Billy Wilder , original name Samuel Wilder (born June 22, 1906, Sucha, Austria [now in Poland]—died March 27, 2002, Beverly Hills, California, U.S.), Austrian-born American motion-picture scenarist, director, and producer known for films that humorously treat subjects of controversy and offer biting indictments of hypocrisy in American life. His work often focused on subjects that had previously been considered unacceptable screen material, including alcoholism (The Lost Weekend, 1945), prisoner-of-war camps (Stalag 17, 1953), and prostitution (Irma La Douce, 1963). A number of his films, such as Sunset Boulevard (1950) and The Apartment (1960), weighed the emptiness of modern life.
Wilder (who was named Samuel but called Billy because of his mother’s affinity for William [“Buffalo Bill”] Cody) was raised in Vienna and attended the University of Vienna as a prelaw student. After a year he dropped out to work as a sports reporter for a Vienna newspaper. A major paper in Berlin hired him away in 1926 to cover the crime beat, experience that would serve him well in his subsequent career. Wilder earned his first screenwriting credit working on Edgar Ulmer and Robert Siodmak’s Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday; 1930).
More scripts for a variety of German and French films followed over the next four years, but when the Nazis took power in 1933, Wilder, like so many other Jews in the arts, fled. In Paris he codirected Mauvaise Graine (1934) with Alexander Esway before continuing on to the United States, after a brief period in Mexico.
During Wilder’s first years in Hollywood, when he spoke little English, he roomed with expatriate German actor Peter Lorre and accumulated credits on modest scripts such as Music in the Air (1934) and The Lottery Lover (1935) by collaborating with writers who could translate his contributions. In 1937 Paramount assigned him to work with former New Yorker theatre critic Charles Brackett. After first collaborating on Ernst Lubitsch’s Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938), they wrote such