Mel Brooks (born Melvin Kaminsky; June 28, 1926) is an American director, writer, composer, lyricist, comedian, actor and producer, best known as a creator of broad film farces and comic parodies. Brooks is a member of the short list of entertainers with the distinction of having won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony award.
As a child, Brooks was a small and sickly boy. He was bullied and picked on by his peers. By taking on the comically aggressive job of Tummler in various Catskills resorts, he overcame his childhood of bullying and name calling.
He went to school in New York. For elementary, he went to Public School 19 (Williamsburg). For middle school, he went to Francis Scott Key Junior High (Williamsburg). Brooks went to Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn. In June 1944, Brooks enlisted in the Army. He had basic training at Virginia Military Institute and finished up at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. He was shipped off to war in February 1945 where he initially served as forward observer for the artillery. Shortly thereafter, Brooks was reassigned to the 1104th Combat Engineers Group. Several months later, Germany had surrendered and Brooks was promoted to corporal. He continued to serve in Germany for another four months in charge of Special Services (entertainment). Brooks completed his service at Fort Dix in New Jersey.
Brooks later moved into film, working as an actor, director, writer, and producer. Brooks' first film was The Critic (1963), an animated satire of arty, esoteric cinema, conceived by Brooks and directed by Ernest Pintoff. Brooks supplied running commentary as the baffled moviegoer trying to make sense of the obscure visuals. The short film won an Academy Award. With Buck Henry, Brooks created the successful TV series Get Smart, starring Don Adams as a bumbling secret agent. This series added to Brooks' reputation as a clever satirist.
Brooks' first feature film, The Producers, was a dark comedy about two theatrical partners who deliberately contrive the worst possible Broadway show. The film was so brazen in its satire (its big production number was "Springtime for Hitler") that the major studios wouldn't touch it, nor would many exhibitors. Brooks finally found an independent distributor, which released it like an art film, as a specialized attraction. The film received an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The film became a smash underground hit, first on the nationwide college circuit, then in revivals and on home video. Brooks later turned it into a musical, which became one of the most popular Broadway shows.
His two most financially successful films were released in 1974: Blazing Saddles (co-written with Richard Pryor, Andrew Bergman, Norman Steinberg and Alan Uger), and Young Frankenstein (co-written with Gene Wilder). He followed these up with an audacious idea: the first feature-length silent comedy in four decades. Silent Movie (1976) featured Brooks in his first leading role, with Dom DeLuise and Marty Feldman as his sidekicks. The following year he released his Hitchcock parody High Anxiety, which was the first movie produced by Brooks himself.
Brooks developed a repertory company of sorts for his film work: performers with three or more Brooks films to their credit include Gene Wilder, Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Ron Carey and Andréas Voutsinas. Dom DeLuise has appeared in six of Brooks' 12 films, the only person with more appearances being Brooks himself. In 1975, at the height of his movie career, Brooks tried TV again with When Things Were Rotten, a Robin Hood parody that lasted only 13 episodes. Nearly 20 years later, Brooks mounted another Robin Hood parody with Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
The 1980s saw Brooks produce and direct only two films, the first being History of the World Part I in 1981, a tongue-in-cheek look at human culture from the Dawn of Man to the French Revolution. As part of the film's soundtrack, Brooks, then aged 55, recorded a rap entitled "It's Good to Be the King", a parody of Louis XVI and the French Revolution; it was released as a single, and became an unlikely US disco hit. His second movie release of the decade came in 1987 in the form of Spaceballs, a parody of Star Wars. Both films featured him in multiple roles. He also starred in the 1983 remake To Be or Not to Be, which even spawned a highly controversial single, "To Be Or Not To Be (The Hitler Rap)". It was only part of the soundtrack (but not part of the movie) and made fun of the German society in the 1940s and showed Mel Brooks himself as Hitler. The single got banned from both radio airplay and television in Germany due to its controversial lyrics and video footage. In the U. S., it peaked at #12 on the Billboard charts in February 1984.
Brooks' most recent success has been a transfer of his film The Producers to the Broadway stage. Brooks also had a vocal role in the 2005 animated film Robots. He is currently working on an animated series sequel to Spaceballs. Spaceballs: The TV Series is slated to premiere September 21, 2008 on G4 TV.
Brooks is one of the few artists who have received an Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy. He was awarded his first Grammy award for Best Spoken Comedy Album in 1999 for his recording of The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000 with Carl Reiner. His two other Grammys came in 2002 for Best Musical Show Album, for the soundtrack to The Producers, and for Best Long Form Music Video for the DVD "Recording the Producers - A Musical Romp with Mel Brooks". He won his first of four Emmy awards in 1967 for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Variety for a Sid Caesar special. He went on to win three consecutive Emmys in 1997, 1998, and 1999 for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his role of Uncle Phil on Mad About You. He won his three Tony awards in 2001 for his work on the musical, The Producers. He won Tonys for Best Musical, Best Original Musical Score, and Best Book of a Musical. Additionally, he won a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award for Young Frankenstein. In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, he was voted #50 of the top 50 comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders. Three of Brooks' films are on the American Film Institute's list of funniest American films: Blazing Saddles (#6), The Producers (#11), and Young Frankenstein (#13).
Brooks and his wife Anne Bancroft acted together in Silent Movie and To Be or Not to Be, and Bancroft also had a bit part in the 1995 film Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Years later, the Brooks' appeared as themselves in the fourth season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm, spoofing the finale of The Producers. It is reported that Bancroft encouraged Brooks (after an idea suggested by David Geffen) to take The Producers to Broadway where it became an enormous success, as the show broke the Tony record with 12 wins, a record that had previously been held for 37 years by Hello, Dolly! at 10 wins. Such success has translated to a big-screen version of the Broadway adaptation/remake with actors Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane reprising their stage roles, in addition to new cast members Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell. As of early April 2006, Brooks had begun composing the score to a Broadway musical adaptation of Young Frankenstein, which he says is "perhaps the best movie [he] ever made." The world premiere was performed at Seattle's most historic theatre (originally built as a movie palace), The Paramount Theatre, between August 7, 2007, and September 1, 2007 after which it opened on Broadway at the Hilton Theatre, New York, on October 11, 2007. It has since earned moderate to poor reviews from the critics. TIME reports, "Mel Brooks is no longer the inspired amateur. Now he's a Broadway monster, repeating himself."
In interviews broadcast on WABC radio, Brooks has discussed with NYC radio personality Mark Simone the possibilities of turning other works from his creative oeuvre (such as the movie Blazing Saddles) into future musical productions. Specifically, in a conversation airing March 1, 2008, he and Simone speculated on what show tunes might be incorporated into a theatrical adaptation of the Get Smart property.
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