Arizona is home to the jaw-dropping Grand Canyon, crazy desert wildlife, and very hot summers.
You may remember Gene Wilder from any one of the long list of movies he starred in. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles, or Young Frankenstein are all classics you’ve surely seen. Wilder began what would become a wildly successful acting career in 1962. This week news reports all across the country are paying tribute to Wilder, who passed away due to complications related to Alzheimer’s. Let’s celebrate some of Wilder’s awesome work, done right here in Arizona.
Gene Wilder was no stranger to playing interesting and unique characters. In the 1979 movie, The Frisco Kid, directed by Robert Aldrich, Wilder plays a polish rabbi travelling to San Fransisco. Starring alongside Harrison Ford for this one, Wilder’s character, Rabbi Avrim Belinski is taken advantage of by a group of con men who rob him and leave him stranded on his journey. Against all odds, he perseveres, and ends up in a hilarious friendship with a bank robber, the status of his new friend as a bank robber unbeknownst to religious Rabbi Belinski, of course. While filming The Frisco Kid, Wilder worked with Old Tucson Studios. As it’s name suggests, this studio brought Wilder to Tucson, Arizona to do some filming on their huge western film set. Here, you can see Wilder in his hilarious and heartfelt role as Rabbi Belinski.
In the 1980 comedy film, Stir Crazy, directed by Sidney Poitier, Gene Wilder plays writer Skip Donahue who is fired from his job in New York. Skip’s actor friend, played by Richard Pryor, is in the same boat, and so the pair decide to relocate to Hollywood, taking odd jobs to support themselves along the way. Unfortunately, the duo’s bad luck persists, and they are mistaken for two bank robbers and sentenced to 125 years in prison! The movie tracks the pair’s story as they begin their prison sentences, with Skip eventually gaining a role in the prison’s rodeo competition. As the hilarious movie progresses, Skip’s luck seems to turn, and he and a group of other prisoners start to plan their escape from the prison. You can see Wilder in action in Arizona for parts of this film. Wilder’s prison scenes were filmed at the state prison in Florence! Keep an eye out for downtown Tucson in the film, too. Watch this classic to find out their fate!
The 1982 comedy film Hanky Panky must have been a special one for Gene Wilder. In this film, he starred beside Gilda Radner, who he later married. Wilder stars as Michael Jordan, a man who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. When a girl he had shared a taxi with turns up dead, he becomes a prime suspect. He eventually teams up with a woman named Kate, played by Gilda, and they embark on a cross country trip from New York to the Grand Canyon, each seeking the answers to their own questions. While you watch this film, keep an eye out for shots of Tucson, where Wilder did some filming for this hit!