He was the music maker…the dreamer of dreams. He brought some of our favorite characters to life, including Dr. Frankenstein, Willy Wonka, Leo Bloom, Sigerson Holmes, and Skip Donahue. From his humble beginnings as a Shakespearean actor to his amazing collection of movies he made with Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor, Gene Wilder challenged the comic genre. He pushed himself, pushed his directors. He poured himself into each project, owning and enveloping each of his characters with all the energy he could muster. He may have been a simple Midwestern boy at heart, but Gene Wilder was nothing if not a believer in the extraordinary.
In his very intimate and personal autobiography, Kiss Me Like a Stranger, Wilder opens up and exposes his deepest secrets, talking about how his sick mother influenced his career path and his very real and emotional experiences with psychoanalysis. He opens about his love affairs and marriages, including his sometimes tumultuous relationship with fellow comedian, Gilda Radner, and his difficult relationship with his adopted daughter, Katie.
While he does talk briefly about his projects and films, Kiss Me Like a Stranger is not a tell-all about a chocolate factory or a secret laboratory. At its core, this book is about an actor’s search for truth, love, and acceptance. It’s about mistakes and choices. With eloquence and grace, it turns this larger-than-life comedian into a real person, a humble person. A man who falls in and out of love, who struggles with raising a daughter not his own, and who – just like the rest of us – is just looking for love and fulfillment both personally and professionally.
Written about 10 years before his death, Kiss Me Like a Stranger is a frank, yet charming memoir that shows Wilder for what he truly was…a shy, gentle man who loved to make people laugh. He was a dear friend, a doting husband, and a beloved actor who, like so many of his profession, had a series of serendipitous moments that propelled him, maybe unwillingly, into stardom.
Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.