After comic actor Gene Wilder died on Aug. 28 from complications of Alzheimers disease, his millions of fans are reminiscing about his impressive career, which included roles in over 20 movies, among them The Producers and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Everyone familiar with his work has their favorite moment, but what sticks in my mind is Wilder’s interplay with the late Marty Feldman in the 1974 movie Young Frankenstein, directed by Mel Brooks. Wilder played the exasperated Dr. Frederick Frankenstein while Feldman filled the role of Igor, his obsequious, incompetent hunchbacked assistant.
One scene in particular stands out. In it, Dr. Frankenstein has begun to suspect that Igor did not, in fact, bring him the brain he’d requested for the dead man he’s brought back to life. Promising to not get angry if Igor confesses to his mistake, he eventually coaxes out the truth: that the brain came from someone named “Abby Normal.”
The doctor quickly realizes he’s placed an abnormal brain into the hulking creature he’s created—and, of course, he breaks his promise by completely failing to keep his cool.
That scene has stayed with me for decades, bringing a quiet chuckle time and again. It showcases the mania Wilder always seemed helpless to hold at bay for long—a force just waiting to burst forth at any time. For anyone who appreciated Wilder’s mad, comic genius, such moments are not hard to recall.