That Time Billy Wilder Refrained From Telling Journalist: ‘It Was Hitler, Stupid’

Fun memories from former UPI reporter Gary Paul Gates.

KissMeStupidPosterLong before the lumbering modern-age PR animal known as the Hollywood press junket, journalists have been asking actors, writers and directors dumb questions. And for just as long, the folks caught in the crossfire have been able to often handle these incoming duds with deft aplomb.

Case in point: Billy Wilder, while promoting the 1964 romantic comedy Kiss Me, Stupid. Reporter Gary Paul Gates, who was covering entertainment for UPI at the time, caught Wilder on the flip side and relays that portion of their conversation in a recent piece for the Shelter Island Reporter. The question Wilder had been asked by another journalist: ‘Why did you leave Berlin in 1933?’

That stunned me a bit, mainly because in my research for our interview, I had read that Wilder’s mother, grandmother and stepfather were killed in the Holocaust. And so in response, all I could think of to say was, “You’re kidding!”

“No,” he replied, “but I treasure the look of astonishment on your face.”

“Good Lord,” I said, “what did you tell the reporter?”

“Well,” Wilder said with a sigh and the faint hint of a grin, “I explained to him that while I happened to be Jewish, Hitler was not. And so, after a brief but spirited give-and-take, I decided to pack my bags.”

Hitler was appointed Chancellor of the German government on Jan. 30, 1933. There’s more fun stuff in the Gates piece. Including a reminder that when a filmmaker is grumpy because of bad reviews, it pays to jettison planned questions about that film.

Image courtesy: United Artists