At the beginning of the pandemic, in March 2020, a video went viral in the United States in which the writer and screenwriter Max Brooks urged people to maintain social distance, especially with the elderly, and to self-isolate. He did it from the garden of his father's house, the comedy legend Mel Brooks, who appeared inside the house and waved through a glass door before urging his young son to leave. Yes, the director of
The Producers, Young Frankenstein
The Last Madness (Silent Movie),
the creator of
Super Agent 86,
one of the few EGOT (artists who have won the big four: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony), was alive.
And not only did he star in videos: he took advantage of the confinement to write his memoirs,
All About Me!,
which were published in his country last December.
Mel Brooks: "Good taste does not exist"
All About Me!
is Mel Brooks for the good and for the bad. The young son of a family of Jewish immigrants, the Kaminskys, from the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn, the New Yorker admits that until he was five years old he does not remember "having set foot on the ground." “They would throw me up in the air, kiss me and throw me up in the air again,” he recalls. His father had died of tuberculosis, and his older brothers, his mother, and his many uncles poured out for him. That feeling that he still lives in his happy childhood is projected in the 460 pages of the book. Brooks turned 95 years old last June, but after having introduced readers to some of his best friends and collaborators (other comedy legends like Carl Reiner, great performers like Madeline Kahn or Gene Wilder) he hid their deaths. "Laughter is a cry of protest against death, against the long goodbye",writes. And for this reason he prioritizes humor before more complex feelings. He doesn't even mention his first wife, Florence Baum, mother of his three eldest children. Or he tiptoes past the death of Anne Bancroft, the love of his life, his partner of 45 years. Sometimes Brooks hides behind that five-year-old boy so as not to delve into his pain.
In Brooks there is a single commandment: anything goes to make people laugh, and the bigger the laugh, the better. There is projected his need to feel loved, to maintain the status of center of attention that he enjoyed in his childhood. He did not expect anything less from life, and his talent has allowed him to achieve this triumph. Talent and work. Only the best jokes count. When he turned his film
into a Broadway musical in 2001
—the story of a theatrical producer and a timorous accountant determined to strike it rich with a financial ruse by creating the worst show,
Springtime for Hitler—
ever seen—, Brooks enjoyed the previous tour in Chicago before premiering the work in New York: he polished jokes and eliminated jokes according to the reaction of the public, because only “what propels them from the seat to the floor, to Laugh until your stomach hurts."
He will be a lover and genuine defender of farts and all kinds of wild jokes (he says that he robbed a collaborator twice during his television stage just because the places they were walking were optimal for it), but also of working ardently in pursuit of comic excellence.
Mel Brooks as Bronski dressed as Hitler in 'To Be or Not To Be'.
All About Me!
It 's not as funny as Apropos
the memoirs of Woody Allen, another
of New York humor, but it records the methodical work of a lifetime dedicated to laughter. And of its author's commitment to teamwork. His childhood, happy, was not exempt from deprivations of the great depression ("Everything went very well until I turned nine and started doing homework"). Her older brother decided that Mel should not study aviation mechanics as a teenager because he knew she "had something special." And although his first impulse was to be a drummer (which helped him to absorb the importance of rhythm and prefer musical films to comedies), he ended up in the Borscht Belt, the circuit of
for Jews in the Catskill Mountains, upstate New York, as a sour cream stocker at the buffet, as
a pool tummler
(the guy who humorously woke up patrons from their afternoon nap at the hotel pool), and finally a comedian.
New York humor
After World War II (the four Kaminsky brothers miraculously returned home safely after the war ended) he became part of the writing team of Sid Caesar and his programs, especially
Your Show of Shows,
for a decade at the age of 21.
the most watched on American television. At the end of those television years, two other greats entered as
writers : Neil Simon and a teenager gifted for verbal knives, Woody Allen. Brooks takes the opportunity to explain: “I don't think my humor is strictly Jewish. He's a New Yorker, which goes beyond Jewish humor. It has a very specific rhythm, intensity and cadence. Lenny Bruce, Rodney Dangerfield, Jackie Mason, and the
like me we are not simply Jews.
We are New Yorkers.
And there is a big difference."
Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks.AP
Brooks' career has been a continual
When Caesar's star faded, he recorded
2000 Year Old Man with Carl Reiner,
a series of records that made him famous for himself. On February 5, 1961, he had his first date with Anne Bancroft. And he launched himself to earn money as it was, with such stupendous caroms as giving voice to
an animated short that won the Oscar. In 1965 he created the series
an earthquake that changed television. “But there is a big difference between movies and television. Cinema allows you as a writer all the time you need to develop characters and stories [...]. And films last forever, while TV is forgotten a week after it is broadcast”.
“I don't think my humor is strictly Jewish. He's a New Yorker, which goes beyond Jewish humor."
The film director Brooks starts, the genre crusher and box office winner with
(1967), which was going to star Zero Mostel and Dustin Hoffman. But Hoffman calls him one night and implores him to break the contract: they have called him from Hollywood to star in a movie with a great friend of Brooks, Mike Nichols, and his wife, Bancroft:
His replacement will become Brooks' fetish actor: Gene Wilder. Thus came
The Mystery of the Eleven
(1974) —he buys handkerchiefs so the crew can put them in their mouths and stop ruining the shots with their laughter— ,
the latest madness
(1976) —silent film, parody of Hollywood, in which only one person speaks: the mime Marcel Marceau—,
The Crazy Story of the World
(1981)... Up to eleven comedies. In all of them, dynamite the satirized genre and make people laugh at all costs.
All About Me!
becomes a collection of Hollywood anecdotes, a story of their struggles against reluctant producers from big studios. Brooks is also generous in naming everyone who participates in the collective effort that a film entails. And he confesses that he shot
I Am or I Am Not
of Lubitsch's classic
To Be or Not to Be,
for finally sharing the screen with his wife and for once again making fun of Hitler, the character to whom he has dedicated the most time and effort in his life.
There is a little-known facet of the comedian that he is rightly proud of: his work as a producer with the company Brooksfilms. With her he raises more risky projects:
(directed by Bancroft),
Frances, The Elephant Man, The Fly
(by Cronenberg) or
The Final Letter.
And of course, his passion for musical composition, which led him to accept the challenge of turning
into a musical for Broadway, the beginning of his theatrical stage on which he has focused in this 21st century, along with receiving well-deserved tributes. . And due to his eternal search for a laugh born from the live audience, he continued to perform until the pandemic. “Sometimes people ask me, 'Mel, what is the secret to a long life?' I always answer: 'Not to die'.
Teri Garr, Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman on the set of 'Young Frankenstein' with Brooks.
Lying down, Peter Boyle, like the monster,