Mel Brooks

Active - 1968 - Present  |   Born - Jun 28, 1926 in Brooklyn, New York, United States  |   Genres - Comedy

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Farce, satire, and parody come together with Vaudeville roots and manic energy to create the Mel Brooks style of comedy. Born Melvin Kaminsky to a Russian Jewish family in Brooklyn, NY, the writer/producer/director/actor was one of very few people to win an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony award. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he worked as a standup comic at resorts in the Catskills and started writing comedy. Along with Woody Allen, Neil Simon, and others, he wrote for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, which later became Caesar's Hour. Teaming up with fellow staff writer Carl Reiner, he developed the award-winning "2000 Year Old Man" comedy skit, which led to several recordings, television appearances, and a 1998 Grammy. He and writer Buck Henry also created the spy-parody TV series Get Smart (1965-1970) starring Don Adams.

During this time, he produced theater, married actress Anne Bancroft, and made his first film: an Oscar-winning animated short parody of modern art called The Critic. He then put together a screenplay based upon his experiences working with Broadway executives that led to his feature-length debut The Producers. He cast stage legend Zero Mostel in the lead role and got B-movie producer Joseph Levine to put up the funds, but the movie didn't get distributed until Peter Sellers saw it and encouraged its release. Brooks ended up winning an Oscar for Best Screenplay and, in 2000, adapted the film into a highly successful Broadway musical. By 1970, after the release of his next film The Twelve Chairs, Hollywood thought his work was "too Jewish." In 1974, Brooks made the marketable move toward parodies with the Western spoof Blazing Saddles, winning him a Writer's Guild award and introducing his stock actors Harvey Korman and Madeline Kahn. Finding his niche, he would continue to make parodies throughout his career by spoofing horror (Young Frankenstein), silent movies (Silent Movie), Hitchcock (High Anxiety), historical epics (History of the World -- Part I), and science fiction (Spaceballs).

Working simultaneously as writer, director, and lead actor, Brooks started to generate negative press about his excessive style. In 1983, appearing opposite Bancroft, he concentrated on just acting for the remake of the Ernst Lubitch classic To Be or Not to Be. He continued working with his production company Brooksfilms during the '80s as an executive producer on projects as varied as The Fly, The Elephant Man, Solarbabies, and 84 Charing Cross Road (starring Bancroft). His brief stray into non-parody films in 1991 (Life Stinks) was universally dismissed, so he returned to form with Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Other than the occasional cameo or random appearance as voice talent, Brooks spent the late '90s winning awards and playing Uncle Phil on the NBC series Mad About You. In 2001, the Broadway musical version of The Producers (starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick) led to a successful national tour and broke a new record by winning one Grammy and 12 Tony awards. The stage version would lead to a new big screen adaptation in 2005, creating a whole new generation of fans.

Over the coming years, Brooks would lend his voice to Spaceballs: The Animated Series and Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks.

Movie Highlights

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Factsheet

  • At 14, learned to play drums from jazz legend Buddy Rich.
  • After serving in World War II, began working at Borscht Belt resorts in the Catskills, serving as a stand-up comedian, jazz drummer, handyman and social director.
  • Auditioned as a writer for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows by performing a self-penned song titled "Here I Am, I'm Melvin Brooks."
  • His legendary 2000 Year Old Man was created when he quipped to Carl Reiner following painful gout surgery that he felt "like a 2000-year-old man."
  • Formed Brooksfilms in 1979 to produce The Elephant Man; other movies produced include The Fly and My Favorite Year, which is based on a personal experience with Errol Flynn.
  • His 2000 Broadway production of The Producers received 15 Tony Award nominations and won a record 12.
  • Is one of only a few artists to have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.