IOWA CITY — When Gene Wilder was a communication and theater arts student at the University of Iowa in the 1950s, he was Jerome Silberman from Milwaukee.
But as Wilder’s career took off, Professor Emeritus of Communication Studies Samuel Becker raised the possibility of obtaining some of the actor’s scripts and documents, and he kept the conversation going until that became a reality in the early 2000s, said Greg Prickman, head of UI special collections.
The university now boasts about eight boxes of Wilder’s scripts, photos and other documents in its “secure stacks” ion the special collections. And anyone can come investigate the writings, including parts Wilder acted, directed and wrote, Prickman said.
Some of the work never made it to fruition. Others — like the fourth version of “Young Frankenstein” — show his work in progress.
Although the university has had these documents for years, Prickman said Wilder’s passing emphasizes their importance.
“On a day like today, you see the value of putting the effort into preserving what you can when you can,” he said. “A collection like this allows us to capture him in a way that would be difficult otherwise.”
The university long has cherished its association with Wilder, but Prickman said his enduring legacy and the UI collection will make it more widely known.
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“We know the University of Iowa has a long association going back to his time as a student,” Prickman said. “But now we will have a long history going into the future because we will be able to serve as a repository.”