|Birth name Melvin James Kaminsky|
Name Mel Brooks
|Allegiance United States|
Years active 1949–present
|Born June 28, 1926 (age 89)
Brooklyn, New York, United States (1926-06-28) |
Medium Film, television, musical theatre
Genres Farce, parody, musical comedy, satire, sketch comedy
Role Film director · melbrooks.com
Spouse Anne Bancroft (m. 1964–2005), Florence Baum (m. 1953–1962)
Children Max Brooks, Nicky Brooks, Stephanie Brooks, Eddie Brooks, Nicholas Brooks
Notable works and roles The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, History of the World, Part I
Movies Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, History of the World - Part I, Young Frankenstein, Robin Hood: Men in Tights
Similar People Anne Bancroft, Gene Wilder, Carl Reiner, Madeline Kahn, Max Brooks
Service/branch United States Army
Gene wilder on willy wonka remake young frankenstein mel brooks and more
Mel Brooks (born Melvin Kaminsky; June 28, 1926) is an American actor, writer, producer, director, comedian, and composer. He is known as a creator of broad film farces and comic parodies. Brooks began his career as a comic and a writer for the early TV variety show Your Show of Shows. He became well known as part of the comedy duo with Carl Reiner in the comedy skit The 2000 Year Old Man. He also created, with Buck Henry, the hit television comedy series Get Smart, which ran from 1965 to 1970.
- Gene wilder on willy wonka remake young frankenstein mel brooks and more
- Mel brooks the producers and the ethics of satire about n zis
- Early life and education
- Early career and Your Show of Shows
- The 2000 Year Old Man and Get Smart
- Early career as a film director
- Success as a Hollywood director
- Later film career
- Personal life
In middle age, Brooks became one of the most successful film directors of the 1970s, with many of his films being among the top 10 moneymakers of the year they were released. His best-known films include The Producers, The Twelve Chairs, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, High Anxiety, History of the World, Part I, Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. A musical adaptation of his first film, The Producers, ran on Broadway, from 2001 to 2007.
In 2001, having previously won an Emmy, a Grammy and an Oscar, he joined a small list of EGOT winners with his Tony Award for The Producers. He received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2009, a Hollywood Walk of Fame star in 2010, the 41st AFI Life Achievement Award in June 2013, a British Film Institute Fellowship in March 2015, a National Medal of Arts in September 2016, and a BAFTA Fellowship in February 2017. Three of his films ranked in the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 comedy films of the past 100 years (1900–2000), all of which ranked in the top 15 of the list: Blazing Saddles at number 6, The Producers at number 11, and Young Frankenstein at number 13.
Brooks was married to Oscar and Tony-winning actress, Anne Bancroft, from 1964, until her death in 2005.
Mel brooks the producers and the ethics of satire about n zis
Early life and education
Brooks was born Melvin Kaminsky on June 28, 1926, in Brooklyn, New York, to Max and Kate (née Brookman) Kaminsky, and grew up in Williamsburg. His father's family were German Jews of Polish descent from the Free City of Danzig (present-day Gdańsk, Poland); his mother's family were Jews from Kiev, in the Pale of Settlement of the Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine). He had three older brothers: Irving, Lenny, and Bernie. Brooks' father died of kidney disease at 34 when Brooks was 2 years old. He has said of his father's death, "There's an outrage there. I may be angry at God, or at the world, for that. And I'm sure a lot of my comedy is based on anger and hostility. Growing up in Williamsburg, I learned to clothe it in comedy to spare myself problems—like a punch in the face."
Brooks was a small, sickly boy who often was bullied and teased by his classmates. He grew up in tenement housing. At age 9, Brooks went to a Broadway show with his uncle Joe—a taxi driver who would drive the Broadway doormen back to Brooklyn for free and was given the tickets in gratitude—and saw Anything Goes with William Gaxton, Ethel Merman and Victor Moore at the Alvin Theater. After the show, he told his uncle that he was not going to work in the Garment District like everyone else but was absolutely going into show business. He was taught by Buddy Rich (who had also grown up in Williamsburg) how to play the drums and started earning money at it when he was 14.
After attending Abraham Lincoln High School for a year, Brooks graduated from Eastern District High School and then spent a year at Brooklyn College as a psychology major before being drafted into the army. He attended the Army Specialized Training Program conducted at the Virginia Military Institute (although not actually as a VMI cadet), and served in the United States Army as a corporal in the 1104 Engineer Combat Battalion, 78th Infantry Division, defusing land mines during World War II.
Early career and Your Show of Shows
After the war, Brooks started working in various Borscht Belt resorts and nightclubs in the Catskill Mountains as a drummer and pianist. Around this time, he changed his professional name to "Mel Brooks" (from his mother's maiden name Brookman) after being confused with the Borscht Belt trumpet player Max Kaminsky. After a regular comic at one of the nightclubs was too sick to perform one night, Brooks started working as a stand-up comic, telling jokes and doing movie-star impressions. He also began acting in summer stock in Red Bank, New Jersey, and did some radio work. He eventually worked his way up to the comically aggressive job of Tummler (master entertainer) at Grossinger's, one of the Borscht Belt's most famous resorts.
Brooks found more rewarding work behind the scenes, becoming a comedy writer for television. In 1949 his friend Sid Caesar hired Brooks to write jokes for the NBC series The Admiral Broadway Revue, paying him $50 a week. In 1950 Caesar created the revolutionary variety comedy series Your Show of Shows and hired Brooks as a writer along with Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, Danny Simon, and head writer Mel Tolkin. The show was an immediate hit and has been influential to all variety and sketch-comedy TV shows since. Reiner, as creator of The Dick Van Dyke Show, based Morey Amsterdam's character Buddy Sorell on Brooks. Likewise, the 1982 film My Favorite Year is loosely based on Brooks's experiences as a writer on the show and an encounter with aging Hollywood actor Errol Flynn. Neil Simon's 1993 play Laughter on the 23rd Floor is also loosely based on the production of the show, and the character Ira Stone is based on Brooks. Your Show of Shows ended in 1954 when performer Imogene Coca left to host her own show. Caesar then created Caesar's Hour with most of the same cast and writers (including Brooks and adding Larry Gelbart). Caesar's Hour ran from 1954 until 1957.
The 2000 Year Old Man and Get Smart
Brooks and co-writer Reiner had become fast friends and began to casually improvise comedy routines when they were not working. Reiner would play the straight man interviewer who would set Brooks up as anything from a Tibetan monk to an astronaut. As Reiner explained, "In the evening, we'd go to a party and I'd pick a character for him to play. I never told him what it was going to be." On one of these occasions, Reiner's suggestion was a 2000-year-old man who had witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (who "came in the store but never bought anything"), had been married several hundred times, and had "over forty-two thousand children, and not one comes to visit me." At first Brooks and Reiner would only perform the routine for friends, but by the late 1950s, it had gained a cult status in New York City. Kenneth Tynan saw the comedy duo perform at a party in 1959 and wrote that Brooks "was the most original comic improvisor I had ever seen."
In 1960, Brooks moved from New York to Hollywood. He and Reiner began performing the "2000 Year Old Man" act on the Steve Allen Show. Their performances led to the release of the comedy album 2000 Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks that sold over a million copies in 1961. They eventually expanded their routine with two more albums in 1961 and 1962, a revival in 1973, a 1975 animated TV special, and a reunion album in 1998. At one point, when Brooks had financial and career struggles, the record sales from the 2000 Year Old Man were his chief source of income.
Brooks adapted the 2000 Year Old Man character to create the 2500 Year Old Brewmaster for Ballantine Beer in the 1960s. Interviewed by Dick Cavett in a series of ads, the Brewmaster (in a German accent, as opposed to the 2000 Year Old Man's Yiddish accent) said he was inside the original Trojan horse and "could've used a six-pack of fresh air. "
In 1962, Brooks wrote the Broadway musical All American. Brooks wrote the play with lyrics by Lee Adams, and music by Charles Strouse. The show starred Ray Bolger as a southern science professor at a large university who uses the principles of engineering on the college's football team and the team begins to win games. The show was directed by Joshua Logan, whose script doctored the second act and added a gay subtext to the plot. The show ran for 80 performances and received two Tony Award nominations.
In 1963, Brooks was involved in the animated short film The Critic, a satire of arty, esoteric cinema, conceived by Brooks and directed by Ernest Pintoff. Brooks supplied running commentary as the baffled moviegoer trying to make sense of the obscure visuals. The short film won the Academy Award for Animated Short Film.
In 1965, Brooks teamed up with comedy writer Buck Henry to create a comedic TV show about a bumbling James Bond-inspired spy. Brooks explains, "I was sick of looking at all those nice sensible situation comedies. They were such distortions of life... I wanted to do a crazy, unreal comic-strip kind of thing about something besides a family. No one had ever done a show about an idiot before. I decided to be the first." The show that Brooks and Henry created was Get Smart, starring Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, Agent 86. This series ran from 1965 until 1970, although Brooks was not involved with its production after the pilot episode. Get Smart was highly rated for most of its production and won seven Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Comedy Series in 1968 and 1969.
Early career as a film director
For several years, Brooks had been toying with a bizarre and unconventional idea about a musical comedy of Adolf Hitler. Brooks explored the idea as a novel and a play before finally writing a script. Eventually, he was able to find two producers to fund the show, Joseph E. Levine and Sidney Glazier, and made his first feature film, The Producers, in 1968.
The Producers was so brazen in its satire that major studios would not touch it, nor would many exhibitors. Brooks finally found an independent distributor who released it as an art film, a specialized attraction. In 1968, Brooks received an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for the film, beating such writers as Stanley Kubrick and John Cassavetes. The Producers became a smash underground hit, first on the nationwide college circuit, then in revivals and on home video. Brooks later turned it into a musical, which became hugely successful on Broadway, receiving an unprecedented twelve Tony awards.
With the moderate financial success of the film The Producers, Glazier financed Brooks's next film in 1970, The Twelve Chairs. Loosely based on a Russian 1928 novel The Twelve Chairs by Ilf and Petrov about greedy materialism in post-revolutionary Russia, the film stars Ron Moody, Frank Langella, and Dom DeLuise as three men individually searching for a fortune in diamonds hidden in a set of 12 antique chairs. Brooks makes a cameo appearance as an alcoholic ex-serf who "yearns for the regular beatings of yesteryear." The film was shot in Yugoslavia with a budget of $1.5 million. The film received poor reviews and was not financially successful.
Success as a Hollywood director
Brooks then wrote an adaptation of Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer, but was unable to sell the idea to any studio and believed that his career was over. In 1972, Brooks met agent David Begelman, who helped him set up a deal with Warner Brothers to hire Brooks (as well as Richard Pryor, Andrew Bergman, Norman Steinberg, and Al Uger) as a script doctor for an unproduced script called Tex-X. Eventually, Brooks was hired as director for what would become Blazing Saddles, his third film.
Blazing Saddles starred Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens, Madeline Kahn, Alex Karras, and Brooks himself, with cameos by Dom DeLuise and Count Basie. The film had music by Brooks and John Morris, and received a modest budget of $2.6 million. This film is a satire on the Western film genre and references older films such as Destry Rides Again, High Noon, Once Upon a Time in the West, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, as well as a surreal scene towards the end of the film referencing the extravagant musicals of Busby Berkeley.
Upon its release, Blazing Saddles was the second-highest US grossing film of 1974, earning $119.5 million worldwide. Despite mixed reviews, the film was a success with younger audiences. It was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Madeline Kahn, Best Film Editing, and Best Music, Original Song. The film won the Writers Guild of America Award for "Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen" and in 2006 it was deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. Brooks has said that the film "has to do with love more than anything else. I mean when that black guy rides into that Old Western town and even a little old lady says 'Up yours nigger!', you know that his heart is broken. So it's really the story of that heart being mended."
When Gene Wilder replaced Gig Young as the Waco Kid, he did so only if Brooks agreed that his next film would be an idea that Wilder had been working on: a spoof of the old Universal Frankenstein films. After the filming of Blazing Saddles was completed, Wilder and Brooks began writing the script for Young Frankenstein and shot the film in the spring of 1974. It starred Wilder, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman and Kenneth Mars with Gene Hackman in a memorable cameo role. Brooks' voice can be heard three times, first as the wolf howl when the characters are on their way to the castle, second as the voice of Victor Frankenstein when the characters discover the laboratory, and third as the cat sound when Gene Wilder accidentally throws a dart out of the window in a scene with Kenneth Mars. Composer John Morris again provided the music score and Universal Monsters film special effects veteran Kenneth Strickfaden worked on the film.
Young Frankenstein was the third-highest-grossing film domestically of 1974, just behind Blazing Saddles. It earned $86 million worldwide and received two Academy Award nominations: Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay and Academy Award for Best Sound. It received some of the best reviews of Brooks's career and even critic Pauline Kael liked the film, saying: "Brooks makes a leap up as a director because, although the comedy doesn't build, he carries the story through...Brooks even has a satisfying windup, which makes this just about the only comedy of recent years that doesn't collapse."
In 1975, at the height of his movie career, Brooks tried TV again with When Things Were Rotten, a Robin Hood parody that lasted only 13 episodes. Nearly 20 years later, in response to the 1991 hit film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Brooks mounted another Robin Hood parody in 1993 with Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Brooks's film resurrected several pieces of dialogue from his TV series, as well as from earlier Brooks films.
In 1976, Brooks followed up his two hit films with an audacious idea: the first feature-length silent comedy in four decades. Silent Movie was written by Brooks and Ron Clark, starring Brooks in his first leading role, Dom DeLuise, Marty Feldman, Sid Caesar, Bernadette Peters, and in cameo roles playing themselves: Paul Newman, Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Liza Minnelli, Anne Bancroft, and with brilliant irony, Marcel Marceau, the man who never speaks, who uttered the film's only word of audible dialogue: "Non!"
Although not as successful as his previous two films, Silent Movie was a hit and grossed $36 million. Later that year, Brooks was named number 5 on a list of the Top Ten Box Office Stars.
In 1977, Brooks made a parody of the films of Alfred Hitchcock in High Anxiety. The film was written by Brooks, Ron Clark, Rudy De Luca, and Barry Levinson and was the first movie produced by Brooks himself. It starred Brooks, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman, Ron Carey, Howard Morris, and Dick Van Patten. The film satirizes such Hitchcock classic films as Vertigo, Spellbound, Psycho, The Birds, North by Northwest, Dial M for Murder, and Suspicion. Brooks stars as Professor Richard H. (for Harpo) Thorndyke, a Nobel Prize-winning psychologist who also happens to suffer from "high anxiety".
Later film career
By 1980 Siskel and Ebert called Mel Brooks and Woody Allen "the two most successful comedy directors in the world today ... America's two funniest filmmakers." That year, Brooks produced the dramatic film The Elephant Man (directed by David Lynch). Knowing that anyone seeing a poster reading "Mel Brooks presents The Elephant Man" would expect a comedy, he set up the company Brooksfilms. Brooksfilms has since produced a number of non-comedy films, including David Cronenberg's The Fly, Frances, and 84 Charing Cross Road, starring Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft, along with comedies, including Richard Benjamin's My Favorite Year, which was partially based on Mel Brooks's real life. Brooks sought to purchase the rights to 84 Charing Cross Road for his wife, Anne Bancroft, for many years. He also produced the comedy Fatso that Anne Bancroft directed.
In 1981, Brooks joked that the only genres that he had not spoofed were historical epics and Biblical spectacles. History of the World Part I was a tongue-in-cheek look at human culture from the Dawn of Man to the French Revolution. The film was written, produced, and directed by Brooks with narration by Orson Welles. This film was another modest financial hit, earning $31 million. It received mixed critical reviews. Critic Pauline Kael, who for years had been critical of Brooks, said: "Either you get stuck thinking about the bad taste or you let yourself laugh at the obscenity in the humor as you do Bunuel's perverse dirty jokes."
In 1983, Brooks produced and starred in (but did not write or direct) a remake of the classic 1942 Ernst Lubitsch film. To Be or Not to Be was directed by Alan Johnson and starred Brooks, Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Tim Matheson, Jose Ferrer, and Christopher Lloyd. The film garnered international publicity by featuring a controversial song on its soundtrack – "To Be Or Not To Be" (The Hitler Rap) – satirizing German society in the 1940s with Brooks playing Hitler.
The second movie Brooks directed in the 1980s came in 1987 in the form of Spaceballs, a parody of science fiction, mainly Star Wars. The film starred Bill Pullman, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Daphne Zuniga, Dick Van Patten, Joan Rivers, Dom DeLuise, and Brooks. In 1989, Brooks (with co-executive producer Alan Spencer) made another attempt at television success with the sitcom The Nutt House, which featured Brooks regulars Harvey Korman and Cloris Leachman and was originally broadcast on NBC, but the network only aired five of the eleven episodes produced before canceling the series. In the 1990s, Brooks directed Life Stinks (1991), Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), and Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995). People suggested, "anyone in a mood for a hearty laugh couldn't do better than Robin Hood: Men in Tights, which gave fans a parody of Robin Hood, especially Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Like Brooks's other films, it is filled with classic one-liners, and even the occasional breaking of the fourth wall. Robin Hood: Men in Tights was Brooks's second time exploring the life of Robin Hood, the first, as mentioned above, having been with his 1975 TV show, When Things Were Rotten. Life Stinks was a financial and critical failure, but is notable as being the only film that Brooks directed that is neither a parody nor a film about other films or theater. (The Twelve Chairs was actually a parody of the original novel.) In the 2000s, Brooks worked on an animated series sequel to Spaceballs called Spaceballs: The Animated Series, which premiered on September 21, 2008, on G4 TV. Brooks has also supplied vocal roles for animation. He voiced Bigweld the master inventor, in the 2005 animated film Robots and the 2014 animated film Mr. Peabody & Sherman and had a cameo appearance as Albert Einstein. He returned, to voice Dracula's father, Vlad, in Hotel Transylvania 2 (2015).
One of his most recent successes has been the adaptation of his film The Producers to the Broadway stage. The show broke the Tony record with 12 wins, a record that had previously been held for 37 years by Hello, Dolly! at 10 wins. This success led to a big-screen version of the Broadway adaptation/remake with actors Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane reprising their stage roles, in addition to new cast members Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell in 2005. In early April 2006, Brooks began composing the score to a Broadway musical adaptation of Young Frankenstein, which he says is "perhaps the best movie [he] ever made. " The world premiere was performed at Seattle's Paramount Theater, between August 7, 2007, and September 1, 2007, after which it opened on Broadway at the former Lyric Theater (then the Hilton Theatre), New York, on October 11, 2007. It earned mixed reviews from the critics.
Brooks joked about the concept of a musical adaptation of Blazing Saddles in the final number in Young Frankenstein, in which the full company sings, "next year, Blazing Saddles!" In 2010, Mel Brooks confirmed this, saying that the musical could be finished within a year. No creative team or plan has been announced.
Brooks is one of the few people who have received an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, and a Grammy. He was awarded his first Grammy for Best Spoken Comedy Album in 1999 for his recording of The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000 with Carl Reiner. His two other Grammys came in 2002 for Best Musical Show Album for the cast album of The Producers and for Best Long Form Music Video for the DVD "Recording the Producers – A Musical Romp with Mel Brooks". He won his first of four Emmy awards in 1967 for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Variety for a Sid Caesar special and went on to win three consecutive Emmys in 1997, 1998, and 1999 for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his role of Uncle Phil on Mad About You. Brooks won his Academy Award for Original Screenplay (Oscar) in 1968 for The Producers. He won his three Tony awards in 2001 for his work on the musical, The Producers for Best Musical, Best Original Musical Score, and Best Book of a Musical. Additionally, he won a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award for Young Frankenstein. In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, he was voted No. 50 of the top 50 comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders. Three of Brooks's films are on the American Film Institute's list of funniest American films: Blazing Saddles (#6), The Producers (#11), and Young Frankenstein (#13).
Brooks developed a repertory company of sorts for his film work: performers with three or more of Brooks's films (The Producers, The Twelve Chairs, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, High Anxiety, History of the World: Part I, Spaceballs, Life Stinks, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and Dracula: Dead and Loving It) to their credit include Gene Wilder, Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Ron Carey, Dick Van Patten, and Andréas Voutsinas. DeLuise appeared in six of Brooks's eleven original films; the only person with more appearances was Brooks himself.
Brooks and his wife Anne Bancroft acted together in Silent Movie and To Be or Not to Be and Bancroft also had a bit part in Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Years later, the couple appeared as themselves in the fourth-season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm, spoofing the finale of The Producers. Bancroft reportedly encouraged Brooks (after an idea suggested by David Geffen) to take The Producers to Broadway, where it became an enormous success.
In interviews broadcast on WABC radio, Brooks has discussed with NYC radio personality Mark Simone the possibilities of turning other works from his creative oeuvre (such as the movie Blazing Saddles) into future musical productions. Specifically, in a conversation airing March 1, 2008, Simone and he speculated on what show tunes might be incorporated into a theatrical adaptation of the Get Smart property.
On December 5, 2009, Brooks was one of five recipients of the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. He was awarded the 2,406th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 23, 2010. American Masters produced a biography on Brooks which premiered May 20, 2013, on PBS. The American Film Institute presented Brooks with its highest tribute, the AFI Life Achievement Award, in June 2013. In 2014 Brooks was honored in a handprint and footprint ceremony at TCL Chinese Theatre. His concrete handprints include a six-fingered left hand as he wore a prosthetic finger when making his prints. On March 20, 2015, Brooks was awarded a British Film Institute Fellowship from the British Film Institute.
Brooks was married to Florence Baum (1926-2008), who was also Jewish, from 1953 to 1962, their marriage ending in divorce. They had three children: Stephanie, Nicky, and Eddie.
Brooks married stage, film and television actress Anne Bancroft in 1964, and they remained together until her death in 2005. They had met at a rehearsal for the Perry Como Variety Show in 1961, and were married three years later on August 5, 1964, at the Manhattan Marriage Bureau. Their son, Max Brooks, was born in 1972, and their grandson, Henry Michael Brooks, was born in 2005.
In 2010, Brooks credited Bancroft with having been "the guiding force" behind his involvement in developing The Producers and Young Frankenstein for the musical theater, saying of an early meeting with her: "From that day, until her death…we were glued together."
Regarding religion, Brooks stated, "I'm rather secular. I'm basically Jewish. But I think I'm Jewish not because of the Jewish religion at all. I think it's the relationship with the people and the pride I have. The tribe surviving so many misfortunes, and being so brave and contributing so much knowledge to the world and showing courage."
Brooks' grandnephew from his brother Lenny, Todd Kaminsky, is a New York state senator for state senate district 9 on Long Island and formerly represented Long Island's state assembly district 20 in the New York State Assembly.
Brooks recorded a rap single To Be or Not to Be (The Hitler Rap) which reached number 3 in the Australian charts and number 12 in the UK charts in 1984.