An actor’s life, as told in flashback.
Gene Wilder is familiar to the American public as the mad scientist in Young Frankenstein and the kooky Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Not so familiar is Jerry Silberman: that is, Gene Wilder himself in his pre-acting days. This “autobiography” is really more about Silberman than Wilder, who uses a rather unusual device to tell Jerry’s story: his visits to psychiatrist Margie Waller become a filter for his memories of life as Jerry Silberman. The young Jerry is an introspective boy with a gift for comedy who can make his mother laugh—she has a heart condition, and Jerry tries to relieve any stress that might aggravate it. His early reminiscences seem focused equally on acting and on encounters with the opposite sex, although there’s a bizarre little ramble about his compulsion to pray, which is humorous in a pathos-filled way. The acting memories make sense—Wilder entertainingly relates how his earl acting experiences formed a foundation for his successful acting career. Surprisingly enough, his tales of sexual liaisons with young women are not played for broad humor but are told in a rather matter-of-fact, straightforward style, with tiny nuggets of humor buried deep. These opening pages set the tone for the rest, where the focus remains on acting and relationships, all told in the same matter-of-fact style, with subtle snippets of humor sprinkled throughout. It’s not an autobiography in the usual sense of the word, but it does give the reader an understanding of Jerry Silberman’s deliberate transformation into Gene Wilder. Wilder is quite candid about his life, not flinching at all when it comes to sharing intimate details. Especially poignant is the section on his romance with Gilda Radner, the comic actress who became his wife and was to die of cancer (It’s Always Something, 1989). Wilder evidently wrote the book himself, and did well; it’s an honest, affecting look at his life.
Strong, tender, and revealing.