Photo Credit, Eric John
It was a historical night at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills, as they played host to the PBS series,”American Masters.” The event celebrated the incredible life of what moderator Richard Benjamin introduced as, “The two most important words in show business: Mel Brooks.” The evening featured a Q & A panel with Brooks himself and the premiere of the documentary.
Airing nationwide on May 20th (9:00p.m. ET/PT on PBS, check local listings) American Masters Mel Brooks: Make a Noiseis the first documentary chronicling Brooks’ 60-year career. It is directed by Robert Trachtenberg and beautifully tells the story of a jewish kid (Born: Melvin James Kaminsky, June 28th,1926) from Brooklyn, NY, who at the age of 9 goes to see his first show Anything Goes which starred Ethel Mermon. Mr. Brooks described the experience as “I couldn’t catch my breath.” He remembers Ethel Mermon’s vocal range as,”There were no microphones, and still she was too loud!” This moment kicked off his love affair with entertainment.
In childhood, he stated that,”I wasn’t religious,but always Jewish”. He used comedy as a tool to be accepted and to help deal with the loss of his father who died when he was 2 years old to kidney disease. He became a drummer because he wanted the
attention growing up. Carl Reiner said it best of Brooks,”He felt special, and he was special.” In 1949, Brooks landed a gig writing comedy on Cid Ceasar’s show,The Admiral Broadway Revue which lead to him working on Your Show of Showsthe next year, where he met fellow writer Carl Reiner. The two eventually became a comedy team. In 1960, Brooks moved from New York to Hollywood and along with Reiner, they perform the “2000 Year Old Man” routine on the Steve Allen Show. In 1965, Brooks along with another fellow writer named Buck Henry, created the series, Get Smart. Brooks describes that experience as,”I was sick of looking at all those nice sensible situation comedies. No one had ever done a show about an idiot before. I decided to
be the first.” In 1968, Brooks won an Oscar for “Best Original Screenplay” for The Producers beating out heavyweights like2001 and Battle of Algiers. Handing the oscar to him that night was Frank Sinatra and Don Rickels, and Brooks beautifully ends his speech thanking Gene Wilder three times (a must see part of this documentary).
His next film was The Twelve Chairs in 1970, followed by Blazing Saddles in 1972. Through the documentary, we learn that Richard Pryor was originally to be cast as character Black Bart, but was strongly denied by the studio. We also discover that it was on the set of Blazing Saddles that Wilder came to Brooks with the idea of Young Frankenstein. Brooks starts producing feature films, the first being The Elephant Man directed by David Lynch. Brooks took on a silent role in the film’s creation because he didn’t want his name to make the film seem as if it were a comedy. In 1981, brooks filmsHistory of the World a comedic look at early history, which he followed this up with the cult classic Spaceballs (1987) andDracula: Dead and Loving It (1995). At the turn of the century, when Brooks (by countless suggestions courtesy of David Geffen) decided to turn The Producers into a Broadway show, he had no idea the history it would make! It would pave the way for future shows like Spamalot and Book of Mormon.
In additional to encompassing his career, the documentary features fascinating and wonderful personal moments. For example, when his wife actress Ann Bancroft is asked what it’s like working with her husband, she responds, “It’s like being pregnant, some days were good, somedays you felt like throwing up.” In another segment Gene Wilder is asked if meeting Brooks was a significant moment in his life, he replies,”That’s like asking Moses if the burning bush was significant.” Another favorite moment is when Mr.Trachtenberg asks Brooks for his take on critics in which he simply states,”Time is the major critic…if it lasts, it’s good.”
There were one of a kind moments during the panel discussion as well, in which Brooks can never hold still (you can view the live stream from the Paley Center here). For example, when talking about Madeline Kahn,”I really didn’t have to direct her, because she was so good, she knew what to do.” Or when he talked about turning Blazing Saddles into a musical.
Mr.Brooks is one of the few entertainers who has the distinct honor of winning a Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, and a Grammy, and at 60 years in show business this documentary proves one thing- “It’s good to be the king!”
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