Transcript:

Interviewer: So, I mean, you we're mostly gonna talk about silent movie, because that's.

Bernadette Peters: Yeah.

Interviewer: That's your experience with Mel.

Bernadette Peters: Right.

Interviewer: But tell us about your first meeting with Mel.

Bernadette Peters: My first what?

Interviewer: Meeting.

Bernadette Peters: Meeting. Oh, my God. Come on, try it. Oh, I remember it now. Oh, my God. I met him in his office and we talked to talked about the film. But the thing that I remember mostly about him was how you get ready, prepared to do with film. He said, I don't care if you have to sit and eat grapefruit for two weeks before you come and do the film to get. I guess you don't look good for the film when I'm. So I pictured Anne Bancroft at home eating grapefruit before being married to him. He probably makesher eat a lot of grapefruit. Made her eat a lot of grapefruit.

Interviewer: But you were so tiny. I can't believe that he said that to you.

Bernadette Peters: I think all directors want to make sure that everybody's in tip top shape. I think it was part of it.

Interviewer: Don't pig out on carbs before you start shooting.

Bernadette Peters: Yeah.

Interviewer: So tell us more about that. I mean, what was your first impression of him?

Bernadette Peters: But I remember Mel because at that time in my life, I was going with Steve Martin. And so we used to go over to Carl Reiner's house. And then Mel Brooks would be there with Anne Bancroft and he'd be pretty funny and. He be talking about work and you say it's work. And even though it's words and and and creativity and things that are a little. But you can't put your finger on because we we create out of air and things happen. He's still calling it work. It's, you know, it's like a shoemaker. Thank you. Take the shoe. You take the shoe, you take the hammer, you take the leather and you go, bam, bam, bam, bam. And you put it over here. Then you take the next one and you take the shoe, you get burned. And he was a funny guy.

Interviewer: Well, there's real craft, there's a real craft involved.

Bernadette Peters: To shoemaking too.

Interviewer: Exactly. That's a good analogy.

Bernadette Peters: Yeah.

Interviewer: So what's your favorite memory of working on Silent movie?

Bernadette Peters: Oh, I think the I had a lot of I had a lot of favorite memories.

Interviewer: Tell us about all of them.

Bernadette Peters: Yeah, well, I think the everybody on the set between between Dom DeLuise and Marty Feldman and Mel and Dom and Mel were very close. And Dom worked with Mel an awful lot. And Dom was always trying to make it very nice on the set so that that Mel wouldn't he be very calm and nothing would happen. And that's what Dom was always ready to do and getting in. Mel would start to get agitated. And then he'd start to laugh at himself, which was pretty wonderful. He was going to explode maybe. But no, he doesn't know. I don't know if he ever exploded. I never saw him explode, but and Dom's getting ready for the big to do the Mel actually would then start to get all excited and nervous and then he start to laugh. Which I thought was just just great, diffuse the whole thing.

Interviewer: Was he very volatile on the set part?

Bernadette Peters: I guess I never saw. But that's what Dom was getting ready for. You know, he wasn't he was a very intense guy. Funny, though, you know, that was what was so funny. Intense and and serious and funny at the same time. And then he'd say something, I guess. And then you feel what you'd find it funny, because we just come out of whatever it came out of and. That kind of genius, that type of thing.

Interviewer: Mel talked about that when Silent Movie was under way. He found it much more difficult than he had anticipated to work with no dialogue. And that it was problematic. And he thought it would be, you know, sort of freeing not to have dialogue, but it turned out to be much harder than he thought. Was any of that ever talked about on the set? And did you feel the same way?

Bernadette Peters: I I can understand, because you don't have, you know, a scene that you have gone through and you have words and your things are happening and has a beginning, a middle and an end. It's sort of we would we would make up dialogue as we as we went on, but. So you didn't know at the end of that scene if you had the scene because there wasn't a scene to play as far as words. So you didn't have that to hang on to. You just had you just had to play what was going on in the scene. And it was a silent movie. And then you're trying to decide, well, do you do you play it like a silent movie? Do you do it like that? And no, you don't do that. You just. I think I think the faces probably were very important in that movie to put over what what was going on. Then, of course, the the premise of the scenes that was funny. And the action of that. But it was hard to know sometimes. Was it working? It was it was hard to know.

Interviewer: Did Mel talk about that as a director? Did he say, I'm having a really hard time with this? I didn't know.

Bernadette Peters: No, I don't remember that. He just we would just keep, you know, doing it. We would just keep going. Basically. And and try to do he'll try to make it happen.

Interviewer: How did he direct?

Bernadette Peters: How did he direct? Well, he was in it, too, you know, so. So. I guess it was sort of hard. I mean, when he wasn't in the scene, he could certainly direct, direct what was going on. But when he was in the scene it was hard to know. It was hard to know. We know he talked about it and then we did it and and. He would say, I think we got it. And, you know.

Interviewer: Would he describe the scene? He described the setup and what he wanted and then you do it? I mean, how do you work on a movie that has no dialogue is what I'm trying to get at because it must be hard.

Bernadette Peters: Well, you look at the premise of of the of the scene of what's going on. There's some of them were you know, there were short scenes and there was all and there was a lot of action. So I think that's basically. Like in the one scene where we're jumping into the wedding cake and it's all. t's all on whipped cream, but it's actually really shaving cream or whatever you would call a large amount of suds, and that basically was the we're in love, we jump in. I was uncomfortable in that scene because I don't swim. And so I'm diving into the unknown. I have I've never dived into anything. I've never dived into water. I've never dived into shaving cream. And. So. But I did it and I didn't do that, I thought i was going to drown. I didn't drown. I didn't get hurt. And then we did it a few times and it was sort of fun. But even the scene where we were just walking along and then we sort of like walk a little. One of us will go faster and then the other one wouldg walk a little faster. And then we saw it was getting a little competitive. Who's who's walking faster? And then we start sprinting and jogging and then we start sprinting. And then we start really running and we travel closer. We've got no running clothes on underneath. I mean, basically, I think there was a lot of action that and that was fulfilling to the moment and that was fulfilling the scene.

Interviewer: Were there sequences that got fleshed out during the shooting or altered during the shooting? Do you remember any of that? I would think that would be given the nature.

Bernadette Peters: I don't remember that. I don't remember that happening.

Interviewer: So it would be great. You were in Annie Get Your Gun, when.

Bernadette Peters: I'm sorry, what?

Interviewer: You were starring in Annie Get Your Gun when The [roducers came to town.

Bernadette Peters: Oh, yeah.

Interviewer: And I'd like you to just tell us about what a sensation The Producers became. But by framing it, by saying I was on Broadway in Annie, Get Your Gun when the producers came, if you could say that and then talk about it,.

Bernadette Peters: Was I on Broadway then? That was in 1998 and 1991.

Interviewer: 2001.

Bernadette Peters: 2001?

Interviewer: You were starring in any.

Bernadette Peters: Was I still on Broadway?

Interviewer: Yeah.

Bernadette Peters: Ok.

Interviewer: So if you could just say that I was starring in Annie Get Your Gun when the producers came to town and then talk about the the sensation that The Producers was and why it was such a sensation.

Bernadette Peters: OK. I was starring on Broadway in Annie Get Your Gun when The Producers. Came to town and I just I just knew it was going to be such such a big hit because the movie was just so wonderful. But but the mega hit that became it was just just amazing. And you had the two perfect stars for the show with Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. And and they were both just charming and adorable. And in their own ways, and they're in their own rights. And and everyone loved. I think everyone. So many people love the movie. And then when they were coming to town in the show and Mel was involved to take that show, to take that movie, I should say, and put it on the stage, which is not an easy task. By the way, because a movie is is is one medium. And and now, you know, you're having a musical show and you just can't take the movie and put it on the screen. You really have to write it. And I was so happy it was Mel that was doing it so that it was still his voice. And it was a big success.

Interviewer: That's terrific. You know, I should know the answer to this and don't obviously, many Broadway shows have been made into movies. Was that an unusual thing for a movie to then be made into a Broadway show?

Bernadette Peters: There were some I mean, there was. The apartment was promises, promises. Now it's a very big thing to make movies into Broadway shows. And then. But The Producers was one of them. It was way back when. When promises was done. And then I don't think it was done for quite a while. I did one, the Goodbye Girl was a movie that was made into a Broadway musical. Not as successful as The Producers. But and sometimes it works. And that's what I mean. You really have to understand that now you're in a different medium. And now you have to write for the stage.

Interviewer: Got to rethink it in some way, but not lose the thing that made it wonderful to begin with.

Bernadette Peters: Right. Exactly.

Interviewer: Mel. Larry Gelbart described Mel saying that he was very self-contained. He didn't really concern himself with the things that a lot of comedy's concerned with marriage and children and career, that he was always grounded in history and literature. Would you agree with that? Based on his.

Bernadette Peters: I you know, I never thought about it, but, um. A Mel Brooks movie is certainly the very original, original movie, and every time a new one was coming out, you'd run to go see what he was going to do next because he always surprised you. And no, he wouldn't do the usual love story. And he did. And I suppose it was if you...Young Frankenstein and of course, the first one about cowboys. I mean, that was you know, it was only as Mel could do that. What was that called? Oh, Blazing Saddles. My God. Blazing Saddles was brilliant, and I think everybody every time he had a new movie, he would go run to go see what what he was going to do next.

Interviewer: How do you think his work kind of affected, so much affected, but would you sort of say there's kind of a comedy in movies? Was there sort of there was a before Mel and then after Mel. I mean, Blazing Saddles did open up some territory, as did The Producers, and nobody'd sort of ever figure tried to do before, kind of reinvented and took subjects that were kind of taboo and talked about them in in and dealt with them and comedic terms. Is that was that a moment that you would say was a defining moment in terms of movie history that was kind of before Mel and after him, after Mel?

Bernadette Peters: I think you have movie pioneers, geniuses. I do, and I think Mel was one of them. And I still think. I still think his are so original even more than. Things, the new comedies that have come out. He'll heat. They were so surprising and entertaining. And we have to remember that the bottom line is to be entertaining, you know? And I think he accomplished both.

Interviewer: What do you think was most original about him? Be a little more explicit about that.

Bernadette Peters: You know, his mind, his mind is is unlike any others, any other person. And it only comes out of him. And it could it could have only come out of him. And I don't think. I don't believe in trying to recreate someone else's thing. I think you have to create your own your own thing. And Mel's mind even just being around him, the little that I did, I don't you know, I'm not a great I don't know him that well. I've just spent so little time with him. And it was it's a joy and fun. And you don't know what he's going to say, what he's going to do because of just his makeup. And, you know, every person is so original to themselves, but he is really one in a million. You know, those things, that precious talent basicall.

Interviewer: Can you remember some.

Bernadette Peters: Esteem.

Interviewer: Oh, I'm sorry.

Bernadette Peters: High in esteem. You hold that high in esteem.

Interviewer: Do that again.

Bernadette Peters: That very precious talent that you just hold high in esteem.

Interviewer: Can you remember any particular moments on Silent Movie that would be fun to share? I'm a particularly wacky moment or silly moment or tense moment or whatever. I mean, some experiences that you had with with Mel on this movie.

Bernadette Peters: I just, the ones I mentioned then, and doing the number was fun during the musical number that I did and. I think that we all we're trying to figure out how to do how to do the movie, as he said, you know. I don't think it was like. Now we got it. You know, it's it's so we were creating as we were going along trying to figure out how to do it. And but I just love. Me, I just love watching him. That was it. That's what I did. I didn't say a lot. I just kind of sat and watched him and. Because he's he's such an original and so amazing. So.

Interviewer: What did you what did you learn from him watching him as an actor now, not as a director?

Bernadette Peters: Well, it's interesting to see how how how people. How hard they work. You know, people work really hard. And how intense they are and how much they care. And and. As you said, it's Kraft, it's the shoe maker making shoes, and you make a beautiful shoe in the end, but you still have to still. How do you do it? How do you take the beautiful leather and how do you take the nails? And how do you how do you create and how do you make it work? And then he'd be there. Then he'd be the actor and he'd be in the scene with me and he'd be charming and smiling. And I just would actually watch a teeny little trailer when I did just before I got here. And, you know, it was just a wonderful and they're driving in to the studio lot and the and they drive under the the car guard and they go off. It hits him in the face and they was flying over and just made me laugh. I don't know why it's funny, but it just it's funny.

Interviewer: It's hard to analyze comedy. It really is.

Bernadette Peters: What?

Interviewer: It's hard to analyze comedy.

Bernadette Peters: That's the truth. It is hard to analyze, analyze comedy, whatever it just is.

Interviewer: Now, you were also directed by Carl Reiner in The Jerk. Yes. How would you describe Mel's directing style versus Carls?

Bernadette Peters: Well, Carl, you know, again, it's it's it's fun, but it's hard work and it's it's, you know, get the scenes and. The thing that happened with Carl and Steve and The Jerk is I have I was privy to drive to work sometimes in the car, to the set. And and Steve and Carl would be writing the movie that morning sometimes. The scene. What's gonna happen in the scene? That was very, very exciting. And a lot of fun, you know. And in this scene. And then he would Steve would start writing it and then they would start doing it. And I was like watching all this creativity going on. And it was, again, a great privilege to be able to be there and to to experience that.

Interviewer: So Carl was a little more fluid. The scenes were being developed in the middle of shooting the movie and things would change. Is Mel a little more buttoned up about that?

Bernadette Peters: You know, I in our scenes, I don't think the scenes that we did, I don't remember them changing that much. But I'm not. I can't be. I don't quite remember. You can't. I'm not quite sure about that. Maybe the other parts of the movie. I'm sure he must've had to been a little more fluid, especially when you're not sure you know how to do it without dialogue. I think you had to be a little more fluid.

Interviewer: Yeah, I'm so trying to figure out how how. I mean, you know something about various directors styles. You know that, for example, Woody Allen never tells anybody what the movie's about. You only know your scene and you don't even know what the movie's called. And he doesn't tell you very much, doesn't give a lot of direction that other directors, of course, who are very nurturing and take you aside and talk to you.

Bernadette Peters: Right. Right.

Interviewer: Where does Mel fall in that in terms of a style?

Bernadette Peters: Oh, you know, I. And also, again, this was a different type of movie because there was no dialogue and it wasn't we weren't doing it, period. Like we were making an old fashioned silent movie. We were making a modern silent movie and. But But Mel tried to make a he tried to make it fun and neat and loose. And as I said, he would just start to get tense and then he'd start laughing at himself. So it was it was an interesting problem that that that that movie, as we went along and Woody I worked with on the movie, Alice.And he would say, about the dialogue. That's what he would say. He would say, you know, it's just words and we're not married to them. Just make a make up, whatever you want. Just, you know, just stop. Just talk, talk. This is what's happening in the scene. Just talk. You know, that type of thing. And Mel was playing. Mel was playing. You know, the hero of the movie. I was the heroine, and he was the leading man. I love. We were playing a romantic couple. So I enjoyed that scene at the end where we get together. So that was fun. I'm very positive. And. It kind of a little clearer, I suppose, of how how to play it. There was a lot of technical things also, and some we like jumping into the air . It went up on this thing and it was big. That acknowledgement of that was a great big area of a foam that we would jumping into. Looked like whipped cream. There was this wonderful scene in the movie theater where my character is swinging on a rope. Actually, I had a double. I sort of wish it were me, but then I sort of was happy it wasn't me, but. I mean, all these wonderful, wonderful ideas that he had, and I was just I always felt so privileged to be a part of that movie and be and work with Mel and and be one of his his heroine.

Interviewer: Very pretty. We're ready? So talk about the difference between a silent movie as old fashioned silent movie and a modern silent movie.

Bernadette Peters: Well, that was the thing is we it was hard to to to figure out what kind of movie it was until we were told. But it's a silent movie, but we're not actually doing a takeoff on a silent movie, which I'm glad we didn't. I think it's much more as you look at it now, it's much more original because it's us. It's just people like today just talking. But it was silent. And look at that wonderful film that just was such a big hit with Oogy the dog. What was it called?

Interviewer: The Artist. The Artist.

Bernadette Peters: The Artist, which was a silent film but silent movie. We did it many years before and. So it was interesting that you would just play the scenes. And not in any. You just kind of playing the scenes in a modern, so to speak, way of the day. But without dialogue, it was quite a challenge, actually, it was quite a challenge To make sure that what was getting on the screen was entertaining, but as you look at it now, I just think it's it was a wonderful new way of doing something.

Interviewer: Did you know at the time you were making it that it was going to end up being such a gem?

Bernadette Peters: Well, I'm in a Mel Brooks movie, every Mel Brooks movie is ia gem. Just in the fact that it's Mel Brooks, you know, you were doing something really special and then you'd wait for people like that. I remember the day that Anne Bancroft came in and did her number and and it was all very exciting. And and Dom and Marty Feldman. I mean Marty Feldman, you know, all of them together. It was it was a thrill, just a thrill for me. I mean, I really I think I was agog. I really just I don't think I said a lot. I think I was like looking at all these wonderful, brilliant comedians. And there I was with them was quite a privilege.

Interviewer: Are there any things you would like to say that that you haven't been asked? Any other movies you want to talk about, any favorite moments, anything you'd like to say?

Bernadette Peters: I wish she'd make another movie. I want to know what that mind is thinking.

Interviewer: Are you aware that Mel had a production company and he produced movies that weren't comedies?

Bernadette Peters: No.

Interviewer: He produced The Elephant Man.

Bernadette Peters: Oh my God. That's right. Yes. And Anne was in that.

Interviewer: No, he wasn't in there.

Bernadette Peters: Anne Bancroft.

Interviewer: Oh Anne was in it, of course. Yeah, yeah.

Bernadette Peters: That's right.

Interviewer: And I think sharing 84 Charing Cross Road also with.

Bernadette Peters: I didn't know that.

Interviewer: That was his company. He's very proud. He's very proud of those pictures.

Bernadette Peters: I would imagine I would be too. They're great films.

Interviewer: He's he's a he's a seriously good producer, you know. So it's not surprising that he did.

Bernadette Peters: I think he has good taste? You know, that's the thing about. He would do as as far as he would go with jokes like in Blazing Saddles. They were they could get away with things because they were truly funny. If he did things that were shocking, they weren't gross. They were like, oh, mother, I shouldn't be laughing at this. But it's just so funny. I can't stop laughing at that kind of thing. So I think that's what his genius is just. Just just amazing.

Interviewer: That in The Producers. It's one of the things I thought was such a genius about it is that he actually had the audience reacting the way the audience would react to Springtime for Hitler like.

Bernadette Peters: Right. Exactly.

Interviewer: And then turns and then turns it into. They think it's all a big joke. And the whole thing is just so I think that's really a piece of genius The Producers. But I love all of them.

Bernadette Peters: It is. Springtime for Hitler. And, you know, to do that and to go so far and we're all shocked. And yet that's what the what the idea of the of the movie was. To lose all his money of the producer. Quite something, quite something.

Interviewer: Mel doesn't like to lose money.

Bernadette Peters: Do you remember do you remember the 2000 year old man when he would do that? I mean, I could listen to that right now. I mean, just so funny. So and I used to love when I used to go on television together, he and Carl Reiner and just, you know, they're riffing and, you know, part of it, he's making it up as he's going along and he's enjoying it. And you see him getting tickled by it. I mean, what beautiful entertainment. I mean, I have to go get some of those.

Interviewer: Just one last question. When you. Is that the first time you became. How did you first become familiar with his work? What's the first thing you saw?

Bernadette Peters: I think I first became familiar with Mel Brooks work when he used to go on television as the two thousand year old man. I mean, it was like, wow, pure entertainment. He and Carl Reiner and the early days of television had so many wonderful things on their hands. They had. Well, anyway, they would they would just do whatever shows they want, it was a it's all the new The Tonight Show or whatever they were on. You know, Elaine May and Mike Nichols. That, too. But the two thousand year old man, when you know that he started going off on a tangent and make things up and you know how wonderful it was. I mean, that's when I first became aware of him and we felt my whole family fell in love with him, my mother and my sister. And we all were like, Mel Brooks, I mean. And then I remember my sister coming home telling me about she's a Blazing Saddles and is just telling about this. You know how funny it was. It was The Producers, too, which was just probably tell me about that one first.

Interviewer: Did you ever see the Twelve Chairs? I think that's his first movie.

Bernadette Peters: Is that the first one?

Interviewer: I think so.

Bernadette Peters: I haven't seen that one in a long time. I haven't seen that in a long time.

Interviewer: That's when I first became familiar with him with The Twelve chairs. And I could I. I knew that there was a very new and original voice up there. We hadn't seen that before in movies. And he just kept getting better and better.

Bernadette Peters: And then I remember when he met Anne Bancroft, they started going together and it was like, oh, look at the beautiful girl and the comedian. And it was and then you'd meet them like I'd run into them in the theater in different places. And they were just so friendly and so warm and so happy and so funny and and just so wonderful.

Interviewer: Did she come on the set of Silent Movie?

Bernadette Peters: She was in the movie. So yes.

Interviewer: She was in it. I just jumped all over that. Describe their relationship on the set.

Bernadette Peters: They. They got along great. Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft. They get along great. They knew. They were like this. I think, you know, they knew she knew what to say or what not to say and.

Interviewer: Well, thank you very, very much.

Bernadette Peters: Thank you.

Interviewer: Is there anything you want to add that I didn't ask you?

Bernadette Peters: It was just it was nice to think about the movie again and think about that. Will it? What a privilege it was to be part of it. And. It's nice.

Interviewer: Thank you very much. OK. Just room tone. Thank you.

Bernadette Peters
Interview Date:
2012-09-04
Runtime:
0:32:40
Keywords:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
N/A
MLA CITATIONS:
"Bernadette Peters, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 04 Sep. 2012, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/332
APA CITATIONS:
(2012, September 04). Bernadette Peters, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/332
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Bernadette Peters, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). September 04, 2012. Accessed January 16, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/332

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