Interviewer: OK, so tell us, when you first met now.

Tom Meehan: I first met Melvin and Bancroft's was doing a special here in New York City whole evening of her singing and dancing and doing sketches. And there was a piece I'd written for The New Yorker magazine called Ima Dream. That Melodeon had read and wanted me to adapt for television, which I did. And I hadn't met them. I met them on the set and it instantly was a rapport. Melba's, as usual, clowning around is so funny. And and he's after and he they liked my piece and it won me an Emmy Award. And it was pretty funny, actually. She was terrific. And Mel said to me afterwards, you know, have you ever written any movies? I said, no. He said, OK, I'll call you. I think you'd be a good, good screenwriter. Work with me. Yes, I was very excited about that. I got the phone call 13 years later. He wanted me to work with him on the movie. Meanwhile, I had written a Broadway musical, Annie, and was sort of in show business because when I wrote when I did that early piece, I was still working as The New Yorker magazine where I was a staff writer and writing him pieces, mainly priorities for The New Yorker. So that was my early days of comedy and meeting Mel. Instantly, I saw that I was in the presence of a genius comic genius because he he understands comedy like nobody else I've ever known, because he he understands that as a drummer, as a boy, he was a drummer up in the Catskills. He understands rhythm and it's all about. Beats and rhythm, comedy is rhythm and comedy is surprise, is it always surprise you? You never know what he's going to say. When we were writing The Producers together, we we had this idea that France liebchen would say something, have to do something called the Seigfried. And so we were ready to sing for you, dance together. And it was sort of funny that they had to swear allegiance to Hitler. But then, Mel, that Mel ad libbed as we were talking, I swear, allegiance to Adolf Elisabeth Hitler. If through the Elisabeth I fell on the floor because suddenly it also became a joke, because then we could get to the next line, which is many people don't know it. But Hitler was descended from a long line of English queens. And so it was a surprise as the Elizabeth that was the laugh where you just and you never know what the man is going to say any time. But it's always funny. He just burst is most fertile imagination. The speed with which he comes up with things is just brilliant.

Interviewer: You know, speaking of his comedy, the thing that's interesting is as opposed to other comics of his generation and even going forward, he stands out because he's not he doesn't seem at all interested in the things that some of the other comics mined for material, which is their marriage, the kids, you know, a job daily, daily life. His comedy seems more rooted in. It always throws back to literature, history.

Tom Meehan: It's true. You know, he's he's read a lot. He knows a lot. So, you know, you can have allusions to all kinds of people in his work. And he's he has it's company is kind of universal, though. Everybody gets it, even though sometimes he'll be referring to Dostoyevsky or something like that. The idiot in Producers', Prince Myshkin, suddenly is spoken of in the first scene of the producers. All of his erudition comes into his and his comedy. But but I think he understands that, that when you're doing kind of sometimes low comedy, then throwing high class solution, it is again, it's a surprise. And it makes it very funny. Is it? That's a mix those things together. But but he always felt like he was the comedy community, the ordinary people, the people he grew up with in Brooklyn, that it was kind of like he always he liked what he appreciates Woody Allen's pictures a lot, but he always felt what he is for the corner of 17th Street and Park Avenue. And I'm from Brooklyn. He felt that he was and he is more universal, really. And he loved to do he's already interested in history. So you do things like the history of the world, and he loves parity. His love of Hitchcock turned into the great movie High Anxiety. He people think it was just a clown, but because he's quite an intellectual and deep thinker and I extremely kind man, by the way, as a as a as a very strong, warm wants. So in person, it's not just always a clown, so.

Interviewer: You get the you get the call 13 years later.

Tom Meehan: Right?

Interviewer: So he called to tell us he calls you.

Tom Meehan: He called me and said.

Interviewer: Sorry, I interrupted you started.

Tom Meehan: He called me because he had the idea that he would like to do a kind of remake of a classic movie Lubitsch's to me, not to me, so that he and Ann could have something to do. Star co-star in Togethers. And I knew the Lubich movie I thought was a brilliant, brilliant, funny movie. Jack Benny and Carol Lombard around nineteen forty one or two I forget. Exactly. And so I came out and he put me together with Ronnie Graham, who is an old friend of his comedian and cabaret performer is pianist, pianist, a little bit of everything. And the two of us wrote to the NAACP was in Mel's office and at 20th Century Fox I think. But Mel was we wrote it, Ronnie and I had silkscreened credit. Our Mel was standing right behind us, looking over our shoulders and throwing in some of the best lines, of course, because he couldn't stay away from that. He didn't direct it either. Alan Johnson directed it. But again, Mel was behind the camera every day looking. And I thought to be or not to be turned out very well wasn't a huge hit. But I'm very proud of the movie. And I think we did a great job. But I think we made one mistake. Melanie, at the beginning of the movie, did Sweet Georgia Brown in Polish with the actual holy translation, singing and dancing. And it was like in the first 10 minutes of the movie. And it was so hilarious, so funny, because I like the contrast of those two doing sweet Georgia Brown Polish. We could never beat it in the rest of the movie. It was like the high point in the movie occurred too soon. I always thought that had been in the last section of the movie. The movie would have become a big hit. But that's hindsight sometimes. But it was a brilliant piece of work just to see that excerpt. You see that and together it's a wonderful thing. This one time they really performed together and there was the love of each other was up there on the screen, too.

Interviewer: Do you remember any specific things that he contributed to the script?

Tom Meehan: Well. There's the line that I well, actually, I wasn't that fond of, but but he put it a line that's about the theater when when they were the Germans were oppressing the homosexuals and the Jews. And and he said, but don't you understand? Without Jews and there is no other. Weird facts scare me a little bit, but he was brave about that. You know, he'll go there where other people would go and. Right. And and the laugh was there. It's kind of classic line, really. He's so quick witted. I remember when the next picture I made with him was Spaceballs, but originally it was entitled Planet Moron. That was Beltz title. And then the movie came out called Moron's from Outer Space. So we got to change our title. We're going to get a new title again. I was with Ronnie Graham and Mel and Mel said, we're going to lunch, I think Commissario 20th Century Fox and over lunch we'll get a new title. We'll just that'll be our task for lunch. So we went over to the commissary, sat down and he said, sure. Should the word space in it start with space? All right. Go through the alphabet. Thanks, Alino, spaceball, yes. I said, OK, let's have lunch within ten minutes, we had we had the title.

Interviewer: You know, Ronnie Graham has said that with that movie, he he had been quoted as saying that with that movie that you. You meaning you, Ronnie and Mel?

Tom Meehan: Yeah.

Interviewer: We're the goal was really going for low, vulgar comedy.

Tom Meehan: We were, yeah.

Interviewer: Can you tell us that?

Tom Meehan: Well, I mean, they went they decided we decided that we had to go. Things like people like. And have everybody, all of the spaceball set out to be his. And that was that was kind of down and dirty, they I went away for a week and they they wrote me a sequence where the. Spaceship went up the ass of a giant monster. I came back and said, guys, you overstepped the line, this can't go. And they did take that out, but they returned, but they would get pretty wild sometimes. I was the one that tempered things down a little bit. I'm more of a logic person, and I felt the story had to have a kind of logic to it, even though it was a broad send up of Star Wars and Star Trek and all those pictures. But again, that was somewhat disappointing when it came out in terms of reviews and box office. But since then, it's become kind of a cult picture. And when I tell people I've written shows like anear or other Broadway shows, they sort of say, yeah, right. And then I say, well, I wrote Spaceball Spaceballs. Well, now here you really are a writer.

Interviewer: But if you could just tell us, though, because obviously Ron is not around. I mean, if you could just say it is a statement like that, the goal was because I think I think people get confused that why wasn't it, um, why wasn't it like Young Frankenstein? But if this is what you're what you got in terms of, you know.

Tom Meehan: I think that at the time pictures were coming along more and more that were a little a little crazier than they had been before. I mean, I think Mel was doing very strong, accurate parodies when he did Young Frankenstein. It almost looks like a Frankenstein movie. These, you know, shot for shot. In fact, he used the original sets of blueprints. They built the same sets as James Whale had in 1930s. But in Spaceballs, we were just the tip of the times was that you wanted to go for Laura. That's kind of adolescent audience to go for anything and break some rules. And so we decided to do it as a straight out kind of screwball comedy, really. But but I think that there was a lot of oh, I say reference to the Star Wars and how great these pictures were. And this was a way to just put a pin in that balloon and just make total fun of the whole thing. Because there is when you look at Star Wars, those things are really kind of ludicrous ultimately, so that when when Darth Vader comes in. Breathing heavily Uh. That's supposed to be true drama and so forth. When we have Rick Moranis committed to throw up his head and said, I can't bring this back, that's where we're going, just to just ridicule Star Wars really for everybody. The young people particularly got it, laughed at it like the critics around the country didn't particularly like it, but. That was a problem, but it's their problem.

Tom Meehan: You know, Ronnie also said that in the writing of it that, look, the the room with the three of you could get pretty heated in terms of things, could get quite vehement about ideas and.

Tom Meehan: Well, yeah, but if he had an idea, he would stick with it. We would argue sometimes there would be four of us, usually the V.A. secretary taking it down, because the one thing about Mel particularly is a writer and an Academy Award winning writer. But it doesn't literally sit down and write. He talks. This is old fashioned, going back to a show of shows when he started out as a writer. It's all in the room talking and that's the fun of it. You got to go to spend a day working, working. And we're laughing all the time and having a good time. But but Mel knows what he wants and he has a very strong sense of what what the picture will look like up on the screen and what he can direct and how, look, finally, it isn't just getting the words and paper to him. He's he's there's a whole vision. He has a picture. So he wants to get that down. And so there can be disputes about in the writing role. We're always friends and always had a good time. And even if voices were occasionally raised in anger.

Interviewer: The so after Spaceballs, the next time he called you.

Tom Meehan: Many years again passed and I'd gone back to New York, I I enjoyed working in movies, but I'm really a theater person for further theater. And I was working on musicals in New York. And Mel told me I actually went out to. Los Angeles to meet with them, because there was some idea that this Spaceballs was going to be made into an animated picture, a remake totally animated, but that fell through. But while we were talking about that, he said, oh, by the way, there are people who want me to make a Broadway musical from the producers. Would you be interested in working with me on that? And I took me about that in a second to say yes, because, a, I love the producers movie and B, I could see that it had it could sing and make it work because in the world of theater and so that music would come naturally to it. And so we set out to write the musical. So we began writing out in California in his office and his house where he had a piano. And we were joined by Glen Kelly, who was the music arranger and began to get the song. Ronnie Graham was in the beginning writing songs. And unfortunately, before we finished, Ronnie had passed away and he was. But he had already helped on the lyrics of songs like a couple of songs, including I Want to Be a Producer. And then then we came back to New York and wrote a lot of the producers in New York once we got a director who was originally Mike Okrent and to be the director and his wife, Susan Stroman, to choreograph again, there was tragedy and we lost Mike and Susan Stroman agreed to with some reluctance at first to direct and choreograph. And so a lot of it then was written up and Susan Strawberry's apartment with Glenn Kelly, Mel and me, the four of us sort of got. Got producers written at. It took three years, though, after that, Mel is not somebody who does things fast, he likes to think about them. He likes to work slowly. He likes to sit down and write, see act one. Scene one. And write that. And then write it again and keep working until he's got I can't see what he's done and feels that's ready to go. Then we got a scene. So in other words, there's no rough draft. So it's saying this sort of like a new draft after draft of a first draft after after the second season and so forth. It takes a long time to get a show written. And the fact is most musicals can be written in three to six months without that's even that's. But this was three years. A lot of us was back and forth and there were other things going on in most of our lives, but mainly producers. But Mel has a lot of interests and things like that that stood in the way. And he and I are joined at the hip and not liking to work in the morning. So we always work in the afternoon. And he he, you know, joined the hip and wanted to have lunch together. So the fact is, I would arrive in his office around noon. I begin work and then we go to lunch at 1:00. I get back at 3:00, goof around for a while. I write for about an hour and a half every day. We were lucky if we could get a page out to two pages.

Interviewer: And to take a sip of water, you.

Tom Meehan: Yeah.

Tom Meehan: How much can you expect?

Interviewer: No, no, this great stuff.

Tom Meehan: Some bites here and there.

Interviewer: Oh, no, it's good. And that's all you can do, right? Yeah, yeah, um. So. The. At first, he was I mean, it's established that he was not going to direct it, but at first he was not even going to write the music, right?

Tom Meehan: Well, at first he wasn't going to write the music. However, they tried to get Jerry Herman to write the music. And Mel went over to Jerry Herman's house to listen and talk about it. And Jerry Herman said, I'm not the right person to write this. There is somebody who could do it, however. And Mel said, who's that? And he said, you know, there's a there's a very good original song by you in every movie you've ever done. And it was true. Mel had written Springtime for Hitler music and lyrics. He'd written things like, I'm tired and in the Western, which is Blazing Saddles and Blazing Saddles. And he wrote The High Anxiety, his song. I mean, he's a good songwriter. And so he was persuaded by Jerry Herman to give it a try himself. And and he did. And Glenn, who was an accomplished. Experience is a musician best able to help him with that because Melkert, Hamilton or pick out the title of the piano, but Glen could then sort of put in the chords and get it so that it was a full, full bodied song. By the time he got it finished.

Interviewer: So when you started rehearsals and building, uh, how did he or did he repress the director in him in terms of Susan?

Tom Meehan: He didn't entirely because he couldn't you know, he could be in the room. And Susan always wanted him in the room. And Susan encouraged him to to be helping in that direction. And but he did a kind of something you don't do in the theater as you give me line readings to actors. But but he will if he if they weren't doing it the way he wanted it, he would walk over and tell them how to do it. Chaplain does that, too, by the way, you're not with silent movies. Chaplain, we always act out everything to the last degree for the actors, then have them copy him. And Mel has that streak to this. He can play all the roles he can play the woman who can play, the man who can play the child and then let them copy him.

Interviewer: When you say it's not done in the theater, it's because Susan would have been the one to do it right.

Tom Meehan: Susan would be the one to do it. And you don't, in theory, never give an actor a line reading. You suggest maybe what it might be. It's almost against the law to give. But what, you didn't give any library to Nathan Lane? Who.

Interviewer: You were just saying a. Well, let's go back to what changed from the movie. To the play.

Tom Meehan: Well, one of the things about the movie was that it was set in the 60s and there was a lot of kind of 60s stuff with the some of the characters and some of the stars there. It was very heavy doing kind of psychedelic things and. I said, let's get this out of the 60s and put it back. So it actually takes place in the late 50s, but the time isn't doesn't really matter very much. But just I want to get away from that. And I saw the wee wee Dick Sean character was a problem for me. I felt as he was the real 60s kind of person who was going way too far over. And and Mel and I had a battle over that. Not us, not a serious one. You know, the kind of artistic discussion and I I said, first of all, this man would only appear in Act two and only in a couple of scenes. And we don't know him. And on the stage is different. And here we have the gay director, Roger DeBrie. He would be a person, great person to end up being Hitler. And once I got Mel on that idea that we could use the same actor, then we'd have him on Balzac's and they'd be established person of fact, one who then plays Hitler in springtime for Hitler and talk to Mel, Mel, like that idea. And that's eventually we got Gary Busey to play that role. Who won the Tony Award playing Roger Debris and then being Hitler in springtime for Hitler? And I remember when we were rehearsing Springtime for Hitler with Gary Beach, we needed more time for a scene change. Had to give him give him an extra chorus of springtime for Hitler. Mel had to go, right? I was with him with. And we went into a room where he wrote about four lines of lyrics together in in about 20 minutes. But what Mel came up was in that one of those lines was Gary, because Hitler is out there singing alone and he sings this line. I'm the German Ethel Merman. And I only when Mel said that there he is again, he had this great surprise, funny moment. And it is one of the great lines in the whole of springtime for Hitler, because Gary Beach then did it. As as Murman is a kind of Mirman voice when he sang it and it was always so that was Melford getting something instantly when it was just needed to fill a little space there. That's the genius of Mel Brooks, the.

Interviewer: He please tell us this, you were in and sort of frame it as a sort of statement that you were in out of town tryouts and tell us that you were in out of town, try it on Chicago. And I guess if you tell me you're walking down the street and he said, this is the happiest I've been since I was nine years old.

Tom Meehan: Yes, right.

Interviewer: Can you tell us that?

Tom Meehan: Yeah. Well, when when we were in Chicago with the producers, we were thrilled at the excitement of being doing a show and this big thing and kind of like a palace hotel bus go back, kind of like Palace Theater here. Start again. Yeah. Yeah. Well, it was very exciting to be out in Chicago. It was our freezing in January. Mel went to a department store and bought these two two big black coat, huge winter coats, one for him and one for me. And we were all the Rensselaer Hotel. And we walked out the Palace Theater every day in this freezing Chicago, whether it was a wind blowing all around us and it could hardly stand up. And it was a four block walk every day and. The segment we we did, our first preview in a place went crazy that we were going nuts. And the next day when Mel and I were walking back from the theater to the hotel, again, freezing in our big black coats like two big bugs hurrying down the sidewalk, he said, Do you know what? This is the happiest I've been since I was nine years old? And he was he he just reveled in that as much as he like movies. He loved the theater. And he started out after the show of shows. He did several Broadway shows. He did a musical called all-American before he went west to be a girl, become a great Hollywood director. But but he had great love of the theater and have this seemingly really monster hit in a theater in Chicago, made him so happy and and was there. And it was a big love fest.

Interviewer: The yeah. I mean, the thing is, people have described what it was like seeing an old fashioned musical, but it was new. The new old vacc. How would you describe it?

Tom Meehan: Well, it was kind of throwback to old musical comedy because the fact is the musical comedy was a big staple of the Broadway theater for years and years and years, as the Cole Porter shows and Irving Berlin shows in the Gershwin shows, which were all musical comedies. And then suddenly in 1960, there was a funny thing happened on the way to the forum, and there wasn't another musical comedy of the old style until we came along 40 years later with our musical comedies, they were becoming lost or forgotten art. And so it is a musical comedy. But of course it was Stromness direction. These these brilliant segregation's. See, the scene sort of seems almost cinematic and dissolves. It was an old fashioned musical comedy that has a very modern look to it in terms of stagecraft and the dancing and all that. But but the were then what you call black comedy scenes when they said Matthew playing, we all talk and bloom. We went eight minutes with another song, which is actually very long. And many years ago when they when they were when Bloom first meets Bialystock in his office. And there are several there were a lot of comedy scenes. More and more musicals don't have long scenes go for straight company scenes, although Morgan has done that Book of Mormon and that's been welcomed by Broadway to Betty. But what happened after a funny thing happened, the way the formless musicals became a little more serious and they started to be called musical with a capital M the musical, not the musical comedy. And suddenly, of course, along came all the British shows. Along came Cats and and the Phantom and not British. But like Miss Saigon, all these kind of big, big musicals. And the musical comedy was forgotten. But we brought it back. And I think the more we did the Young Frankenstein and it wasn't a successful but it was a very good show and it was a lot of fun. So why do you think Young Frankenstein ultimately wasn't a successful. I think there was the kind of problem that the producers had been such a huge hit that I think Young Frankenstein had been done. First, it would have been a huge hit and produced second would have been lesser as it was just a question of maybe they felt that we were getting too big for our britches or too we we you know, we're coming back with another Mel Brooks movie as a as a musical. And but it's got a lot of very funny stuff in it. And I liked it. We've never done it in London, for instance. And we think maybe doing it in London. I think it has a life and I think it needs another shot because it's terrific work again by Stralman and dance dance numbers. There's some very funny stuff from the original movie that I actually think Young Frankenstein is all an all Mel's best film because it's such a brilliant parody. I love parties where you can look at a scene in the movie and it seems like it's almost the real movie you're watching. And then suddenly the zingers come in and the comedy, it's a it's where I started when I first wrote for The New Yorker, I wrote parodies of literary parties and it was always fun to write something that sentences that seem almost written. The person you your priority and then put in the joke. And so I have a natural affinity for that and Mel, of course, to.

Interviewer: With with the Broadway version of The Producers at that point, because we're talking, I guess Mel had done Spaceballs and he did life stinks. What do you what do you think it meant to him at the producers at that point?

Tom Meehan: I think it was very important to Mel because although he had a long, distinguished and very successful career in the movies, there was a sense that that they were they were the later movies were not up to his earlier movies. And there was a feeling like maybe Mel Brooks is over the hill and he's he's finished. And, you know, Hollywood is a little older. You're out and. And suddenly come to New York and have this a huge smash hit and really with his name emblazoned on it, I was Mel Brooks, The Producers. It was a huge lift for him and in every way. And he deserved it because it was once a god is a triumph for somebody. He deserves to have had that hit every had he ever had because he. He's unique, there's no one like Mel is. He's a true genius of comedy, I equate him with very few people like Chaplin, really could could do everything.

Interviewer: Would you say at its core, the story's almost like a father son story?

Tom Meehan: The.

Interviewer: Producer.

Tom Meehan: Produces it's very much yeah, it's a love story between two men, really, but it is a father son thing. And when we had the song in the courtroom scene late in the show called Tell Him, it's a very straight kind of love song and a beautiful thing. And a lot of people were saying, I like everything but that song. You should cut that song. And we said, no, this is what the show is about. It's really about the relationship between these two men. And it is a father son. Very much so. And we know that Mel's father died when he was only two years old. He never had a father is always looking for a father, I think. And that element turns up in a lot of his work.

Interviewer: You know, it's interesting because obviously in doing this all this research in around the whole your show of shows that he obviously was sort of the manic.

Tom Meehan: Yeah.

Interviewer: I think he was the youngest. Yeah. He's a good man.

Tom Meehan: He was the youngest. Yeah.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Tom Meehan: It was a young man.

Interviewer: Yeah. It's interesting. Because for decades now, he's been a very patriarchal figure.

Tom Meehan: That's true, yeah, but he was the kid. I mean, and he he started out when he was up in the Catskills playing drums in the band and the comic got sick that. So he grabbed a microphone and went on at the age of 15 or something, did 20 stand up comedy. His favorite bad joke about his girlfriend, that his girlfriend was so thin that went that when he went into the water to a restaurant, the maitre d checking on Barella favorite bad joke.

Interviewer: Which brings me to something he says quite often. He'll say stuff like that or even quote jokes from movies. And I'll say it's a cheap, cheap joke. What's your definition of a cheap joke?

Tom Meehan: That one is a real cheap joke.

Interviewer: Well, the truth.

Tom Meehan: Is, I don't know. It's. I like cheap jokes, I mean, but the definition of cheap Yorkeys. I can't quite put my finger on it.

Interviewer: And I'll tell you, I'm asking you this because I was interviewing Tracey Ullman and we were talking about it and she said, you know, the definition of a cheap joke would be a joke. Whose rhythms are very familiar to you?

Tom Meehan: Yeah.

Interviewer: But the thing is, is it's given the above joke. Right. But it's given a bad it's given a bad rap. But actually it.

Tom Meehan: Actually if you laugh at some of the old comedians, we just have a hole. That's all we did was one after the other kind of machine gun delivery of one cheap joke after another.

Interviewer: Well, that's an interesting thing because it's a people critics complain about it, but it's they're complaining about something while they're laughing.

Tom Meehan: Yeah. I mean, I love Mel. Stuff could be called cheap jokes, but there. But you're laughing. I mean, maybe you love Elizabeth. Hitler was a joke in a way, but I think it's a very smart joke, actually.

Interviewer: Well, the thing with Mel also is it's like you're saying it's he's throwing you a curve.

Tom Meehan: Right, exactly. That's it's a surprise that makes the laugh.

Interviewer: He's sort of thinking on a different wavelength than most other comedians.

Tom Meehan: Oh, very much so, yeah.

Interviewer: Is there a way to define that or.

Tom Meehan: I don't know. Is. When you talk about Quick-witted, there's nobody is quick with the smell. I mean, it's unbelievable how he suddenly pick something out of the middle of the air and and turn it into a big laugh for everybody. And this goes a lot of these laughs are not on the screen or anywhere. We just went hanging out with them. You'll have people rolling on the floor in a restaurant. Because he's he'll say such outrageous things or do such outrageous things, I mean, the you know, the story about us coming into the the show of shows writer's room with Scotch tape all over his face. No. Oh, he gave me his whole face was distorted, full of like pieces of scotch tape. And they said, oh, my God, now what happened to you? He said, the Gestapo got me. That was part of his Hitler Nazi obsession, which is something very strong in his life. But I think, as you know, Mel fought in World War two and it was the Battle of the Bulge and it was actually under fire. And so he was no Hitler was no friend of his. But he. And what can one little Jewish guy from Brooklyn do, I guess Adolf Hitler? Well, he can turn them into a figure of utter ridicule for the whole world and have them be gay in springtime for Hitler. And he we he played Hitler himself. And to be or not to be a little piece of Poland dad, since Hitler, he wanted to be there almost Chaplinesque like playing Hitler with his little great dictator. But that that whole thing about but he he succeeded in a way he succeeded in making tiny Hitler into a kind of joke.

Tom Meehan: Do you do you have a favorite story about him?

Interviewer: Well, I think. I think I've exhausted my very favorite short stories. You know, this is just a general overall feeling. I don't. Let me just think for a minute if I have something else.

Interviewer: You know, I also wanted to ask you, how did he feel about the critics having their knives out about Young Frankenstein, the music?

Tom Meehan: He was very upset. He is not happy with any negative reviews when we when we opened the first national company of producers in L.A. with, I think, Martin Martin Short, Jason Alexander, they were terrific. And it was a great audience, went crazy, was in the Pantages Theater and are sure it is a blue. And Jason is Bialystock. And The L.A. Post gave a terrible review. And Mel. Yes. Hit the ceiling. He couldn't stand it as it was. It was his hometown paper. He felt that they would knock the producers that bad. They were very upset about the New York Review of Young Frankenstein, particularly Bradley, The New York Times. I know a lot of people say they don't read reviews and almost everybody really does. And Mel certainly reads reviews and takes them to heart when they're not good.

Interviewer: Was there with the musical of the producers, was there anything left on the floor in terms of songs or everything written with you?

Tom Meehan: This was totally unusual. I think there were 17 songs in my producers when we did the run-Through in New York before going to Chicago. We went to Chicago, played six weeks, came back to New York, the same 17 songs. We did not replace any songs. And that's unheard of. You must always go out of town and throw out some songs and put a new song to stay up all night writing new songs. Those were the songs. And they and the fact is that they all worked. The performances are good. The orchestrations were great. The whole thing was together. The only thing we did in Chicago was cut about 15 minutes out of the show, just comedy scenes for too long. And a couple of them we didn't have. Right. We rewrote entirely. But I know that we had the first preview. The audience went to the roof and the reviews are through the roof. But at the first preview and I always said, me, you never know what you have in the show until you play for a paying audience, not an audience of friends or relatives. But people can put out their money and come to have a good time and they don't have a good time. You'll know it. And if they do have a good time, he'll also know it. And the audience in Chicago went crazy for it. But I was taking notes and I had 79 notes on lines that I thought could be improved or cut or something. If we did, we took that list and we went wild in Chicago. We changed all 79 of those moments. I think the joke was entirely cut or it was replaced with rephrase. The timing was better so that the joke fell on the right beat.

Interviewer: I think. Let's reload for one quick second. You know, do you want to this is a particular time I'm going to repeat this story about Chicago. Do you want to maybe do it with. Yeah. And or the flair. OK, so just tell us quickly that. Tell us one, OK?

Tom Meehan: I remember when we were in Chicago with the producers and we had just done the first previews and the audience was going mad and it was in Chicago in January in a freezing cold, the wind. And we were saying the Renzler Hotel, which was four blocks from the Cadillac Palace Theater where we did it, and Mel and I would walk back and forth in this terrible weather. And he went to the department store and bought two of these huge black storm coats for us to wear, one for me, one for him. And we went along together, these two little black scuttling figures racing, trying not to freeze to death. I remember the night we came back in again, and it's almost zero weather walking from the theater toward the hotel after another great performance that produces and looks to me and said, you know something? This is the happiest I've been since I was nine years old.

Interviewer: And why do you think he was so happy given all of the success he had before? OK, well, we got it on this one. Yeah, yeah. OK. But, uh, we're good with that. But yeah, we can keep shooting with this. Why do you think?

Tom Meehan: I think that thinking back to his early childhood, that this was a kind of culmination of a dream of his life, that someday he would have a great segador and now after such great success in the movies, his original early dream had come true.

Interviewer: We will gather a little bag, little pumpkin in the background, but it's usable. It is for the hell of it. Tell us one more time. Are you settled? You're good. I'm good. OK, tell us that one more time.

Tom Meehan: Just the end.

Interviewer: Yeah. Just tell us what why you think.

Tom Meehan: Well. He said. I'm the happiest I've been since I was nine years old, I think that was they said that because he was thinking back to his early years of a poor kid in Brooklyn when he had nothing to worry about. Life is great. But this now, after a great success in the movies, finally a kind of boyhood dream, a long, long dream of many, many years had come true that he had a massive hit in the theater and it was the moment he'd been waiting for. I didn't know he was waiting for for a long time.

Interviewer: Last question, what do you to some of the people talking sorry, we're getting some video shot of. We can hear the. Where we OK on that last bit? OK, final wrap up question, what do you in the big scheme of things, what do you think makes him tick? Mike, what do you think makes Mel tick?

Tom Meehan: I think, again, this is coming from his childhood, from the deprived childhood, the lost father, the struggling mother trying to raise four boys living in poverty, that that was what made him. Ambitious. He wants he made him have a kind of strength that he was going to beat the world and win and he could do it was his wit with his company because he was always the funniest guy on the block. And I think he recognized that comedy was going to be what would take him where he wanted to go. And he he has a great determination and very great strength. And he's a when he wants something, he gets it. He'll work endless hours. He commits himself to that. And I think always I always felt that the probably the biggest event in his life was that he didn't realize was the death of his father. Something about that growing up without a father, it was very hard and growing up without any money. But he actually never cared that much about money. He really cares about he cared about being a success. He cares about being recognized. He cared about being famous because he wanted to be he likes the limelight. He's he's a terrific extrovert. He can be a great clown. And then when he's not in public and not clowning around, he can be extremely serious and sober and thoughtful. So he is a mixture of things he says is it is an enigmatic sort of man, but the only word is genius is very few of those come along and you can know when you meet one like that. And it was it's been like a great. Blessing for me to be able to work with Mel Brooks, to be able to know I'm and to work with him for so many years because he's a great man.

Interviewer: Would you say that the his relationship with Anne was like one of the great love stories?

Tom Meehan: It was it was 40 years of love. They were an unlikely pair over until now. Why would she, such a classy woman have anything to do with this little runt from Brooklyn? Was the fact that she was any Italian or from the from the Bronx and he was from Brooklyn. And there were two New York street kids kind of that they they had very much in when when and wasn't being on stage on film. She talked like a girl from the Bronx. She could fall back on and be that. And he was the guy from Brooklyn and they were crazy in love with each other. There's no question that I went and died. Mel really was thrown for a terrible loop. It's been ever since. It's been extremely difficult for Mel to live without. And it's just. Heartbreak, totally, but, you know, he goes on and he's he's in the five allocable, if I can just get that word out of my mouth. Is still a strong character, still going, still got lots of ideas, we're talking about taking Young Frankenstein to London. We're going to be talking about putting the producers back on the road. We're talking about possibly doing a musical together of Blazing Saddles. All these things are still on the table. He's still going. Is he still Mel? He's 86 now, but. He's not a kid, neither am I, by the way, but we can still work together and do it if we felt like it.

Interviewer: Great. Thank you so much.

Tom Meehan: OK.

Interviewer: We don't know. But if you'd like two good ideas together, 20 seconds of silence. This, John. And rude. OK.

Tom Meehan: Well, you're welcome.

Tom Meehan
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Tom Meehan, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 01 Aug. 2012,
(2012, August 01). Tom Meehan, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Tom Meehan, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). August 01, 2012. Accessed August 09, 2022


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