The random thoughts of a nash.
a book review
Published on September 25, 2005 By Gene Nash In Non-Fiction
Kiss Me Like A Stranger is Gene Wilder's memoir, with an emphasis on women and art.

Wife Gilda Radner gave him the title shortly before she died. He expresses confusion at what it means or where it came from, but the inspiration fairly obviously was their recent heated exchange. He angrily denounced her for treating strangers better than she treated him. She responded that he was the only one she could treat badly because he was her husband. Soon thereafter she decided if he ever wrote a book it should be called Kiss Me Like A Stranger, which, after all, is how he wanted her to treat him.

It's a quick and easy read, but like most books of this genre its appeal is probably limited to Mr. Wilder's fans. There is little to connect it to the larger world, no great comments or insights on any of its themes, nothing to strike a more universal chord, only the quiet recollections of a relatively quiet man.

If only there were more insights into the people and events he encountered, rather than the surface memories presented. Okay, he knew so-and-so and met her-and-him. What were they really like? What was their deal? Give me some depth. Why was Carol Channing so incompetent? Was that an anomaly or was she that difficult in all her productions? (It would seem unlikely she could have had such longevity without the ability to remember lines or with such rampant paranoia about being upstaged.) Give me more!

Not that there aren't interesting tidbits. How many people know the Harrison Ford part in The Frisco Kid was originally given to John Wayne, and why he backed out? Or that Wilder had an affair with Teri Garr? Or that he was so popular at the time even Cary Grant ran up to say how much he admired Gene's work?

Other stories are too familiar, such as Wilder writing Willie Wonka's entrance, or Gilda Radner's battle with cancer. (Even though I teared up when she died, that's more a testament to her than to this book.)

Gene Wilder fans probably know many of the stories already, but spending a few hours with someone they like or admire is more than enough compensation to overcome the price of hearing them one more time.

Perhaps the biggest revelation is what a jerk Gene Wilder is when it comes to women. If people knew he was already lusting after his next wife while Gilda still breathed and fought, they might not have been so sympathetic to him in the days after her death. Her body was hardly cold before he took up with the next Mrs. Wilder, in the house Gilda left him, and in an indecent amount of time became engaged.

Kiss Me Like A Stranger is a quick portrait of a very flawed, sometimes very callous man, who managed to become one of Hollywood's more beloved figures. If the subject remotely interests you, the book's probably worth a read; if not, don't bother. There's no meat on the bones; that large Christmas Goose is actually made of fluff and candy.

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