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Melvin "Mel" Kaminsky (born June 28, 1926),[1] better known by his stage name Mel Brooks, is an American film director, screenwriter, composer, lyricist, comedian, actor, and producer. He is 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. Three of his films ranked in the Top 20 on the American Film Institute's list of the Top 100 comedy films of all-time: Blazing Saddles, The Producers and Young Frankenstein.[2]

Early life

Brooks was born Melvin Kaminsky in Brooklyn, New York, a son of Maximilian Kaminsky and his wife Kate Brookman.[3] His father's family were German Jews from the Baltic seaport of Danzig (modern Gdansk); his mother's family were Russian Jews from Kiev.[4] His father died of kidney disease when he was only 34.

Brooks was a small, sickly boy who was often bullied and picked on by his classmates. Taking on the comically aggressive job of Tummler (master entertainer) in different Catskills resorts, he gradually gained in confidence. Following high school, he attended the Virginia Military Institute[5] and served in the United States Army as a corporal during World War II, taking part in the Battle of the Bulge.[6]

Early career

Brooks started as a stand-up comic, telling jokes and doing movie-star impressions. He found more rewarding work behind the scenes, becoming a comedy writer for television. He joined the hit comedy series Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar and Carl Reiner. Reiner, as creator of The Dick Van Dyke Show, based Morey Amsterdam's character Buddy Sorell on Brooks.

Starting in 1960, Brooks teamed with Reiner as a comedy duo on the Steve Allen Show. Their performances led to release a series of comedy albums that included a routine that eventually expanded into the 2000 Year Old Man series that became five albums and a 1975 animated TV special.

Brooks later moved into film, working as an actor, director, writer, and producer. Brooks's 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's reputation as a clever satirist.

Brooks's 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 would not 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 hugely successful on Broadway, receiving an unprecedented twelve Tony awards.

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 (co-written with Ron Clark, 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 (also written with Clark), 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 of Brooks's films (The Producers, The Twelve Chairs, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, High Anxiety, History of the World: Part I, Spaceballs, Life Stinks, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and Dracula: Dead and Loving It) to their credit include Gene Wilder, Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Ron Carey, Dick Van Patten and Andréas Voutsinas. Dom DeLuise appeared in six of Brooks's 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 twenty years later, in response to the 1991 hit film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Brooks mounted another Robin Hood parody with Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Brooks's film resurrected several pieces of dialog from his TV series, as well as from earlier Brooks films.

Later career

File:Mel Brooks.jpg

In 1980, Brooks became interested in producing the dramatic film The Elephant Man (directed by David Lynch). Knowing that anyone seeing a poster reading "Mel Brooks presents The Elephant Man" would expect a comedy, he set up the company Brooksfilms. Brooksfilms has since produced a number of non-comedy films, including David Cronenberg's The Fly, Frances, and 84 Charing Cross Road, starring Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft, as well as comedies, including Richard Benjamin's My Favorite Year, which was partially based on his real life. Brooks sought to purchase the rights to 84 Charing Cross Road for his wife, Anne Bancroft, for many years. He successfully obtained the rights to the movie and presented them to her as an anniversary gift.

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 a surprise US dance hit. His second movie release of the decade came in 1987 in the form of Spaceballs, a parody of science fiction, mainly Star Wars. Both films featured him in multiple roles. He also starred in the 1983 remake of To Be or Not to Be, which spawned a highly controversial single that featured as part of the film's soundtrack album (although not in the film itself) - "To Be Or Not To Be (The Hitler Rap)". The song - satirising German society in the 1940s with Brooks playing Hitler - was banned from both radio airplay and television in Germany due to its deliberately ironic portrayal of the Nazi involvement in World War Two, but was an unlikely hit elsewhere, peaking at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1984 and #3 on the Australian Singles Chart (Kent Music Report) that same year.

One of his most recent successes 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 then worked on an animated series sequel to Spaceballs called Spaceballs: The TV Series, which premiered on September 21, 2008 on G4 TV.

File:MelBrooksStandApr10.jpg

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's 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 Brookses 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 former Foxwoods Theatre (then the Hilton Theatre), New York, on October 11, 2007. It has since earned mixed reviews from the critics.

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.

On December 5, 2009 Brooks was one of five recipients of 2009 Kennedy Center Honors at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.[7]

On April 23, 2010 Brooks was awarded the 2,406th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[8]

In 2010, Brooks announced that he, Steve Haberman, and Rudy DeLuca (writers of Life Stinks (1990) and Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)) are collaborating on a script entitled "Pizzaman", a "flat-out horror film" according to Brooks, and Brooks will be producing the film.

Personal life

File:MaxMelBrooksApr10.jpg

Brooks was married to Florence Baum from 1951 to 1961. Their marriage ended in divorce. Mel and Florence had three children, Stephanie, Nicky, and Eddie.

Brooks was married to the actress Anne Bancroft from 1964 until her death from uterine cancer on June 6, 2005. They met on rehearsal for the Perry Como Variety Show in 1961 and married three years later, August 5, at the Manhattan Marriage Bureau. Their son, Max Brooks, was born in 1972. In 2010, Brooks credited Bancroft as being the guiding force behind his involvement in developing The Producers and Young Frankenstein for the musical theater, citing an early meeting as "From that day, until her death on June 5, 2005, we were glued together."[9]

Work

File:Mel Brooks 2009.jpg

Writer/director

Theatre

Other works

Rotten Tomatoes Ratings

Film T-Meter Top Critics
The Producers 93%[10] 90%[11]
The Twelve Chairs 92%[12] N/A[13]
Blazing Saddles 89%[14] 80%[15]
Young Frankenstein 93%[16] N/A[17]
Silent Movie 89%[18] N/A[19]
High Anxiety 73%[20] N/A[21]
History of the World, Part I 60%[22] N/A[23]
Spaceballs 65%[24] N/A[25]
Life Stinks 20%[26] N/A[27]
Robin Hood: Men in Tights 45%[28] N/A[29]
Dracula: Dead and Loving It 9%[30] 20%[31]
Average 66% 63%

See also

References

  1. Parish, pp. 16–17
  2. AFI's list
  3. "Mel Brooks Biography (1926-)" at Filmreference.com
  4. Mel Brooks is on a roll. As his hit revival of The Producers comes to London
  5. http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=90801438
  6. These Guys Served?! Who Knew?
  7. Mel Brooks laughs his way to Kennedy Center honor - washingtonpost.com
  8. Mel Brooks gets Hollywood Walk of Fame star
  9. Carucci, John (2010-03-03). "Brooks recalls Anne Bancroft as wife, collaborator". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  10. Rotten Tomatoes T-Meter Rating of The Producers
  11. Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics Rating of The Producers
  12. Rotten Tomatoes T-Meter Rating of The Twelve Chairs
  13. Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics Rating of The Twelve Chairs
  14. Rotten Tomatoes T-Meter Rating of Blazing Saddles
  15. Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics Rating of Blazing Saddles
  16. Rotten Tomatoes T-Meter Rating of Young Frankenstein
  17. Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics Rating of Young Frankenstein
  18. Rotten Tomatoes T-Meter Rating of Silent Movie
  19. Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics Rating of Silent Movie
  20. Rotten Tomatoes T-Meter Rating of High Anxiety
  21. Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics Rating of High Anxiety
  22. Rotten Tomatoes T-Meter Rating of History of the World: Part 1
  23. Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics Rating of History of the World: Part 1
  24. Rotten Tomatoes T-Meter Rating of Spaceballs
  25. Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics Rating of Spaceballs
  26. Rotten Tomatoes T-Meter Rating of Life Stinks
  27. Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics Rating of Life Stinks
  28. Rotten Tomatoes T-Meter Rating of Robin Hood: Men in Tights
  29. Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics Rating of Robin Hood: Men in Tights
  30. Rotten Tomatoes T-Meter Rating of Dracula: Dead and Loving It
  31. Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics Rating of Dracula: Dead and Loving It

Further reading

External links

  1. REDIRECT Template:IMDb name

Template:AcademyAwardBestOriginalScreenplay1960-1969 Template:EmmyAward ComedyVarietyMusicWriting 1950-1974

  1. REDIRECT Template:EmmyAward ComedyGuestActor

Template:Mel Brooks Films Template:2009 Kennedy Center Honorees

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