The Ciesla Foundation mourns the passing of Gene Wilder on August 29. A masterful comedic actor with an infectious smile that wavered between mischievous and neurotic, Wilder kept us laughing while many of his movie roles took aim at prejudices based on race and religion. These include films with director Mel Brooks such as Blazing Saddles, The Producers and Young Frankenstein, which Wilder co-wrote with Brooks.
In the 1979 comedy-adventure, The Frisco Kid (directed by Robert Aldrich, The Dirty Dozen), Wilder plays an immigrant rabbi, Avram Belinski, traveling across the untamed United States to San Francisco. Three scenes from the film help tell the story of Rosenwald. In the first, Avram (Wilder) disembarking from the ship carrying him from Poland illustrates the arrival in the port of Baltimore of Samuel Rosenwald, Julius’ father, from Germany in 1851. Another scene of Avram walking brings to life Samuel’s early years here as a peddler while in another scene, the Frisco Kid’s wedding recalls that of Julius’ parents.
Some Rosenwald audience members have said that the film’s portrayal of the immigrant experience in the 1800s was so authentic that they wondered wheredirector Aviva Kempner got such wonderful original footage, not knowing or forgetting that these film scenes recreated a time before recording moving images was invented.
Click here to see some scenes from The Frisco Kid as we remember the wonderful work and life of Gene Wilder.