THE STARS

Choreographers, Directors & Producers

Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks is a former stand-up comic who, together with Woody Allen and Bill Cosby, set the stage in the 1960s for the entire postburlesque, TV generation of comedians. Allen was personal and self-deprecating, Cosby eschewed shtick in favor of witty commentary, and Brooks — often working with Carl Reiner — embraced the craziness at the root of all ethnic burlesque and reshaped it for decades to come.

Brooks graduated from 1950s TV writer (Sid Caesar’s YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS) to successful 1960s series creator (GET SMART!) before breaking into features with THE PRODUCERS (1968), which set the zany, comedic tone of all his subsequent films and brought him an Oscar for the screenplay. His two greatest commercial successes, BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (both 1974), were broad send-ups of the Western and horror genres, respectively. As with other comedy performers who also made their own films — Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Tati, Allen — the persona was more important than the filmmaking regardless of its degree of sophistication and expressiveness.

In 1979, Brooks formed his production company, BrooksFilms, Ltd., which has been responsible for such diverse works as David Lynch’s THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980), Graeme Clifford’s FRANCES (1982), Freddie Francis’ THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS (1985), David Jones’ 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD, and David Cronenberg’s THE FLY (both 1986).

From "The Producers," the pro-Nazi musical that Bialystock and Bloom produce, "Springtime for Hitler."

HIGH ANXIETY (1977), an engaging if imprecise homage to Hitchcockian thrillers, was his last largely acceptable film. Since the early ’80s, Brooks’ track record as a writer-director has been less distinguished than his work as an executive producer. There has been a marked and depressing decline in quality, freshness, and relevance in his films. HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART I (1981), a scattershot parody of overblown historical epics, had some undeniably funny gags and sequences, but these were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of comic misfires and relentless scatological material. Six years elapsed before the release of the regrettable SPACEBALLS (1987), a small-minded and uninspired spoof of the STAR WARS films. Obviously not a labor of love, SPACEBALLS felt like a desperate attempt to connect with the youthful audience he no longer understood. Brooks aimed higher with his next feature, LIFE STINKS (1991), an admirable if wildly uneven attempt to tackle homelessness in a satirical format. The film, however, died at the box office.

“I think you must have affection for whatever you tease”
While recent features have fizzled, Brooks continued to delight audiences with his riotous appearances on TV as a talk show guest, such as his memorable turn on one of the last installments of the Johnny Carson TONIGHT SHOW in 1992. While promoting LIFE STINKS, he appeared on three consecutive nights of LATER, the late-night talk show hosted by Bob Costas, where he rattled off many hilarious show biz anecdotes. In a more serious vein, as a guest on the revealing cable documentary series, NAKED HOLLYWOOD, Brooks spoke candidly about the machinations necessary to remain a player in contemporary Hollywood.

Brooks returned to the familiar ground of movie parody with ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS (1993), starring Cary Elwes and Richard Lewis. In the film’s press kit, Brooks stated, “I think you must have affection for whatever you tease. I love Westerns. I love monster movies. And I love the story of Robin Hood.” While certainly not in the league of BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, this spoof was buoyed somewhat by this good-natured approach. Reviewers, however, thought otherwise, as apparently did the public.

Mel Brooks

Born: June 28, 1926
Key Shows
    "All American" "The Producers" "Shinbone Alley"
Related Artists
    Lee Adams Matthew Broderick Nathan Lane Zero Mostel Susan Stroman Charles Strouse
Brooks, however, disproved the adage that there are no second acts in American lives. In 2000, he collaborated with Thomas Meehan (the award-winning librettist of “Annie” who had previously worked with Brooks on the remake of TO BE OR NOT TO BE and SPACEBALLS) in adapting the comedy classic THE PRODUCERS for the stage. In addition to his work on the show’s book, Brooks composed a battery of new songs (19 in all). Under the skillful direction of Susan Stroman and with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in the lead roles, “The Producers” began a pre-Broadway tryout in Chicago, where it became an immediate hit. Arriving in New York, the musical became the most acclaimed show in years and went on to amass numerous accolades, including a record 15 Tony Award nominations.

Source: Excerpted from Baseline. BaselineStudioSystems — A Hollywood Media Corp. Company.

Photo credits: Photofest and Paul Kolnik

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