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Friday, 29 March, 2002, 04:12 GMT
Billy Wilder: A film legend
Gloria Swanson (L) and Cecil B. De Mille on the set of Sunset Boulevard
Sunset Boulevard was just one of Wilder's successes
Oscar-winning filmmaker Billy Wilder, who died on Thursday, was one of Hollywood's greatest ever directors.

In a career spanning six decades, the former refugee from Nazi Germany received 21 Academy Award nominations and won a total of six Oscars.

He became the first filmmaker to win three Academy Awards in a year.

Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch, 1955
Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch, 1955
He was born Samuel Wilder in the small town of Sucha, 160 kilometres (100 miles) east of Vienna, in what is now Poland. He first trained to be a lawyer. From 1929 he worked as a screenwriter for silent films in Berlin until the Nazis came to power and he left for America.

Despite knowing no English when he arrived in Hollywood, he was a fast learner and broke into the film industry through the help of friends like the film star Peter Lorre, with whom he once shared an apartment.

Billy Wilder never lost his Austrian accent, though, which he said was like a cross between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Racy and literate

In 1940s Hollywood Wilder wrote and directed classics like Double Indemnity, a black tale of murder and adultery.

"The best directors," he once said, "don't draw attention to themselves in their work." The Seven Year Itch, starring Marilyn Monroe, created one of Hollywood's most enduring images involving a white dress and a pavement ventilation system.

Jack Lemmon in The Front Page, 1974
Jack Lemmon in The Front Page, 1974
Monroe starred again under Wilder's direction in Some Like it Hot, opposite Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as a pair of musicians on the run from the Mob.

Wilder's scripts were racy and littered with barbed jokes. His films, glitzy and literate, won him six Oscars, including two for The Apartment, written with long-time collaborator IAL Diamond.

Later films, like a remake of The Front Page with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, never achieved the commercial success of his earlier films.

Wilder was a cynic but also, he maintained, a principled film-maker.

Though his last film was made in 1981, Billy Wilder was still turning up to work at his Hollywood office well into his 80s: his legacy is some of Tinseltown's finest and funniest films, sophisticated, stylish and sometimes surprising.

His own favourite was Sunset Boulevard. The melodramatic story of a faded silent screen star, it satirised the Hollywood in which Wilder himself flourished for 60 years and won him an Oscar for the screenplay.

The BBC's David Willis
"Billy Wilder arrived in Hollywood knowing just 100 words of English"
Critic Alexander Walker
"He had a rather cold and sardonic side too"

Hollywood director Billy Wilder has died aged 95Billy Wilder
Send your tributes to the late filmmaker
See also:

14 Jan 00 | Entertainment
Hollywood's wild about Wilder
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