This is going to be fun, because my intention today is to show why you should appreciate Mel Brooks even if you don’t actually like his movies very much. Which, um, I don’t. I’ve seen seven of the eleven movies he’s credited as directing, and I like one of them. (The Producers, if you’re curious.) Adding movies he’s written but not directed doesn’t add any, and adding movies he acted in adds three. On the other hand, I think he’s a heck of a guy who deserves our recognition anyway.
I just now discovered that he’s got my dad’s names backwards; Dad was James Melvin, and Mel Brooks was born Melvin James Kaminsky. He was drafted in World War II and served as a combat engineer, disarming landmines. And also getting back at the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge; they played Nazi propaganda on their loudspeakers, so he set up his own and played Al Jolson. Because, hey, you’ve got to be yourself, and he was Mel Brooks.
One of the things I don’t think gets mentioned often enough about him is that he was a producer for The Elephant Man. It’s actually one of several movies on which he is an uncredited executive producer—uncredited because he knew that having his name on the credits would give people the wrong idea about the movie. It was his determination that got David Lynch hired, that permitted the film to be in black and white, and that kept the structure Lynch intended. Just because his movies are what they are doesn’t mean that he doesn’t see the value in other types of movies!
Not only is Mel Brooks one of the rare EGOT winners, he actually has multiples of every award but the Oscar. His sole Oscar is for Best Original Screenplay for The Producers, and of course all three of his Tonys are for the musical version. He has three Grammys, including one that has nothing to do with The Producers, and four Emmys, one for writing and three for his recurring character on Mad About You. He’s got a Hugo, a Nebula, a Kennedy Center Honor, an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, and a British Film Institute Fellowship. Frankly, I’m kind of surprised he doesn’t have a Presidential Medal of Freedom yet.
Also, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, he just seems like a mensch. I’m not sure how many people noticed that the theatre putting on Springtime for Hitler in the musical version of The Producers is named after Anne Bancroft, to whom Brooks was married for forty-one years, until her death in 2005. It seems to have been the tribute he could give her. Her name is also on a call box elsewhere in the movie. They acted together some, but mostly, they just really seem to have loved each other. In interviews, he comes across as a really nice guy. And he’s willing to fight for what he believes in.
So no, I’m never going to like Blazing Saddles or even Young Frankenstein; it’s just not my kind of humour. That’s okay. I admire the heck out of Mel Brooks anyway.