Transcript:

Interviewer: Go tell us.

Howard Kaminsky: Well, Mel is my first cousin. We're both Kaminskys. He he became Brooks through, well in those days, everybody who went into show business changed their name. And strangely enough, I have another cousin by the name of Danny Kaye, and my mother was a Kaminsky. Strangely enough, I'm a Kaminsky Kaminsky, though I don't use that. And Danny Kaye, his grandmother and my grandmother or grandmother's ant were related. So he was a distant cousin of mine. But Mels, my first cousin, and his dad was born over there. And of course, you know, his dad died when Mel was very young. I think, two. But my father, who was nine or 10 years younger. My father was born on the Lower East Side. They they liked each other a lot. And Mel and I, since the time we met each other and we met each other when I was very young. There's about 13 and a years between us. But as I told him, I said, can I should I say this? He said, fine, go ahead. We would meet up at my grandparents house for high holidays, Jewish holidays. And my grandfather was very religious. And once I had to take a leak and there some people lined up to go into the bathroom. So I went down on the street with Mel. And in those days, little boys could take a leak in the street, probably get arrested for it. And he helped me in there. And I always thought I've had trauma from that being helped at that time. But I knew my Aunt Kitty, his mother and his brothers. I liked them all. And but Mel and I are sort of not the last of our family. Originally, I had 34 first cousins from that side of my family, but now I'm down to him and about four or five other cousins that I don't see very frequently.

Interviewer: So he was the youngest.

Howard Kaminsky: He was the youngest of his brothers. Yeah.

Interviewer: Right. You know, this is an interesting thing I was thinking about because he he talks about how given the circumstances, how can a wonderful he had pretty good childhood. I mean, he wasn't aware of how you when you're in it, you're not aware of how poor you are and all that. So I'm wondering if. I mean, he was two when his dad died. And so he he says that Irving sort of acted as a father figure to him in a way. Did you ever clock. I guess what I'm trying to say is he he didn't know of. He didn't have a father to miss because he was so young when he passed away. So you did. Did you ever clock him being sort of noting that other kids had dads?

Howard Kaminsky: No, no. Because we've only talked about that when we were, you know, older and. And I had a mother and father and I was very close to them. And no, I was not aware of what was going through his head about that. But my his mother was a lovely, Ant Kitty, and she was a lovely woman who was about three feet tall. And she she held them all together. And I think my grandfather was helpful to them during the Depression with money. My grandfather had been. He was not working when I knew him as a little kid. He had been in the harrying business and he had this 50 or 100 carts on the Lower East Side where he had these guys and they would sell five different kinds of herring. I mean, he could have probably turned it into Wal-Mart, but he didn't. And but I know my my grandfather helped to whatever degree he could during tough years.

Interviewer: Do you. Were you friendly with his brothers as well?

Howard Kaminsky: Well, I knew and I knew them and liked them a lot. But no, Mel was always the one that I was closest to. I think after that, the one who was to me, my mind was like Mel more was Lenny. And of course, Lenny, I was always sort of felt very sad. You know, he was very special because he was captured by the Germans in World War Two. And in my family, on my father's side, I had at least a dozen cousins, first cousins and uncles who were in World War Two, and they all survived. But Lenny was captured by the Germans. Not an easy thing.

Interviewer: But he came back.

Howard Kaminsky: Came back, came back. I think Mel should tell you this, that when he parachuted out of his plane, I think he parachuted into Germany. It was towards the end of the war. He probably late 43 or something. Once he landed on the ground, first thing he did was rip off his dog tags, because I'm pretty sure in those days they had on your dog tag, they had an H for Hebrew. So if something happened to you, they bring over a rabbi if there there's one around. So the family didn't know that he was captured. He was missing in action. Mel would know exactly how long he was missing in action for a while.

Interviewer: Wow. What would you say since you've known him from the time you were a little kid? So through today, what would you say? Have you sort of clock? How has he changed or grown?

Howard Kaminsky: Well, I think one significant well, of course, he changed with not so much change with success. But, you know, his success changed me in a way, the way I looked at him. But I think one of the big changes in his life was when he married Anne. And he had a lovely first wife but Anne was very special and so talented. And I think that was a major thing. And then, of course, with his work. And, you know, the last thing of the musicals. But, boy, for people in the business, because I'm in the business a little bit. People in the business. Some of his movies are very significant. And no one has done movies like that.

Speaker Would you say that there's. Sort of. It did. Yeah. Just the fact to come back that strong with the producers, the musical is unbelievable and a very rare thing to come back at that stage in your career with with something that. That becomes a phenomenon because that's really what it became. How would you chart? I mean, did he pretty much acknowledge the ups and downs of his career?

Howard Kaminsky: No, never really. I mean, look, some of you know, obviously there were movies that didn't work. The ones that didn't work also had some good things in them and in. But the ones that worked were so special. No one's ever done a movie like that, no one's ever done a movie like The Producers, Young Frankenstein. I mean, his take on things, it's just so different. And that's what makes him so different.

Interviewer: The. Were you close to him or around him during Your Show of Shows, period?

Howard Kaminsky: No, I tell you one thing that I know because I was too young, because he started Show of Shows he was in his 20s or early 20s. So there's a 13 and a half years between us. But I remember once he was had a little bit on The Milton Berle Show. Milton Berle had this guy. I think his name was Sid Stone. And in every show, he was sort of a pitchman. And Mel was on with him. I don't know if Mel had even had any lines or just say where he said thank you or whatever. But the family, we were all around our 12 inch DuMont TV and we were absolutely, you know, entranced. But when he was young, you know, I did. I didn't know that aspect of his life.

Interviewer: You know, tell us that story again, because we have that clip. We have.

Howard Kaminsky: Oh really?

Interviewer: I really have it. And he does have lines. He's almost unreal. It's his first TV appearance. It's like 1950. It's his very first TV show.

Howard Kaminsky: I was 10.

Interviewer: Yeah. It's his first TV appearance. And we have it. And he's wearing a hat and he's. Yeah. He's like kind of like a dumb delivery guy.

Howard Kaminsky: Oh. And he has lines. I didn't remember.

Interviewer: He has lines. So tell us again. But you don't. Yeah because.

Howard Kaminsky: Somehow we knew, the family knew that he was going to be on the show, The Milton Berle Show, which was a huge show at the time. Big. And so we were all clustered around the TV. And I remember we had this 12 inch DuMont TV and which was actually a big set set for the hour block. I mean, there people, I guess, had 10 inch sets and he came on and it was incredible. You know you know, a member of our family on The Milton Berle Show. And was it good? I don't remember. But I remember seeing him.

Interviewer: Did. So when he would come back home for family events and stuff. He was the star of the.

Howard Kaminsky: I you know, from the time he was in his. How old was he when he got married? He got married young.

Interviewer: Yeah. You mean to Florence? Yeah. Oh, gosh. Yeah. He must have been in his.

Howard Kaminsky: Early 20s.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Howard Kaminsky: So I saw less of him then. It was later on that I started seeing more of him when I wanted to be a writer. And I remember he was living in an apartment off of in the village. And it was it was a it was not a great apartment building because I remember it in the lobby of the building, they were. That's where they kept the trash cans. Does not look good. And because I would talk to him about, you know, about writing, I don't think I wanted to be a sitcom writer or anything. I didn't I didn't want to be a novelist. I think I want to be a playwright. So that's how we started getting together as semi on my part, semi adult.

Interviewer: And did he from that? Did you learn anything that he. Would he guide you in anything.

Howard Kaminsky: Quote unquote, literary advise? I don't really I don't remember any of that.

Interviewer: So when he married and you socialized more?

Howard Kaminsky: Later on, we became close to as we got older. And I didn't know him in all. I was married, my first wife. I don't think I ever met him with my first wife, who I'd met in Berkeley when I was in graduate school. But he knew and he he liked a lot my my late wife, we were married for a long time.

Interviewer: And. What, which? You know, it's funny with him, because I don't think that. He's one of the few comics that I can think of where he sort of seems to be too many, of them are influenced by what happens in their lives, having kids, divorces, this kind of thing. His brand of comedy seems completely unaffected by.

Howard Kaminsky: Well, I totally agree with you. Remember something. He was never really a comic. He was a writer and the comic thing that broke him out sort of at people think of this comic is the 2000 Year Old Man, but he really unlike, you know, Woody Allen. I remember seeing Woody Allen when I was in in San Francisco at the great club they had there. But Mel didn't do that stuff. The only time he did stuff was with Carl, and that was later on. He was a writer and then a writer director.

Interviewer: The performance kept you.

Howard Kaminsky: Less on the performance side.

Interviewer: He's such a natural.

Howard Kaminsky: Absolutely. He could have been a very, very big, successful comic, but I never think of him that way. And I think, you know, one thinks about his movies. Two Thousand Year Old Man. But he didn't. I mean, he as a kid told me he was at the Borscht Belt, but unlike someone like Buddy Hackett, he didn't want to get up there. And I mean, maybe he did, but he didn't didn't do it.

Interviewer: You were saying that you were at the recording of the 2013?

Howard Kaminsky: Oh, definitely. I was at the recording of a couple of them. I don't I don't think I was at the recording of the first one. But maybe I'm wrong on that, but I mean, I know that record back in the days of records was just sensational. And it just unlike anything else that had ever been, that was the time of of a lot of people breaking through excuse me, with recordings you can think about. You know, Bob Newhart, etc, etc. But that two thousand Year Old Man was just so different.

Interviewer: What do you remember about the recording session?

Howard Kaminsky: Well, about the other sessions?

Interviewer: Yeah. And any sessions.

Howard Kaminsky: Well, you know, they they would it was they had talked it through a little bit. They know with they knew where they were going. But it was still fresh and large quality of ad lib. It wasn't wasn't written out. Mel knew that Carl would ask him this, but I think the answers that he gave Carl differed from when they were talking it through.

Interviewer: Were any of his brothers as close to being as funny as Mel?

Howard Kaminsky: No. Lenny, I remember Lenny having some of its spark, but Irving and Bernie. No. No. Irving was really very scholarly. No, he was very different. You know, maybe it's that way in all families.

Interviewer: Getting back to 2013. I mean. They had it. You were part of it. They assembled an audience for the recording.

Howard Kaminsky: I was invited there. I think I went there with my wife. It was a fairly large audience. It was, I think, at 20th Century Fox in one of their you know, it wasn't studio, but it was in one of their buildings. And, yeah, there was a fair amount of people there.

Interviewer: What do you think that the success of The Producers, the musical meant for him at that stage in his life?

Howard Kaminsky: Well, I've never asked him about. I mean, it just had to be absolutely great. I just wished I keep pushing him now, even to do another movie, which he's not going to do. To write a book. You know, just to talk out a book which he's not going to do. So I think that musical and then and then the following one were terrific.

Interviewer: Why do you think he won't do a book?

Howard Kaminsky: I don't know. You know, that's something you should ask him about, because I said to him, I'll fly out. I mean, I'm busy with a couple things, but I'll fly out. And three weeks. Four weeks. We can talk out a book. It's your book. I mean, I just ask him questions and I think the book would be good, but he doesn't want to do it.

Interviewer: It's.

Howard Kaminsky: Maybe you can convince him.

Interviewer: Well, it's I mean, you know, I have in a way, this is.

Howard Kaminsky: This is the book in a way.

Interviewer: This is kind of the thing, you know, because this is the one for the record, you know, with this is like the whole schmeer.

Howard Kaminsky: This is a whole it's a whole bunch of things in his life that he's talked to me a little bit about that I'd like to know more about. Him in World War Two. You know, couple of bullets were shot over his head. I mean, he he he he was in action. I've never talked to him about the early Sid Caesar days. He's mentioned things from time to time. But there's a whole bunch of things I'd like to know.

Interviewer: Would you classify him as a combination of extrovert introvert?

Howard Kaminsky: Oh, definitely. And in many ways, I think it might be a lot more introvert than extrovert.

Interviewer: How so?

Howard Kaminsky: Well, I think it's exact. I mean, I just think that. I see him as much more as. An introvert is maybe the wrong word, and I don't know much about psychology at all. But. He is the kind of guy you think he is from the movies, from the Two Thousand Year Old Man. You don't see a lot of that. You see a guy who's funny. But he could also go through a great period that he's serious. He cares about, you know, as I as I've told people, he could convince you. He's a doctor. He really knows his medical stuff. So remember, I, you know, have a problem, whatever I call him. He'll give me a reading that's better than what my doctor gave me. I always ask him, I said, do you take Aetna? I'll come to see you.

Interviewer: How would you classify? From what everyone's been telling me. His marriage to Anne was kind of like one of the great romances.

Howard Kaminsky: Well, they loved each other. And I would I saw some of that when they were together. But you come away from seeing people in relationship, knowing something that you don't see. And they cared for each other a lot.

Interviewer: You know, Anne, because we interviewed Nathan Lane yesterday and a couple other people said, Nathan said that at one point during The Producers and had said to him, you know, a lot of what he writes are fathers variations on a father son story. You know, that that sort of model is kind of important to him. Did you ever notice that?

Howard Kaminsky: No. No, I wouldn't. She'd be someone who would know it a lot better than me. No, father, son. I couldn't say that because, you know, I know all the kids and I like them all. I mean, they're not kids anymore. They're all, the youngest one is Max. And he's a year older than my daughter. But they're all terrific. They all love their father. And that's an aspect, you know, for most of my adult life. I mean, once they moved to California, I would see them out there, but they were out there and I was here.

Interviewer: Do you have any favorite anecdotes about him that I am?

Howard Kaminsky: You'd have to prompt me.

Interviewer: It's it's well, it's tough because it would be based on, you know, stuff that, you know, times you were with him or something like that particular.

Howard Kaminsky: I just. We've been together many, many times. But, you know, he's not. As I said before, I don't view him as a comedian. I view him actually as an artist. He's got a real gift, and it's expressed itself in a couple of different ways. Certainly with the movies. But I'd really have to be prompted on telling me, hey, Howard, you remember the time that you guys were together there? I just. No.

Interviewer: Anything I'm forgetting?

Howard Kaminsky: About what?

Interviewer: Exactly. I think that I think we covered it. I think we're good. Did I?

Howard Kaminsky: I haven't finished my Coke.

Interviewer: Feel free to do it. Malcolm, did you get your back angle? Yeah. Yeah. You got it? Yeah, sure.

Howard Kaminsky: I didn't say that. You know, I published when I was the president of Warner Books. I published, I think, at least three, maybe four books that like the 2000 Year Old Man, which was done with illustrative kind of cartoons. Some guy that Mel knew pushed into the picture and the book on couple of the movies and none of them sold. It was sort of luckily I had a good relationship with Steve Ross, so I was in bounds. But no. That working relationship was very limited. Which is probably for the best.

Interviewer: Probably, yeah, but it was nice of you to publish the books, you know. All right. I think we're good.

Howard Kaminsky: Good.

Interviewer: Thank you so much.

Howard Kaminsky: Thank you very much. Oh, I can't move, but I have to swivelling.

Howard Kaminsky
Interview Date:
2012-08-02
Runtime:
0:23:03
Keywords:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
N/A
MLA CITATIONS:
"Howard Kaminsky, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 02 Aug. 2012, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/322
APA CITATIONS:
(2012, August 02). Howard Kaminsky, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/322
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Howard Kaminsky, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). August 02, 2012. Accessed June 28, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/322

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