Charlotte Chandler’s biography of Billy Wilder titled Nobody’s Perfect is the best book about classic Hollywood I’ve read. Whether or not you care for the movies of Billy Wilder (examples: Stalag 17, Sabrina, Sunset Boulevard, Ace in the Hole, The Apartment), if you like old films, this is a book to read. Chandler isn’t a comprehensive biographer; she’s not someone who’s going to chroncicle every month of her subject’s life, but that’s okay because such books tend to be boring. Chandler’s greatest strength is her ability to befriend celebrities. Billy Wilder she knew on a personal basis for several years. Many of the people she interviewed she was also friends with, and because of this, the interviews have a more open and candid quality than most. To reflect on Wilder’s life and career, she interviews such notable film stars as Ginger Rogers, Tony Curtis, Barbara Stanwyck, and Groucho Marx. Not only that, but she includes many anecdotes involving huge stars like Jimmy Stewart, Jack Lemmon, and Marilyn Monroe. The book Nobody’s Perfect is mostly made up of interviews, with Chandler filling in the gaps with information about Wilder.
Some of the highlights include…
Billy Wilder explains that in the original script of The Seven Year Itch, Tom Ewell and Marilyn Monroe’s character get together at least once. To suggest this, the original script involved Ewell’s wife finding a hairpin belonging to Monroe’s character in their bed. Censors insisted this was cut, and the whole movie was different.
During the filming of Witness for the Prosecution, Billy Wilder inserted an entire scene–a costly one at that–mainly for the purpose of showing off Marlene Dietrich’s famous legs.
During an interview, Ginger Rogers claims several times that Billy Wilder would not have had a career at all if she hadn’t agreed to star in The Major and the Minor.
In a different interview, Tony Curtis is all too eager to dish to Chandler about how he had a fling with Marilyn Monroe long before they worked together closely on Some Like it Hot.
For the film Double Indemnity, Wilder himself chose the wig for Barbara Stanwyck to wear, purposefully pulling one of the cheapest ones he could find off the shelf.
On the day that Jack Lemmon passed away, Billy Wilder was called by a reporter asking if he could say anything about him. Without hesitation, Billy Wilder said that Jack Lemmon was the greatest actor who ever lived.
After Billy Wilder and Charles Bracken sold the script of Ball of Fire to legendary Hollywood director Howard Hawks, young Wilder hung around on set, studying Hawks’ work. I think this is the key to understanding Wilder’s directorial style. So much of his work resembles Hawks, like how both directors would more often than not leave the camera in a fixed position, pulled back, that showed the actor’s really acting.
For these reminesences and more, I’d highly recommend you to read Nobody’s Perfect.