Billy Wilder Biography

(One of the Most Brilliant and Versatile Filmmakers of 'Classic Hollywood Cinema' With a Career Spanning Five Decades)

Birthday: June 22, 1906 (Cancer)

Born In: Sucha Beskidzka, Poland

He was a filmmaker with a midas touch who transformed an era in Hollywood with his works which have been listed in America’s Golden Age of Films. Originally planned to become a lawyer, destiny played its role as Billy Wilder turned to journalism, which soon attracted him to the magnetic world of Hollywood! The love for writing took him forward as he started writing scripts for movies and established himself as a screenwriter. Movie after movie, he gave audience conventional scripts with a dash of novelty. However, not the one to be satisfied, he worked up the ladder and put on the hat of a director as well. What made him strikingly different from filmmakers of this generation was his urge to expand the horizons of filmmaking in Hollywood. While his contemporaries limited themselves to tried-and-tested formula, he strived to broaden the perspective by accentuating the range of acceptable matter in Hollywood. To start with, he released the movie ‘Double Indemnity’ and explored further with ‘Sunset Boulevard’. ‘The Apartment’ was his most well received movie that earned him three Academy Awards in different categories. During the last leg of film-making, he explored the genre of humor and came up with comedic tales, few of which have found place in the American Film Institute's list of 100 funniest American films. To know more about his life, read on.

Quick Facts

Nick Name: Billie

Also Known As: Samuel Wilder

Died At Age: 95


Spouse/Ex-: Audrey Young (1949–2002; his death), Judith Coppicus (1936–1946; divorced)

father: Max Wilder

mother: Eugenia Dittler

siblings: William Lee Wilder

children: Victoria Wilder Vincent Wilder

Born Country: United States

Quotes By Billy Wilder Directors

Height: 5'11" (180 cm), 5'11" Males

Died on: March 27, 2002

place of death: Beverly Hills, California, United States

Ancestry: Polish American, German American, Austrian American

Cause of Death: Pneumonia

Childhood & Early Life
Billy Wilder was born as Samuel Wilder to Max and Eugenia Wilder. He was nicknamed Billie by his mom. His parents ran a cake shop at the Sucha Beskidzka's train station which turned out to be a profitable venture. Later on, the family shifted base to Vienna.
In Vienna, young Wilder attained his formal education from local school. After completing his high school studies, he took to working as a journalist instead of pursuing a graduation degree. For better opportunities and wider scope, he moved to Berlin.
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While at Berlin, he achieved success as a writer, penning sports and crime stories for various local newspapers. He finally secured himself a permanent position at a Berlin tabloid. It was there that his fascination for films became evident. No sooner, he started working as a screenwriter.
Along with other inexperienced screenwriters, he worked on the script for the 1929 film, ‘People on Sunday’. Two years later, he single-handedly wrote the script for the film adaptation of the Erich K�stner novel ‘Emil and the Detectives’.
With Hitler’s prominence and rise to power, he shifted base to Paris. There, he made his debut as a director with the film ‘Mauvaise Graine’ in 1934. However, before the release of the film, he moved to Hollywood.
In Hollywood, he continued to pursue his love for writing by becoming a screenwriter. He collaborated with writer Charles Brackett for the film ‘Bluebeard's Eighth Wife’ which marked the start for many more films ahead.
His first major breakthrough came in 1939 with the Academy-Award nominated film, ‘Ninotchka’. The film secured both popular and critical acclaim. Post the glorious success of ‘Ninotchka’, he came up with scripts for ‘Hold Back the Dawn’ and ‘Ball of Fire’.
He longed to direct his scripts so as to do full justice to them. The opportunity came in with the film, ‘The Majors and the Minors’ which marked his directorial debut in Hollywood.
Year 1944 marked an important year in his resume as he took on a seat behind the camera for the film, ‘Double Indemnity’. Co-written with Raymond Chandler, the movie instantly catapulted his status in Hollywood, affirming his position as a top-notch director and screenwriter. The film won several nominations including Best Director and Screenplay.
In 1945, he came up with a documentary film ‘Death Mills’ which was produced by the Psychological Warfare Department (PWD) of the United States Department of War. It was essentially aimed to educate German about the vehemence caused by Nazi regime.
Cementing his position in Hollywood, he came up with yet another Academy Award winning film, in 1945, ‘The Lost Weekend’ which was an adaptation of a Charles R. Jackson story. The movie had an off-beat theme emphasizing on alcoholism and its after effects which caused a stimulation among the audiences.
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He started the decade of 1950 with the William Holden and Gloria Swanson’s starrer, ‘Sunset Boulevard’. A dark and cynical movie, it, though did average business at the box office, earned much critical acclaim. His next subsequent release was ‘Ace in the Hole’.
In the 1950s, he came up with two Broadway adaptations for the big screen, ‘Stalag 17’ and ‘Witness for the Prosecution’. Thereafter, he longed to make a slapstick comedy film out of the classic comedies of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Though he could not realize the same, he directed a couple of comedies including, ‘The Seven Year Itch’, ‘Sabrina’, and ‘Some Like It Hot’.
Year 1960 proved to be a significant year in his life as his career graph zoomed upwards with the super successful directorial venture titled, ‘The Apartment’. The film was well received both commercially and critically so much so that it received three Academy Awards in the category of Best Picture, Director and Screenplay.
In 1961, he came up with Cold War movie titled, ‘One, Two, Three’. Subsequently, he released a string of films that gained a cult status with time, including, ‘Irma la Douce’ and ‘Kiss Me, Stupid’. In 1966, he earned an Academy Award nomination for Screenplay in the film, ‘The Fortune Cookie’.
Towards the end of his career, he released several movies, ‘The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes’, ‘Fedora’ and ‘Buddy Buddy’ none of which repeated the success story of his former releases
Major Works
‘Double Indemnity’ marked a significant breakthrough in his career clinching grand reception, both commercially and critically. The movie earned seven nominations for Academy Awards.
‘Sunset Boulevard’, a dark cynical movie further expanded the range of acceptable subjects in Hollywood and proved to be a commercial and critical hit. It secured eleven nominations in Academy Awards, eventually winning three of them.
‘The Apartment’ was a grand commercial and critical hit at the box office, grossing a box office record of $25 million. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards out of which it won five.
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Awards & Achievements
His excellence with the pen and ability to create magic behind the camera was duly appreciated, the twenty-one Academy Awards nominations standing as a testimony of the same. Out of these, he won six Academy Awards for Best Director for ‘The Lost Weekend’ and ‘The Apartment’, Best Screenplay for ‘The Lost Weekend’, ‘Sunset Boulevard’ and ‘The Apartment’, and Best Picture for ‘The Apartment’. Furthermore, he received Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award
His large body of work was reckoned at the Golden Globe Awards as well, as he earned five awards, twice in the category of Best Picture, twice as Best Director and once as Best Screenwriter.
The Writers Guild of America twice bestowed upon him the Laurel Award, in 1957 and 1980. Furthermore, he was nominated 15 times for Best Screenplay, which he ended up winning five times.
At the Directors Guild of America, he was nominated eight times for the DGA Screen Director Award, winning once for ‘The Apartment’. Additionally, he won the DGA LifeTime Achievement Award and Preston Sturges Award.
In 1993, he received the Honorary Golden Bear at the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival. Same year, he was conferred with the National Medal of Arts. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Personal Life & Legacy
He tied the nuptial knot with Judith Coppicus on December 22, 1936. The couple was blessed with twins, Victoria and Vincent, of which Vincent died shortly after birth. The couple divorced in 1946. In 1949, he remarried Audrey Young.
Health concerns constantly surfaced and caused problems towards the later days of his life. He was battling with numerous problems including cancer. He breathed his last in 2002 due to pneumonia. He was later interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, Los Angeles, California
A talented and versatile director, five of his films including, ‘Some Like It Hot’, ‘The Apartment’, ‘The Seven Year Itch’, ‘Ninotchka’ and ‘Ball of Fire’ have been included in the American Film Institute's 100 Funniest Movies

Billy Wilder Movies

1. Sunset Blvd. (1950)

  (Film-Noir, Drama)

2. Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

  (Mystery, Drama, Thriller, Crime)

3. The Apartment (1960)

  (Romance, Comedy, Drama)

4. Double Indemnity (1944)

  (Crime, Film-Noir, Mystery, Drama, Thriller)

5. Un rêve blond (1932)


6. Some Like It Hot (1959)

  (Comedy, Romance)

7. Ace in the Hole (1951)

  (Film-Noir, Drama)

8. Music in the Air (1934)

  (Romance, Musical, Comedy)

9. Stalag 17 (1953)

  (Comedy, War, Drama)

10. The Lost Weekend (1945)

  (Film-Noir, Drama)


Academy Awards(Oscars)
1961 Best Picture The Apartment (1960)
1961 Best Director The Apartment (1960)
1961 Best Writing, Story and Screenplay - Written Directly for the Screen The Apartment (1960)
1951 Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Sunset Blvd. (1950)
1946 Best Director The Lost Weekend (1945)
1946 Best Writing, Screenplay The Lost Weekend (1945)
Golden Globe Awards
1955 Best Screenplay Sabrina (1954)
1951 Best Director Sunset Blvd. (1950)
1946 Best Director The Lost Weekend (1945)
BAFTA Awards
1961 Best Film from any Source The Apartment (1960)
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