Gene Wilder’s First Professional Acting Job Was in Cambridge

The legendary actor died at the age of 83 on Sunday.

Gene Wilder

Photo by AP

Gene Wilder, the legendary actor who starred in such classic films as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein, has died, according to the Associated Press. He was 83.

On Monday, Wilder’s nephew revealed that the comedy icon passed away late on Sunday in Stamford, Connecticut, after suffering from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease. Wilder had been dealing with the disease for the past three years, but decided to keep his health out of the public eye as to not worry fans.

While he’s known the world over for his many notable and hilarious roles, Wilder’s first professional acting job turned out to be a small theater role in Cambridge. He worked as both an actor and a fencing choreographer for a 1959 production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Wilder spoke about the gig in his 2005 autobiography Kiss Me Like A Stranger: My Search for Love and Art.

I got my first professional acting job playing the Second Officer in Herbert Berghof’s production of Twelfth Night, at the Cambridge Drama Festival. We performed in a huge tent alongside the Charles River. Herbert wanted me, I’m sure, because he needed a good fencing choreographer for the comic duel. And I was a good one.

Wilder ended up doing a solid job, as he was asked to stay on as an actor and to do the fencing choreography for a production of Macbeth by famed Cuban director José Quintero. He eventually found his way to New York and made a splash on the off-Broadway scene for a few years before getting his first big break in movies with 1968’s The Producers, by director Mel Brooks.