Mel Brook turned Hollywood upside down with a blockbuster musical comedy that dared to laugh at Hitler and Nazism
He has just turned 95 and is still in top form, although he has already retired from the front row of show business. It is
Mel Brooks, whom many will uniquely identify as the director of ‘Young Frankenstein’. However, Brooks, before making his directorial debut with ‘The Producers’, had already been one of the leading figures of the American ‘show business’ for many years.
Melvin James Kaminsky, known as Mel Brooks, was born in New York; June 28, 1926. At age 9, Brooks attended a Broadway show invited by his Uncle Joe, a taxi driver who took Broadway porters back to Brooklyn for free, receiving tickets to the shows as a thank you, watching ‘Anything Goes’ with William Gaxton, Ethel Merman and Victor Moore at the Alvin Theater.
At the exit he was already clear about it and told his uncle that he was not going to work in the garment district like the rest of the family, he would definitely dedicate himself to show business.
At the age of 14 he worked as a group ‘tummler’, the person who entertained the guests prior to their appearance at the shows, always with surreal follies and with
a very Jewish sense of humor, which was always one of their trademarks. After World War II, where he was a corporal specialized in deactivating land mines while the Allies advanced through Nazi Germany, while organizing shows to entertain the troops. After the war he began to act as a comedian in small clubs in New York and New Jersey, also working on radio programs and, thanks to his friend Sid Caesar on television, writing gags for comedy shows, along with Carl Reiner and Neil Simon. But its full consecration came in the early 60s when creating the series
‘The Super Agent 86’ a goofy spy inspired by James Bond.
For a long time, Brooks had been toying with a strange and unconventional idea about
a musical comedy about Adolf Hitler. Brooks explored the idea as a novel and a play before finally writing a screenplay. Eventually, he was able to find two producers to fund the show, Joseph E. Levine and Sidney Glazier, and he made his first feature film, ‘The Producers,’ starring his friends Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. The idea was so far-fetched that, thinking it would be a failure, no one supported it, but neither did they force him to change the script. The film told the story of a corrupt Broadway producer (Mostel) who, with the help of an accountant (Wilder), shy and compulsive, plans to get rich by producing the biggest failure in Broadway history. The play is characterized by an irreverent sense of humor supported by exaggerated accents, homosexual stereotypes, Nazi characters, and many jokes about show business itself.
An image of ‘The producers’.
Produced by Joseph E. Levine and Sidney Glazier for Embassy Pictures, “The Producers” (whose original title was to be “Hitler’s Spring”) had a minimum budget of $ 941,000, and grossed nearly $ 2 million.
It was the highest grossing film of 1968, in addition to being classified as one of the greatest American comedies of all time, according to the publication AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Smiles of the American Film Institute. And it won the Oscar for best screenplay written by Brooks himself in 1969, snatching it from John Cassavetes or Stanley Kubrick, who were also nominated as screenwriters.
‘The producers’ had gone from being a clandestine success, first in the national university circuit, then in small neighborhood cinemas and finally in a box office. Brooks would later turn the film into a musical, which was a huge hit on Broadway, receiving an unprecedented twelve Tony Awards. It was the beginning of a long career for Brooks as a film director, primarily parodying film genres, but
also as a producer, like much riskier films like ‘The Elephant Man’, by David Lynch. The The filmmaker created his own production company, Brooksfilms, to produce films he believed in, such as ‘Frances’ (1982), ‘The Fly’ by David Cronenberg (1986) or the wonderful ‘The Final Letter’ (1987), starring Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft, his wife, for whom he bought the rights, and which also produced his directorial debut in ‘Fatso’ (1980).