Yes, that Billy Wilder.
This is from the Guild's archives and was provided to the podcast by the Writers Guild Foundation. Quite the holiday gift, I must say.
Years back, I briefly sub-let an office in a small Beverly Hills building where Billy Wilder had his own office. I never knocked on the door to talk with him -- I suppose I could have, or even should have -- but it seemed more intrusive to me than I thought right enough. But I did love just wandering by and looking at the nameplate. No, that's not quite the same thing, but it fit well enough.
Also years back, I attended a "Tribute to Billy Wilder" event at the WGA Theatre, where the highlight of the evening -- after the lengthy retrospective which was highlight enough -- was an interview and Q&A with Wilder.
I don't remember most of what was said, though do recall one story he gave (appropriate to the season, as it happens...) and one answer he gave which I've always thought was smart and pointed.
The answer came in regards to a question he was asked about the then-upcoming remake of Wilder's classic film, Sabrina, and what he thought about them remaking it. He didn't think much of it -- but not for the any personal reason, but a creative one. Paraphrasing him as best as I can remember, he said:
"When we made Sabrina, it starred Humphrey Bogart and William Holden. They were two of the biggest movie stars in the world at the time. When the audience sat in the theater, they didn't have any idea which of these two big stars would wind up with Audrey Hepburn in the end and get the girl. This new movie stars Harrison Ford, one of today's top movie stars, and some fellow named -- what's his name? -- Greg Kinnear. Who do you think is going to get the girl?"
The story he told remains one of my all-time favorites. It was long, and I'll do my best to shorten it accurately -- while again, paraphrasing.
At the end of World War II, Wilder was in the U.S. Army and -- having been born in Germany, speaking the language and knowing the culture -- had been assigned to a re-patriation unit. Their job was to interview members of the Nazi Party who wanted to renounce their members, explain why they'd had to join, and become again eveyday citizens of German, and not go to prison.
"At one point in the process, a gentleman came to us who had been an extremely popular actor in Germany. He was famous for playing Jesus in the Passion Play of Christ. He had starred as Jesus in the Passion Play for many, many years. And he had been a very outspoken Nazi. Because he had been so famous, his words on behalf of the Nazis had gotten so much attention. So, one day, he came to our board and applied to repudiate his membership as a Nazi and be re-patriated into Germany and allowed to continue starring as Jesus in the Passion Play. I thought for a moment. And then said -- "Permission granted. As long as they use real nails."
The WGA auditorium burst into explosive laughter.
Here's the interview.
There's also a segment on the Guild's legal department. I'm sure it's quite good. I'm equally sure it's going to be overshadowed here by Billy Wilder.