“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to eye.”
Gene Wilder as the Fox in Antoine de-Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Gene Wilder. So often life is a cavalcade and we are riding through with all of our baggage, chores, hopes and dreams jostling us as we try and keep an eye on the terrain. When a celebrity dies, we may feel bad but rarely want to pull over and stoke up the campfire to sit and reflect on what they offered us.
Yesterday I read something by Mooji that said, “The way is not really a way. It is a depth. It is not a distance. It is a deepening into… the bliss of the unknowable.”* Gene’s work had that depth. You could feel it right from the start when he appeared in Bonnie and Clyde.
The first word that comes right up to the top when I think of Gene is ‘sweet’. He showed generations what being a sweet human being looked like. He was able to display the full gambit of being human from our neurotic angst and furious madness to our capacity for playful romance and pure loving kindness.
At the end of Willy Wonka when the chocolatier becomes a monster to test Charlie and Charlie returns the gobstopper that he might have sold for untold wealth, all we see is Gene’s hand slowly close around the candy. His voice, off screen has made me cry every time. “So shines a good deed, in a weary world.” I feel that Gene’s dedication and the work he gave us personifies this line. When the camera showed us Gene’s face as he called after Charlie, the love and benevolence beaming out of his eyes seemed to redeem all of humanity.
We watched Blazing Saddles the other night and it struck me that his work with Cleavon Little and Richard Pryor, in movies like Silver Streak, was a movement in itself. The natural ease and delight of these larger than life friendships were heroic. The comedy was perhaps the intention and certainly was the result but there is a lingering bolstered hope imprinted on our hearts after watching these films. While society is still trying to sweat itself up the mountain of equality, Gene and Cleavon and then Gene and Richard, (who helped write Blazing Saddles) were “deepening into the bliss of the unknowable.”
I heard that Gene didn’t want to tell the public that he was struggling with Alzheimer’s, because kids would say, “Look, there’s Willy Wonka!” It gave them such joy; he didn’t want to take that away from them. He couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.
Gene was singing, “Somewhere over the Rainbow” when he was taken from us.
May we all be capable of such sweetness and be remembered as fondly as Jerome Silberman, who, being inspired by Tomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, became our Gene Wilder.
Gene as Willy Wonka
*- White Fire/Mooji © 2014