One measure of personal power or authority is whether you can control the pace of intercourse with another person. Gene Wilder on British TV show This Morning today exemplified this very well. Normally hosts Fern Brittan and Phillip Schofield shoo the chat along like a couple of snappy sheep dogs – Jeremy Paxman and his political ilk do this more overtly with constant interruptions, rapid speaking and looking away at a laptop while the victim struggles to catch breath.
Not with Gene Wilder. The Hollywood comic legend, here to promote his debut novel at age 73, The French Whore: A Love Story, sat on the cosy sofa like a slim-line Buddha: his still aura anaesthetised his interrogators (they’d say “awed”), his face gave nothing away, offered no reassurance, he paused before giving long, slow answers, he repeated the gist of questions to clarify a point in his mind, he was slyly humorous – the more so to keep his hosts on edge: they might miss something! This was a master-class in control of atmospherics: it should be put out on DVD to nattery politicians who trade their authority away by trying to keep up with studio pace.
As to Wilder himself, well, he looks a fit 73, nothing younger. He told some good stories. He admitted to a lively row with Mel Brooks over the latter’s plans to make the stage musical version of Young Frankenstein (they co-wrote the award-winning movie): Wilder opposed. But then he relented – “I just want Mel to be happy,” he said. “He’s not going to make another movie, his wife [Anne Bancroft] has died, … I wanted him to be happy. Now he phones every week to sing bits of his new songs for Frankenstein. The show could be a success, or it could not be.”
Isn’t that great? Summary: He only gave in for Mel’s sake as an act of charity: The songs – oh, God, he listens because Mel insists on calling: The show will be a hit? - well, that's uncertain. So Wilder has positioned himself perfectly for a turkey while advertising Mel’s need to do something with his spare time. Nothing gainsaid. Nothing lost. Gene wins both ways - either he's generous or prescient.
He was asked why he doesn’t do more movies. “I hate modern movies,” he said. “There’s the f-word in every sentence, toilet humour, special effects, explosions; not for me. Showbiz is everywhere now, that’s why I live in Connecticut – it’s peaceful, we have raccoons. You find showbiz in shops, in the drugstores. The store assistant is most likely a member of the Actors’ Guild. But if the bell goes when I read a script, I’ll do it. That’s not happened in a long time.”
Wilder has already completed his second novel. He could sell a book of blank pages - and the trilogy.