin district of Steglitz-Zehlendorf, a street named "Billy-Wilder-Promenade" was named after him.

Writings and Conversations

Literature (selection)

  • Charlotte Chandler : Nobody's Perfect. Billy Wilder. A Personal Biography. Pocket Books, London a. a. 2003, ISBN 0-7434-6098-7 .
  • Cameron Crowe : Was it fun Mr. Wilder? : Conversations with Billy Wilder , Kampa Verlag, Zurich, 2019, ISBN 978-3-311-14008-5 .
  • Gerd Gemünden: Filmmaker with an accent. Billy Wilder in Hollywood. Synema, Vienna 2006, ISBN 3-901644-20-2 .
  • Michael Hanisch: Billy Wilder (1906-2002). From Galicia to Beverly Hills (= Jewish miniatures. Volume 18). New Synagogue Foundation Berlin, Centrum Judaicum . Hentrich and Hentrich, Teetz 2004, ISBN 3-933471-72-9 .
  • Glenn Hopp: Billy Wilder. Films with Esprit 1906–2002. Taschen, Cologne 2003, ISBN 3-8228-1685-X .
  • Andreas Hutter , Klaus Kamolz: Billie Wilder. A European career. Böhlau, Vienna a. a. 1998, ISBN 3-205-98868-X .
  • Hellmuth Karasek : Billy Wilder. A close up. Updated and expanded new edition. Hoffmann and Campe, Hamburg 2006, ISBN 978-3-455-09553-1 .
  • Michaela Naumann: Billy Wilder - behind the mask of comedy. The critical handling of the cultural self-image of American identity (= Marburg writings on media research. Volume 22). Schüren, Marburg 2010, ISBN 978-3-89472-724-6 (dissertation, University of Marburg, 2011).
  • Claudius Seidl : Billy Wilder. His films, his life. Heyne, Munich 1988, ISBN 3-453-00657-7 .
  • Ed Sikov: On Sunset Boulevard. The Life and Times of Billy Wilder . University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2017, ISBN 978-1-4968-1268-1 .
  • Neil Sinyard, Adrian Turner: Billy Wilder's Films. Spiess, Berlin 1980, ISBN 3-89166-327-7 .
  • Kay Less : 'In life, more is taken from you than given ...'. Lexicon of filmmakers who emigrated from Germany and Austria between 1933 and 1945. A general overview. P. 537 ff., ACABUS-Verlag, Hamburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-86282-049-8
  • Maurice Zolotow: Billy Wilder in Hollywood. WH Allen, London 1977.

Web links

Commons : Billy Wilder  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. the others are Leo McCarey , Francis Ford Coppola , James L. Brooks , Peter Jackson and the brothers Joel and Ethan Coen
  2. ^ A b Susanne Marschall: Billy Wilder 1906-2002 . In: Thomas Koebner (Ed.): Film directors . 3rd, updated and expanded edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-15-010662-4 , pp. 827 .
  3. Hellmuth Karasek: Billy Wilder. A close up. Updated and expanded new edition. Hoffmann and Campe, Hamburg 2006, ISBN 3-455-09553-4 , p. 17.
  4. Hellmuth Karasek: Billy Wilder. A close up. P. 68.
  5. Death Mills (death mills) (1945). Movie. In: Internet Archive . Retrieved January 29, 2015.
  6. In the original: "Viewed objectively, as unsympathetic as these Germans may be, they are nevertheless - and now I quote word for word the good uncle in Washington - our logical allies of tomorrow." In: David Bathrick: Billy Wilder's Cold War Berlin (PDF; 922 kB). In: New German Critique. Vol. 110, 2010, pp. 31-47, here p. 34.
  7. See: Billy Wilder: Propaganda through entertainment. April 16, 1945. In: Brewster S. Chamberlin: Culture on Ruins. Berlin reports of the American Information Control Section, July – December 1945. Stuttgart 1979, p. 99 ff. Wilder formulated in it his view of the necessity of the entertaining propaganda and derived the idea of ​​“An Foreign Affair” from everyday observations.
  8. a b Cameron Crowe: Was it fun, Mr. Wilder? Diana, 2000, ISBN 3-8284-5031-8 .
  9. Andreas Hutter, Heinz Peters: Gitla was not on Schindler's list. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung , October 6, 2011.
  10. Michael Omasta, Michael Pekler: "Halt Heimatfilme und Pornokrimis", Interview with Wolfgang Glück in the weekly newspaper Falter , Vienna, No. 9, February 26, 2014, p. 30 f.
  11. Glenn Hopp: Billy Wilder. All films. Taschen, Cologne 2003, ISBN 3-8228-1685-X .
  12. DVD Volker Schlöndorff: Billy Wilder speaks . Kino International, 7-38329-04972-0.
  13. The Top 250 of the IMDb (as of January 24, 2018)
  14. ^ Writers Guild Awards Winners: 1995-1949. Retrieved June 30, 2020 . , at
  15. ^ Billy Wilder, Awards in the Vienna History Wiki of the City of Vienna
  16. Honorary Members: Billy Wilder. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed March 3, 2019 .
  17. of March 29, 2002: Director Billy Wilder died at the age of 95 (accessed on July 26, 2017)
  18. Award of the Federal Cross of Merit: Billy Wilder didn't think it was funny Spiegel online from March 11, 2000 (accessed on July 26, 2017)
  19. Billy Wilder Award & Wiener Filmmusikpreis awarded ( Memento from February 17, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 589 kB). In: filmbiz 10/2011.
  20. Entry on Billy Wilder in the Austria Forum  (as a stamp illustration) accessed on February 16, 2013.
  21. "Marilyn Monroe was an endless puzzle without any solution," said the great Billy Wilder in an interview with Cameron Crowe , on, accessed on September 21, 2019