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Screenwriter Interviews – Billy Wilder 1996

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Killer interview with screenwriter Billy Wilder from “The Paris Review”, 1996. As you may know, Wilder believed that films must be “authored” (do you find that to be the case today?) When this guy named Hitler came to power, Wilder emigrated soon after to the US on a 6-month tourist visa. Much of his family perished in the Holocaust. He went on to become one of America’s most beloved film directors.

He had this to say about the state of his English upon arrival: “…the status of my English was rather poor. I couldn’t rearrange the furniture in my mouth—the tonsils, the curved palate. I’ve never lost my accent.”

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Any fan of Billy Wilder is familiar with the sign he had in his office that read, “How Would Lubitsch Do it?” Well, in this interview – you find out how Lubitsch DID it… Wilder uses an example of Lubitsch’s thought process with the film “Ninotchka.”

…we were wondering how we could dramatize that she, without wanting to, was falling in love. How could we do it? Charles Brackett and I wrote twenty pages, thirty pages, forty pages! All very laboriously.

Lubitsch didn’t like what we’d done, didn’t like it at all. So he called us in to have another conference at his house. We talked about it, but of course we were still, well … blocked. In any case, Lubitsch excused himself to go to the bathroom, and when he came back into the living room he announced, Boys, I’ve got it.

It’s funny, but we noticed that whenever he came up with an idea, I mean a really great idea, it was after he came out of the can. I started to suspect that he had a little ghostwriter in the bowl of the toilet there.

I’ve got the answer, he said. It’s the hat.

Fantastic stuff!

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Some other gems from this interview, include:

Asked about his noted art collection, Wilder says, “I didn’t get rich as a director, I got rich selling art. Thirty-four million dollars to be exact, when it went on sale at Christie’s.” When asked for tips on collecting he says, “Sure, don’t collect. Buy what you like, hold onto it, enjoy it.” Later he would offer a number of other get-rich tips:

Back some pornographic films and then, as a hedge to balance your investment should family values rise, buy stock in Disney.” Also, “Bet consistently against the Los Angeles Rams.

Read the rest of The Paris Review interview with Billy Wilder, here:

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