Sunday, June 22, 2008

Birthday Boy: Somebody's Perfect

102 years ago today in a little town in Austria-Hungary, Mrs. Eugenia Wilder, née Dittler, had a baby boy. She must have been a remarkable woman, for her little Billie grew up to be Billy Wilder.

Looking through his owlish round spectacles, observing Mama Eugenia, what did he pick up that allowed him to create a gallery of some of the screen's greatest - and most diverse - women?

Is there part of Eugenia in Nina Yakushova Ivanoff, whom a combination of Paris and Melvyn Douglas transform into Ninotchka?

Somewhat more disconcertingly, is there anything of her in the predatory Phyllis Dietrichson, queen of the blank face and the world's only ominous bangs?

Perhaps that's the part that let him bring to life so entirely the vast and tragic mess that is Norma Desmond:

(I think Boulevard Crepuscule is if
anything a
better title, don't you?)

I would like to think she's there in Ariane Chavasse, Hepburn's most sophisticated gamine in Love in the Afternoon (and if the December in any May-December is Gary Cooper, who's to say it nay?):

But, to my mind, the proof that Eugenia did good by her little boy is that he grew up to be able to imagine two such creatures, equally improbable, as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk and the man who transforms himself so happily into the fetching bass player Daphne:

He did well by his leading ladies, that's for sure: two of Stanwyck's defining roles (Double Indemnity and Ball of Fire), two of Monroe's (Some Like it Hot and The Seven Year Itch), two of Audrey Hepburn's (Love in the Afternoon and Sabrina) making Garbo laugh and Swanson immortal - not bad for a boy from Sucha Beskidzka.

I do think some of it had to be Eugenia.


  1. A genius. I remember an interview with him where he kept referring to Marilyn in the present tense, even though she had been dead for years.