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Bedford Street trades one celebrity sculpture for another

September 17, 2018

STAMFORD — Actor Gene Wilder was known for his comedic timing.

But the longtime Stamford resident was also an intellectual, a writer and a patron of the arts, particularly in the city he called home. From about 2004 to 2012, film buffs came from near and far for “Wilder’s Picks,” where the actor presented two classic films he loved, as well as one of his own works, over the course of three months. His wife, Karen Wilder, often interviewed him about the movie before the screening.

“They had a wonderful repertoire,” recalls Deborah Royce, a Greenwich resident, former actress and friend of the Wilders. “It was great to sit and listen to them...What really came through from Gene was his absolute intelligence and humor. He wasn’t cracking jokes. That sparkle in his eye that you saw in his films, you definitely saw in person. He was just a brilliant man. They together were an extraordinary couple.”

Now, Wilder’s brilliance and work is forever commemorated in front of the Avon Theatre via a pyramid sculpture and mural depicting him as characters from his films. The piece, auctioned off by Stamford’s Downtown Special Services District (DSSD), was purchased by Royce, an Avon board member and co-founder who donated it to the theater.

“When that sculpture came up it was meaningful to us,” Royce said. “Gene Wilder is and always will be a part of Stamford history.”

The Wilder tribute arrives to Bedford Street shortly before the departure of the last lingering piece of the summer 2018 art series. “Forever Marilyn,” the 26-foot Marilyn Monroe sculpture in Latham Park that was partly sponsored by Royce and her family, will be taken down on Sept. 25, according to Kate Cook at the DSSD. The rest of the proportionately life-sized statues were removed last week, but Cook said Marilyn, who became as popular a draw as “Wilder’s Picks,” requires a more intricate removal involving the help of a crane.

Cook said SDSSD will be seeing if foot traffic drops in Latham Park once the 30,000-pound statue is removed. The group installed a pedestrian counter in the park earlier in the summer to measure how the iconic blonde brought people in.

“It’s really brought exposure to such a great park we have downtown that honestly a lot of people don’t even know,” Cook said. “It’s been great to not only have exposure for the park, but bring more people out. I don’t think I’ve ever driven past Marilyn without seeing a dozen people out.”

erin.kayata@stamfordadvocate.com; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata

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