When you are a Jewish kid growing up in a Midwest suburb, even one with as large a Jewish population as Chicago, it was not always easy to find role models of traditional Jews. In the 70s and 80s there weren’t a lot of examples in pop culture, on television or even in the movies. When The Frisco Kid came out, it was a big deal; a mainstream movie with a lead character who was not just a rabbi, but a Chasidic rabbi. It was such a big deal that I remember my synagogue rented out a whole theater for a screening when the movie came out.
Though I had already seen him in arguably his most famous performance as Willy Wonka, it was The Frisco Kid that solidified for this Jewish kid the comic genius of Gene Wilder. Wilder passed away this week at the age of 83, but not before leaving behind the legacy of a portfolio of movies and performances that helped bring a smile to our faces and brighten our days.
His movies have become classics, films such as The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Silver Streak, Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory; continue to entertain new generations of movie lovers.
Among the other great things Wilder did during his life was to cofound Gilda’s Club. He cofounded it after his wife Gilda Radner, died of ovarian cancer in 1989. Gilda’s Clubs are located all over the country and serve as a haven and support for people going through cancer. It’s mission states, “Our free, comprehensive cancer program includes support groups, educational lectures and workshops for everyone impacted by cancer – men, women, teens, and children.”
Our hope and prayer is that he found his golden ticket up in heaven.
I imagine we all have favorite scenes and moments from Wilder’s movies. I will leave you with one of mine: