Hercules Laughs A Lot At Tonight’s Can’t-Miss 90-Minute Mel Brooks Episode Of PBS’s AMERICAN MASTERS!!
You get laughs two ways out of tonight’s 90-minute show:
1) The clips from Brooks’ many works; and
2) Brooks himself, still very funny in new interview footage shot by filmmaker Robert Trachtenberg.
When I wasn’t laughing, I learned:
* Lawrence Welk had twice the ratings of “Sid Caesar Invites You,” Caeser’s final variety show series.
* Brooks’ first wife was, rather improbably, even hotter than Jessica Harper.
* It never occurred to Carl Reiner to hire the underemployed Brooks to write an episode of Reiner’s “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” “He never did that kind of comedy,” explains Reiner. “He makes fun of big things.”
* Indeed, ABC passed on “Get Smart” because Brooks and co-creator Buck Henry refused to add a mother.
* “Anne Bancroft, Comedy Writer Married in N.Y.” was the headline announcing Brooks’ second marriage in 1964.
* Gene Wilder met Mel Brooks because Wilder was appearing in Bertolt Brecht’s anti-war play “Mother Courage and Her Children” with Bancroft.
* The New York Times’ Renata Adler gave a mixed review to “The Producers.” “Some of it is shoddy and gross and cruel; the rest is funny in an entirely unexpected way,” she wrote. “It is less delicate than Lenny Bruce.” Brooks remember the review as a pan that heralded the end of his career. Gene Shalit apparently gave it a rave.
* Brooks remembers beating Kubrick and “2001: A Space Odyssey” out of the best original screenplay Oscar. Rickles and Sinatra presented Brooks the statue. We get to see his entire acceptance speech, which gets big laughs and thanks Gene Wilder thrice.
* Brooks remembers “The Producers” and follow-up “The Twelve Chairs” as barely being profitable.
* Brooks tells a funny story about being offered the director’s chair for “Tex X,” a script by Andrew Bergman.
* “We can’t have four Jews sitting in a room writing a movie about a black sheriff,” Brooks is remembered saying. Richard Pryor became the fifth writer of “Blazing Saddles” because “Saddles” co-writer Norman Steinberg had worked with Pryor on “The Flip Wilson Show.” Brooks ended up liking Pryor so much he wanted Pryor to play the lead, but Warners was wary of Pryor’s reputation for substance abuse.
* It apparently took Brooks a minute to realize Gig Young, originally cast as hard-drinking The Waco Kid, was not acting.
* “Young Frankenstein” was Wilder’s idea, and it wound up at 20th Century Fox because Columbia refused to let Brooks shoot it in black and white.
* “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein,” which I regard as Brooks’ two funniest movies, were both released in 1974.
* Barry Levinson, who went on to direct “Rain Man” and “Good Morning, Vietnam,” found co-writing “Silent Movie” exhausting.
* Max Brooks, who wrote for SNL between 2001 and 2003 before authoring the 2006 zombie novel “World War Z,” is the only issue from the Brooks-Bancroft marriage.
* Brooks screened “High Anxiety” for Hitchcock and got to hear the master laugh at his work.
* David Lynch, who came to direct Brooksfilms’ “The Elephant Man,” would only agree to meet Brooks at Bob’s Big Boy restaurant.
* Richard Benjamin has an amazing story about trying to get a extra $300,000 out of MGM to make “My Favorite Year.”
* Brooks claims that, thanks to VHS and DVD sales, “Spaceballs” is a bigger success than “Blazing Saddles” or “Young Frankenstein.”
* The director of the stage version of “The Producers” credits her musical, probably correctly, with the genesis of “Spamalot” and “Book of Mormon.”
9 p.m. Monday. PBS.
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