On Sunset Boulevard

On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder

The first comprehensive critical biography of the writer-director of Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, 22 other films, and at least 28 other scripts. From his Jewish childhood in Krakow through his teenage years in Vienna and his first career (as a shady reporter for two disreputable newspapers) to his years of struggle in Berlin, his first screenwriting jobs, his early success at Ufa (the German film studio), his escape from the Nazis, and of course his long and brilliant career in Hollywood, On Sunset Boulevard is a detailed portrait of a complex, funny, troubled man and his art.

How many takes did Gloria Swanson have to perform at the end of Sunset Boulevard before Billy got what he wanted? What did the corpses say to each other in the opening morgue scene, which was greeted by such derisive laughter at a screening that it had to be cut and another scene reshot? What did Fred MacMurray say in the gas-chamber sequence in Double Indemnity, also cut because of bad previews? Why was Jimmy Stewart such a terrible pain in the neck during the filming of The Spirit of St. Louis? Who was the only star ever to get away with rewriting Billy's dialogue on the set? (Answer: Bing Crosby.) What was the real beginning of Billy Wilder's career as a journalist? Which Billy Wilder films never got made? (They include: a 1950s movie about an abortionist and a comedy for Julie Andrews.)

Built on extensive new research and interviews, On Sunset Boulevard combines detailed biography with in-depth criticism of Wilder's work, from his journalism in Vienna and Berlin (translated for the first time into English) to his German film scripts and Hollywood feature films. New interviews with people who knew and worked with him (from Susan Sarandon and Joan Fontaine to some unsung people who knew him way back when) round out this picture of one of the American cinema's most blazingly talented, articulate, and quirky filmmakers. As Billy says, "My life is an open book. A little pornographic maybe, but open."