Billy Wilder in the ‘30s

In 1938, Billy Wilder was 32 years old and had been in America for five years. Born to a family of Polish Jews in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Wilder worked as a journalist before making his screenwriting debut in Berlin with People on Sunday (Menschen am Sonntag, Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, 1930) and directorial debut in Paris with Mauvaise Graine (Bad Seed, Billy Wilder, 1934). Faced with rising anti-Semitism and the Third Reich, Wilder relocated to Hollywood before Mauvaise Graine was released. Most of his relatives died in concentration camps1. Wilder was hired by Paramount Pictures2, often co-writing scripts with Charles Brackett. They reached critical acclaim with Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938) and Ninotchka (1939), both directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

Concurrently in 1938, Wilder conceived Heil Darling: an original story written in partnership with Jacques Théry3. Across 52 pages, it was written as an argument and remained incomplete. MGM commissioned the script, and Ernst Lubitsch would have directed it4. I found this remarkable narrative at the Margaret Herrick Library, in Los Angeles. It has a green cover, and it seems to have been written as a sequel of Ninotchka’s success. Joe Mankiewicz wrote a brief comment about this script in his notebook while he was a reader and producer at MGM: “to be followed, I presume, by ‘Ninotchka at Yale’, ‘Ninotchka and her Rocket Gun’, etc. –”5

Screenplay found at Margaret Herrick Library

Heil Darling may also be the first original Wilder story written for a Hollywood picture. The diegesis plays out in Vienna, at the dawn of Anschluss when Nazi Germany would annex Austria. The script is punctuated by Wilder’s stylistic motifs and contains autobiographical elements. Anti-Semitism appears in a frank and direct manner. This was rare in Wilder’s other work, and the broader American film industry at the time. This essay aims to present and detail this story to a larger audience. Researching unfilmed screenplays incites emotions and attitudes that have been buried in archives for decades.

An American journalist in Vienna

Running and trying to avoid being late to his radio station, Joshua Crocker (or just Josh) is always in a hurry. He’s a journalist for the American Broadcasting Company and had met some beautiful girls in Vienna the previous evening. Now, he has overslept and is about to miss his transmission.

“They knew their Crocker. Five years before, when they had sent him to Berlin, he had managed to miss the Reichstag fire. And they had him in London for three months; but the night Edward abdicated – that very night – he had spent with a babe in Deauvill. And then scandal in Constantinople when he was to interview Trotsky…So why call it superhuman presence of mind – why not just say that it was a matter of routine”6 

Set concurrently in 1938, Josh is a European correspondent on assignment to cover the rising hostilities of the Third Reich. Josh, however, doesn’t see Adolf Hitler’s government as particularly dangerous. Stressing in his transmission that he “just had a charming conference with four high Austrian officials. They were reserved, but firm in their belief that this country has nothing to fear from Hitler or from anybody else. And as I roamed about this charming city this charming afternoon, I found peace everywhere.”7

The nation is on the cusp of Hitler’s Wehrmacht crossing the border, but Josh would prefer to enjoy the cafes and the beauty of Vienna. In the first few pages (likely translating to the opening minutes of the film) Heil Darling demonstrates some of Wilder’s hallmarks: a young, smart, seductive protagonist who is also a little bit out of touch with reality. Even with the threat of imminent war, he prefers to daydream. 

Josh, however, is not alone in Vienna. Room 115 at the Bristol accommodates his American colleagues: Jeff of the Chicago Chronicle, Dick of the Philadelphia Herald, and Sam of the New York Star. Josh enters the smoke-filled room to tell his colleagues of the previous night’s adventures and encourages them to join him for this evening’s encore8. More down to earth than his peer, Dick leans back from his typewriter and says:

“Not so fast, Josh. What’s that? (…) You’re crazy, Josh. Not tonight, with the German Army massing on the border.”9 

Still ignorant/indifferent to the gravity of the situation, Josh replies:

“Listen, Babe, the Germans are always massing on some border…. You’re talking like a fish. Nothing will happen, except that we’ll lose the gals. You ought to see them… Oh, stop talking about Hitler… What’s that?… Yes, there’s a redhead too… No, they’re an orchestra. Listen, stupid, if I say gorgeous, I mean gorgeous…”10

The women Josh had encountered at the scripts’ beginning were in a band, drawing a parallel to Some Like it Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959), one of Wilder’s most celebrated comedies. Following the exchange between the journalists, enter Krahulick. He has a strange proposal for Josh. First, he states that he wants to give Josh money. “Now you’re talking,” Josh replies. Krahulick notes that Josh is the only bachelor among the American journalists present in room 115. Therefore, he has been chosen to marry the richest widow in Vienna. “It wouldn’t be a regular marriage,” stresses Krahulick, “Just a business proposition. My client wants to leave Austria”11

Some Like It Hot

If Josh accepts this arranged marriage, he will receive $10 000. This attempt at asylum reflects the fears felt by many Austrians, particularly Jewish people living in areas that were about to be annexed by Nazi Germany. In the book The Order of the Day, a remarkable historical romance, Éric Vuillard remembers that the majority of the Austrians were in favor of Hitler’s annexation– the so-called Anschluss12. Although told in a witty and funny style, Heil Darling also translates this historical reality into fiction. 

Ethnically ambiguous lips: articulating the unspeakable

Hitler enters Vienna. A waiter tells the American journalists, “Austria doesn’t exist anymore.”13 The waiter, however, is happy with this new situation and greets his clients with a sieg heil. Josh, according to the narrator, “felt as if he had been hit by one of the tanks.” When the four journalists return to the hotel, they open a telegram informing them that they have been fired. Further, they’re all broke. In a quick calculation, they count $117 between them. This is not enough to even cover the hotel bill. In this adversity, Krahulick’s offer seems to be the only way out of Nazi-occupied Austria. It’s worthy of note that the script doesn’t explain why these journalists were suddenly fired, who fired them and what sort of relationship their outlets had with the Nazi government.

While the script doesn’t elaborate on the conditions surrounding the journalists sudden redundancy, they collectively need to leave the country as soon as possible. Krahulick is characterized as a persistent and efficient businessman. He arranges an initial meeting between the bachelor and the widow: Mrs. Leopoldine Wagner.  This surname is very ironic because it points out Wagner’s well-known Anti-Semitics views. Frau Wagner, however, has all of the required documentation for marriage, while Josh only has his passport and a traffic ticket. Further complicating Josh’s lack of official documentation, marriage in Austria suddenly has new rules. Nazi regulations stipulate that only people who can prove that they are 100% Aryan may be wed. 

The next sequence is central to Heil Darling’s conceit. It opens with an interesting plot twist and introduces a new character to readers. Josh’s lack of documentation about his ethnicity leads him to the Racial Bureau at Office 760. The official in charge takes a piece of paper and writes down a name: Dr. Mueller.

Josh sat down and looked around. It was a doctor’s office, all right, but the walls were plastered with a variety of rather strange charts. There was a chart comparing an Aryan gall-bladder with a non-Aryan gall-bladder, another which bore a series of differently shaped skulls indicating the comparative value of the various races. No. 1 was the Germanic skull, naturally; No.2 the Scandinavian Skull; and so on down to No. 11, which was the skull of a monkey. No. 12, the last, was the skull of a Russian communist. There was also a map of the world, with brown spots showing which areas should go back to the Reich. Sudetenland, Danzig, half of France, and Milwaukee. And over the desk, as if to off-set the serious tone of the rest of the room, a huge photograph of Herr Hitler. Josh lit a cigarette. The door opened and in came another uniformed Nazi, a young woman this time, blonde and rather tall.
“Heil Hitler! No smoking!” she said in a military tone, and crossed to the desk.
There was something about her that made Josh obey without thinking twice. He killed his cigarette instantly. Arranging some papers, she continued:
“You wish –?”
“Just waiting.”
“For whom?”
“For Dr. Mueller.”
“I am Dr. Mueller”
Well. This was a new one. Josh gave her the once-over and decided he didn’t like her a bit. He didn’t like her snapping questions at him in a most Prussian manner, and he didn’t like her answers either.
“Who sent you here?”
“The license bureau.”
“Intention of marriage?”
“An irresistible desire to enter into the blissful state of matrimony.”
“Name of the other party?”
“ Frau Leopoldine Wagner.”
“Then you know the requirements. Your birth certificate, the birth certificate of your father, mother, grandfather and grandmother, both father and mother’s sides.
“You said it.”
“Which one of the papers is missing?”
“All of them.”
She looked at him, for the first time, and it was as if she were looking at a monstrosity.
“To tell you the truth, I’m not even sure I was born. You see, they found me on the door-mat of 417 East 64th Street, New York City, right between the milk bottle and the morning paper.”
“In other words, no data whatsoever?”
“Just hunches. Sometimes I get a funny feeling in my stomach and I say to myself – Aha, my father was an elevator boy. And then again I have a passion for washing my own shirts. Maybe —”
“We are merely interested in your racial aspects.”
“There you are – maybe my grandfather was a Chinese laundryman.”
“Take off your coat and lie down.”
“Take off your coat and lie down.”
Josh took off his coat obediently, and stretched the doctor’s couch.
“Listen, I was examined by three insurance doctors —”
“This is nothing to do with your health. Nowadays we have precise methods to determine racial heredity. Roll up your sleeve.”
She took a magnifying glass and examined his skin closely. Whereupon, she produced a small hammer and requested Josh to dangle his leg.
“You mean, Doctor, that the reflex of an Aryan is different from the reflex of a non-Aryan?”
She tapped his knee three times. “So far, so good. Turn around.”
Josh gave her a somewhat suspicious look, then he turned over on his stomach. She felt his shoulder blades, his spine and his pelvis – and he roared with laughter. Josh happened to be ticklish. After she had finished, she produced a complicated gadget, a happy medium between a speedometer and a nut-cracker, and took a few measurements of his skull. This time she frowned a little. As she went on with the measurements the frown deepened. Finally, with a rather baffled expression, she compared the results registered on her skullometer with the chart of skulls on the wall. Down, down, she went until she came to No.11. No.11 was the skull of the monkey.
“Very strange,” she muttered.
She went back, bent over him and looked deeply into his eyes. But by now, Fraulein Doctor was not the only one in the room doing the examination (…).
Her eyes were beautiful and blue, like two of those ice-cold mountain lakes he had seen in Bavaria. Her hair had the fragrance of a pine tree after a summer shower. And she had the figure of a Valkyrie. He felt her breath on his cheek.
“You’re Prussian, aren’t you?” he asked gently.
“Do you like Vienna?”
“I don’t know Vienna.”
“You mean to tell me –? But he couldn’t go on. She silenced him, touching his lips with her fingers. Josh was a little dizzy. She bent over him more closely.
“Very unusual,” she said. “Your upper lip is Aryan, and your lower lip is not.”
“You don’t say.”
“You may dress now.”
She went back to the desk and began writing busily. Josh put on his coat. It was very quiet in the room. Suddenly Josh decided that now was exactly the moment to make a pass at this amazing girl.
“I understand that the Nazis are celebrating their victory tonight. Didn’t I read something about a torchlight procession? Well, I happen to have two torches…”
“What is your name?”
“Joshua C. Crocker. C for cute.”
She was writing away at a great rate.
Josh continued glibly: “Two excellent torches. We could walk with the procession for an hour and so… Then, when we get tired, we might go to a cafe, check our torches in the cloakroom…”
“What is your age?”
“Thirty-three. Then we could have a few drinks, get a little acquainted maybe – but don’t be afraid – if I should kiss you goodnight, it would only be with my upper lip.”
By now Fraulein Doctor was signing what she had written. Energetically, she endorsed it with a rubber stamp.
“That will be all, Mr. Crocker. Here is my report.”
Josh took the paper. “Thank you, Doctor.”
“You will present it at the Marriage Bureau.”
“Sure, Doctor.”
“It is to inform them that we cannot allow you to marry an Aryan. There is not sufficient proof that your family tree is in order.”
Suddenly it dawned on Josh that things were in a bad shape.
“Now wait a minute, Doctor. You don’t know how much this marriage means to me.” It meant exactly ten thousand dollars.
“Sorry, Mr. Crocker, but personal feelings cannot interfere with our principles. If we allow any marriage between two beings of not quite the same high standard, the result of such a crossing would be a definitely inferior product.”
“But who wants to cross?” Josh pulled a cigarette from his pocket a bit nervously.
“No smoking. When we took over Austria, we also assumed the responsibility of purifying its race.”
“Come, come – you don’t believe in this baloney!”
“What’s that word?”
“That will be all, Mr. Crocker. Heil Hitler!”
She thrust out her arm and disappeared into the next room. All of which left Josh with little else to do but definitely stick a cigarette into his mouth and strike a match against the chart of skulls – the Germanic skull in particular14.

This exchange echoes narrative devices found in Wilder’s other scripts, such as Ninotchka, where a bleak political reality is rendered on the silver screen through screwball comedy. Here, witty dialogue reflects the absurdity of eugenics. The cinematic treatment of such painful subject matter was unusual in classical Hollywood. At least in films that were released.

Within the diegesis, Josh does not meet the Nazi threshold for Aryan ethnicity. But, he’s not entirely un-Aryan either. Situated in the strange boundary between his Aryan upper lip and a non-Aryan lower lip, Josh doesn’t know what to say. For Doctor Mueller, this is an anomaly that doesn’t fit neatly into any Nazi classification. She opts to deny the marriage request. Josh’s demeanor continues to ignore the gravity of the situation, as he flirts with the Doctor. The examination sequence provides some sensual moments and establishes a certain sexual tension between Josh and Doctor Mueller.

With the generic conventions established, the story continues to unfold. Josh returns to the Bristol Hotel completely devastated. He tells his colleagues that the wedding is impossible. At this very instant, an SS guard knocks on the door and announces that Doctor Mueller has requested Josh’s presence. In the next sequence, we learn that Doctor Mueller is engaged to Ludwig Himmelreich, chief of the Austrian Gestapo. They are to marry soon. 

Doctor Mueller informs Josh that she received a cablegram from the German ambassador in Washington. She had inquired about the meaning of the word baloney – which sounded as strange, weird and uncommon as Josh’s lips. The ambassador stated that baloney was the equivalent of “nonsense.” For that, she fines Josh $500. Shocked by the awful news, he decides to argue. Josh remembers that the word baloney has Italian origins, because it also meant sausage, which comes from Bologna. Consequently, Mussolini would not agree with such a fine. 

This builds on what Gerd Gemuden has called accented cinema. “His work reveals a ‘cinema of in-between,’ which highlights the dialectics of insider and outsider, of the liminal, fluid, and temporary, of upward and downward mobility, of high brow and low brow. This particular trait has its origins both in Wilder’s biographical background and in the historical constellation of European modernity in the decades leading up to German fascism and the Second World War”15. Beneath the comedy, there’s a sophisticated use of conceit. Ethnically ambiguous lips speak words that are lost in translation (like baloney) as a man attempting to get married flirts with a woman who doesn’t recognise his humanity. At times, when reading this unfilmed script, I assumed Josh was a Jewish character. There are no explicit indicators of this in the text, just the knowledge that the author was once a journalist in Vienna who would later immigrate to America. Heil Darling frames its’ protagonist as an American journalist who is always escaping something, and it’s impossible to account for his real origins.

Billy Wilder, left

Josh’s ethnic ambiguity embodies the tension between Jewish and non-Jewish not as a declared conflict, but rather as something whispered. This is most evident in his examination at the Racial Bureau, an unspeakable and unidentifiable tension between “us and them.” Josh’s strange, “impure” lips fall outside of any Nazi framework of understanding. Even the word “baloney” resists immediate translation. This encounter between two strangers anticipates the ethos of Heil Darling.

Persecution, escape and disguise  

Josh decides to follow Doctor Mueller and learns that she is going to visit Braunau am Inn, the city where Hitler was born. In spite of being an ugly, small town. The narration in the script stresses: “Today, Braunau on the Inn is the mecca of the brown-shirted pilgrims.”16 Josh arranges a car with Krahulick and observes Doctor Mueller visiting Hitler’s old house. The guide shows them Hitler’s crib, Hitler’s diapers, the highchair on which Adolf had the first “premonition” of Mein Kampf. Doctor Mueller went to Braunau by bus, which was scheduled to return to Vienna at exactly 5pm. Aware of this, Josh opens the clock window of a store where Doctor Mueller is and sets the time back fifteen minutes. Acting as a picaresque protagonist, Josh achieves his goal. Doctor Mueller misses the bus. Suddenly, she sees Josh in his car, pretending he is there by chance. She asks the housekeeper if there is another bus. Of course there is, she answers. Next Sunday.

Doctor Mueller does not like Josh very much, but she has to work Monday morning. Devoid of other options, she asks Josh for a lift to Vienna. Josh is driving a very cheap automobile and they do not say a word for much of the many hours spent on the highway. On the seat between them lies a copy of Mein Kampf. Doctor Mueller looks at the book and asks why he is reading it. Josh replies that he is a newsman, and Hitler is in the news. So, he should be familiar with his ideas. Josh tells her that he did not, however, understand an excerpt on page 228 and asks that she explain it to him. The mood changes as Doctor Mueller begins to talk with enthusiasm, highlighting what she considers beautiful passages of Mein Kampf. Josh is a perfect listener. By the window, the scenery is beautiful, and they are driving along the Danube river. 

They have a good time on the remainder of the trip. They discuss their lives and even laugh together. When Josh leaves Mueller in front of her house, she decides to reduce the fine on the baloney offense to $50. The narrator ends the scene with this phrase: 

“And thus began a strange love story of an American mug, descent unknown, and the blondest fruit of a certified Nordic family tree”17

Before proceeding with this exposition of the Heil Darling script, it’s worthy of note that this kind of “strange love story” (often involving foreign partners) is often found in Wilder’s screenplays. For example, Midnight (Mitchell Leisen, 1939), is a classic screwball comedy that tells the story of Eve Peabody, an American showgirl that arrives in Paris without her luggage. Suddenly, she falls in love with a Hungarian taxi driver. These characters are always strange outsiders that very quickly become stranger insiders, as Gemunden has fittingly observed.

The second and third act of Heil Darling highlight the beginning of a love affair between Wilhelmine Mueller and Josh Crocker. He books an evening at the Prater Café, with an orchestra and a delicious dinner. Mueller, at this point, is still avoiding foreign products. She refuses to touch caviar, and even resents the waltz that was playing. The orchestra switches to the overture of Richard Wagner’s Siegfried’s Death, and Josh proposes a toast to the German composer. 

Josh and Wilhelmine are now drunk. They dance together. Wilhelmine asks about the woman he would have married, if he had been cleared when they first met.  “Let’s drink to her. And let’s drink to all the birth certificates I never had. How else would I meet you?” He lifts the glass and declares: “Heil Darling!” Then they kiss. “And it was she who kissed him first. Both his lips. His upper and his lower”18

After this scene, romance blossoms. Wilhelmine and Josh meet often, always hiding from Ludwig, who becomes aware that he is being cheated on. Promptly, Krahulick decides to change his plans and decides that he will marry the widow. Now, everybody has to escape together, including Wilhelmine in that very group of fugitives. Ludwig calls Josh’s office and tells him that he knows everything. That he will, therefore, send Wilhelmine to a concentration camp. 

Krahulick and the entourage of journalists disguise themselves as American diplomats. They go to Berlin and tell the Nazi official that there’s a possibility that some Jews infiltrated their staff. They claim to know, however, an officer who specializes in identifying dangerous elements. Her name is Doctor Mueller, and she must fly with them to the U.S.

The mission is a success. After this intervention, Josh and Wilhelmine meet in New York. The film closes as they kiss with the Statue of Liberty in the background. Disguise has always played a central role in Wilder’s works, as in other screwball comedies of the time, such as To be or not to be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942).

To Be Or Not To Be

Heil Darling, Heil Johnny: A Foreign Affair?

In my opinion, A Foreign Affair (Billy Wilder, 1948) comes the closest to what Wilder imagined in Heil Darling. Based on a story by David Shaw, which was later adapted by Robert Harari, the plot unfolds in Berlin after the second World War. Erika von Schlütow (Marlene Dietrich) is having an affair with American captain John Pringle (John Lund). In their first scene together, Erika greets captain Pringle with an enigmatic Heil Johnny

Marlene Dietrich and Billy Wilder on the set of A Foreign Affair

In witty and subtle fashion, Wilder mixes American culture with the cabaret ambiance of the Weimar Republic. Erika von Schlütow is framed as a cabaret singer who had close relationships with Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, as well as an affair with former Gestapo agent Hans Otto Birgel. Phoebe Frost (Jean Arthur) finds a newsreel in which Erika appears side by side with Hitler. Frost is an Iowa congresswoman in a United States congressional committee assigned to visit and supervise the American troops in Berlin.

Phoebe Frost has many affinities with Ninotchka (played by Greta Garbo in the Lubitsch film) and Doctor Mueller, our Nazi quasi-heroine. These three characters share strictly ideological standpoints: puritanism, communism and Nazism (respectively). However, they fall in love, which opens their hearts and minds to re-evaluating their beliefs. Further, they are all a part of a regime that ultimately exiles them.

Marlene Dietrich and Billy Wilder

While A Foreign Affair shares many similarities with Heil Darling, its temporal context is completely different. The former contemplates the world after the allied victory and Hitler’s suicide, as well as a Berlin occupied by allied powers. In the latter, the war hadn’t started yet. Hitler and the Third Reich are a very real threat to Josh, his colleagues as well as many Austrians around them who were seeking asylum. In 1938, Wilder wasn’t aware of the Holocaust. He did not know that the Nazis murdered his family. These differences in historical context also have a notable impact on the dangers faced by the characters. 

What truly distinguishes Heil Darling from Wildler’s other work is the theme of the forbidden marriage between an Aryan and non-Aryan character. Wilder touches on a theme that was taboo in its time19. On one hand, Wilder mobilises his flair for comedic dialogue to talk to a (potentially) mainstream audience about brutal political relaties. On the other hand, the central conceit of Doctor Mueller is quite unique. Little by little, she is seduced by Josh and abandons Nazi ideology. In 1939, the world knew Hitler’s name, but we didn’t know about his war crimes until after concentration camps were liberated.

Heil Darling and its role in Billy Wilder’s career

In my opinion, Heil Darling is key to a more nuanced understanding of Billy Wilder’s point of view and aesthetic pursuits. Gerd Gemunden writes, “the tension between insider and outsider is also crucial for Wilder’s notion of Jewishness. To be Jewish had vastly different meanings in the respective cultures in which Wilder lived, making the experience of Anti-Semitism anything from a daily nuisance one could ridicule or ignore, to a major stumbling block for a professional career, to a life-threatening situation.”20 

Marlene Dietrich and Billy Wilder. In the late 1930’s, they created a fund to help Jews and dissidents escape from Nazi Germany.21

The tensions between speaking the unspeakable, oscillating between loyalist and traitor, exile and asylum, escaping and surviving are quite prominent in Heil Darling. Therefore, I believe that this script should be included as a key work for the critical revision of studies about Billy Wilder’s career as well as in examinations of the different ways that Hollywood confronted Anti-Semitism in the 1930s. As I have argued here, unfilmed scripts and screenwriters’ voices can play a central role in these revisions. 

By way of conclusion, I would like to include a more personal note. The year of 2019 was a strange one. It was when I first visited the Margaret Herrick Library and became acquainted with Wilder’s script. I am Brazilian. The year of 2019 also saw my country experiencing the beginning of a radical right-wing president’s term, with obvious fascistic tendencies. As far as I know, we do not have a predominant strain of Anti-Semitism in Brazil. It is evident, however, that the president and his State policies are acting ruthlessly against Indigenous people, Black people, LGBTQ+ populations as well as the environment. 

In retrospect, it’s easy to see the fascism in places Wilder used to call home. Namely Austria, Germany and the United States. While reading Wilder’s script, I empathised with his characters. Still surprised at how history can repeat itself, a fact that is both tragic and farcical. There are moments in history when one’s lips cannot say precisely what should be said, yet they cannot remain silent. From this point of view, Wilder’s unfilmed script is indeed a great masterpiece. To laugh, therefore, is also a way of sounding the alarm of history.

Editors Note

Copy for this piece was finalised on Australia Day: January 26, 2022. This is a national holiday that First Nations people call a Day of Mourning, as it marks the start of their attempted genocide which laid the foundation for Australia as a Commonwealth country. In my day job, I’m the media advisor to an Aboriginal Senator. To mark “Australia Day,” we were sent a video of men in balaclavas burning the Aboriginal flag and signalling the sieg heil in front of a sign that named and made threats of sexual violence against my boss. Re-reading Wilders’ script from 1938, and watching footage of neo-Nazi’s in 2022, I just burst into tears. The saying goes that if you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you. The politician I work for tells the truth, and that makes her a target. Wilder wrote comedies, and that’s what makes this a tragedy.


  1. Ed Sikov, On Sunset Boulevard: the Life and Times of Billy Wilder (Hyperion, 1998), p. 233-251.
  2. Charlotte Chandler, Nobody’s Perfect: Billy Wilder – a Personal Biography (Simon & Schuster, 2002), p.74
  3. In Sikov (1998) there is a chapter with the very title of the Heil Darling script, which introduces its story. In my research, I am yet to find any other mention of Jacques Théry as a screenwriter. Given that it has many of Wilder’s stylistic markers, I will refer to it as Wilder’s script.
  4. Ed Sikov, On Sunset Boulevard: the Life and Times of Billy Wilder (Hyperion, 1998), p. 141.
  5. I found that notebook at the Margaret Herrick Library, in Los Angeles.
  6. Billy Wilder & Jacques Théry: Heil Darling (Margaret Herrick Library, 1938), p.6
  7. Billy Wilder & Jacques Théry: Heil Darling (Margaret Herrick Library, 1938), p.7
  8. Between 1925 and 1930, Billy Wilder worked as a journalist in Vienna and Berlin. See Noah Isenberg ed. Billy Wilder on Assignment (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 2021.
  9. Wilder and Théry (1938), p.9
  10. Wilder and Théry (1938), p.9
  11. Wilder and Théry (1938), p.11
  12. “And yet, just before the Anschluss, there were more than one thousand seven hundred suicides in a single week. Soon, reporting a suicide in the press would become an act of resistance. A few journalists still dared to write “sudden demise,” but swift reprisals quickly silenced them”, Erick Vuillard: The Order of the Day (Other Press, 2017), p.170. It is a historical novel. However, I consider this number of suicides quite expressive. In the novel, Vuillard does not share the sources of that information.
  13. Wilder and Théry (1938), p.15
  14. Wilder and Théry (1938), p.20 – 26.
  15. Gerd Germünden, A Foreign Affair: Billy Wilder’s American Films (Berghahn Books, 2008), p. 25. While highlighting diaspora and exile, this interpretation shares some aspects of the accented cinema as conceived by Hamid Naficy, An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking (Princeton University), 2001. Subtly, Billy Wilder brought these issues to the core of the Hollywood classical era.
  16. Wilder and Théry (1938), p.32
  17. Wilder and Théry (1938), p.37.
  18. Wilder and Théry (1938), p.41.
  19. One should note that such taboo occurred even in American interracial relationships, which were illegal until 1967. Besides, interracial partners were avoided in motion pictures, banned under the Hays Code, and included in its “don’ts and be careful” list.
  20. Gerd Germünden, A Foreign Affair: Billy Wilder’s American Films (Berghahn Books, 2008), p. 26.
  21. Dirk Deklein, Marlene Dietrich, History of Sorts, 27 December 2016

About The Author

Pablo Gonçalo is an Assistant Professor at the University of Brasilia. In 2019, he was awarded Fulbright Junior Visiting Scholar at the University of Chicago. Since he got his PhD, he has been researching unfilmed screenplays. He has presented papers in conferences such as SCMS, NECS, and Screenwriting Research Network. His first book analyses the collaboration between Peter Handke and Wim Wenders. Hollywood Paper Films, his second book, focuses on unfilmed screenplays of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

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