Award-winning actor, comedian and musician Dudley Moore died on March 27th at the age of 66. Moore first gained notice in his native England for ground-breaking stage and TV comedy before later building a Hollywood career. Like many of his peers, he had an amiable, open appeal that was balanced against a sharply satiric edge. Moore could play the confused innocent as well as the crafty schemer and tended to command attention wherever he appeared. Among his four marriages were two actresses: Tuesday Weld and Suzy Kendall.
Moore was born April 19, 1935 in London. As a child, he had a club foot later corrected by years of surgery that often left him recuperating in the hospital alongside critically wounded soldiers. Moore attended Oxford where he earned a degree in musical composition and met future collaborators Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. The four formed the landmark comedy ensemble Beyond the Fringe. Though often merely labelled as a precursor to Monty Python's Flying Circus, Beyond the Fringe was instrumental in the marriage of the piercing, highly educated sense of humor cultivated by Oxbridge graduates to the modern mass media. In this case it was the revue stage and television where Beyond the Fringe first assaulted the astonished minds of Britons. Moore supplied the music and such songs as "The Sadder and Wiser Beaver," "Man Bites God" and "One Leg Too Few." (You can pick up a CD set with much of the stage show. Unfortunately for future historians the BBC commonly erased tapes at this period - why? - so many of the TV episodes are apparently gone forever.)
Moore's first feature film was the 1966 farce The Wrong Box (a Robert Louis Stevenson adaptation) but it was his collaboration with Peter Cook on Bedazzled (1967) that's endured. Unlike its tepid 2000 remake, the original Bedazzled is a wolverine-tough satire of mid-60s culture that hasn't aged a bit: viewers are still as likely to be appalled and entertained at the same time. Moore not only co-wrote the story with Cook but composed the score. Moore appeared in a few more films until starring in 10 (1979). Written and directed by Blake Edwards, this amiable comedy featured Moore (a last-minute replacement for George Segal) caught in a middle-aged crisis and proved popular with both audiences and critics. Moore's career took another turn when his role as a wealthy alcoholic who falls for the proverbial shop girl in Arthur (1981) snagged him an Oscar nomination as Best Actor and a Golden Globe win.
However Moore was never able to build on these successes. He starred in a passable remake of Preston Sturges' Unfaithfully Yours (1984), did another Blake Edwards romantic comedy of moderate interest called Micki + Maude (1984, also a Golden Globe winner for Moore), a misfired sequel to Arthur in 1988 and a few other little-seen films. The highlight of this period must certainly be the 1991 series Orchestra where Moore spars with the wonderfully crusty conductor Georg Solti and leads an orchestra of students in what's certainly some of the most delightful television ever made.
By Lang Thompson
A FOND FAREWELL TO ONE OF HOLLYWOOD'S MOST GIFTED DIRECTORS - BILLY WILDER, 11906-2002
Billy Wilder had the most deliciously dirty mind in Hollywood. The director dug into racy, controversial subjects with cynical wit and rare candor; he set new standards for film noir, sex comedies and the buddy film and his movies continue to inspire new generations of filmmakers.
Cameron Crowe, screenwriter and director of contemporary hit films such as Jerry Maguire(1996), was one of those moved by Wilder's film sense. The struggling filmmaker struck up a friendship with the 93-year old veteran and found a friend and a mentor. Their conversations were recently chronicled in a book by Cameron Crowe entitled Conversations with Wilder(published by Knoft).
Billy Wilder might have been born in Vienna, but American culture influenced him from the earliest days. Given the name Samuel, Wilder's mother called her son 'Billy' in honor of Buffalo Bill Cody. The name stuck.
Billy was as restless as his namesake and left law school to become a journalist. While grinding out articles for a Berlin newspaper, Wilder joined with future film directors Fred Zinnemann, Robert Sidomak and Edgar G. Ulmer to make a short film, Menschen Am Sonntag (1929). By the mid-1930s, he had written seven scenarios and even tried his hand at directing. After Hitler's rise to power in 1934, Wilder fled his homeland. Once in Hollywood, Wilder and roommate Peter Lorre had to learn English quickly if they wanted to join the American film industry. Together the German expatriates learned the language and began staking their territory in the Dream Factory.
As a writer, Wilder could craft realistic relationships with sharp dialogue; he proved this in his scripts for Ninotchka (1939) with Greta Garbo and Howard Hawks' Ball of Fire(1941). As a filmmaker, Wilder was well acquainted with the shadowy, brooding style of German Expressionism. He brought these two gifts together to create a landmark film noir - DOUBLE INDEMNITY(1944). He followed this cinematic triumph with a risky project, the story of an alcoholic on a three-day binge. Not the usual subject matter for a Hollywood studio, THE LOST WEEKEND (1945) nevertheless claimed the Academy Award for Best Picture. By the end of the decade, Wilder dared even to paint a portrait of Hollywood stardom gone awry in Sunset Boulevard (1950).
Each of these films is an undisputed classic today, but even at the time, his films were lauded. Six of his screenplays were nominated for Oscars between 1941-1950. Three of his eight Best Director nominations also came during this period. Billy Wilder claimed the American Dream; he was successfully playing by his own rules.
By the end of the '50s, as censorship guidelines were easing, Wilder's projects became even more daring. Sex was central to Wilder's world and Hollywood celebrated his candor. He directed Marilyn Monroe in two of her most sensuous roles, The Seven Year Itch (1955) and SOME LIKE IT HOT(1959). More often than not, Wilder liked pointing his finger at the hyprocrisy of people's sexual mores. In THE APARTMENT(1960), Wilder took an incisive look at corrupt businessmen exploiting their employees for sexual favors. In IRMA LA DOUCE (1963), the world of a Parisian prostitute was lovingly painted in Technicolor tones. In Kiss Me, Stupid (1964), Wilder finally stepped over the line with the story of a struggling composer willing to offer his wife to sell a song.The film, which seems so innocent today, was scandalous in its own day. Critics called Kiss Me, Stupid pornographic smut and buried the picture. Audiences ignored it. Today, the film is a risque farce with great performances by Dean Martin and Kim Novak. The critical lambast deeply affected Wilder; this would be his last sex comedy.
In 1966 Wilder brought together the dynamic combination of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau with THE FORTUNE COOKIE. Director and stars teamed again for The Front Page (1974), a remake of the newspaper classic; and Buddy, Buddy (1981), the story of an assassin and a sad sack ready to commit suicide.
Wilder's many years in Hollywood produced an amazing string of hits. From sarcastic and cynical social commentary to outrageous sex farce, Wilder pushed his audiences to look at their own values and morals. He was an outsider who wasn't afraid to point out the follies of his fellow man or the worst aspects of American culture. He will be sorely missed.
By Jeremy Geltzer