Barcelona, June 5 This June, the comedian, screenwriter, director, producer and musician Mel Brooks turns 97, a living history of North American “showbusiness”, author of classics such as “El jovencito Frankenstein”, by whom “Todo sobre mí! “, a hilarious autobiography that reveals his creative DNA.
A New Yorker from Brooklyn, born into a lax Jewish family that celebrated Christmas, and since he was a child it was clear that his thing was to make others laugh, Brooks is part of the EGOT, a group of creators who count in their showcases – or wherever they prefer to keep them- with an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony, the highest awards with which the “made in USA” industry rewards its own.
Melvin James Kaminsky (1926), who adapted his mother’s surname (Brookman) -a young widow with three children- when he sensed that he could become famous, is a key piece of 20th-century American comedy in all its supports: cinema, theater, musicals, radio, television… a seven-decade career marathon that has captivated fans of several generations and whose latest installment is the series “The Crazy History of the World” (Hulu) released just a few months ago.
In this 2023, when the cultural yardstick is fashion series, readers of the fast-paced “All About Me!” (Libros del Kultrum), the atmosphere and the anecdotes that Brooks relates about his beginnings in the world of nightclubs and the first television programs between the 40s and 60s, will bring to mind “The wonderful Mrs. Maisel” , the award-winning misadventures of a young Jewish girl who somehow became a successful comedian.
The future director, like everyone in his generation, was born hooked on cinema, he loved musicals by Astaire and Rogers, but especially comedies: Chaplin, Keaton, Sturges or Lubistch (in the 80s he covered “To be or not to be”) and, above all, those of the Marx brothers and their “meshuggah” (or madness in Yiddish).
“I got a doctorate in rhythm management, understanding by this the ability to know where and how to fit the verbal message,” says the comedian about the adolescent influence that Groucho and company had on him.
Brooks – who fought in Europe during World War II – was trained like other artists before the difficult public of the resorts for Jews in the Catskills – he arrived there to be a waiter – where he honed a humor that he himself describes as more New Yorker than Jewish , which opened the doors for him as a scriptwriter for television shows with massive audiences of up to 70 million viewers (“Your show of shows” by his mentor Sid Caesar or the Johnny Carson show).
“Laughter is a cry of protest against death,” summarizes Brooks about his modus vivendi, which he has based on a strange formula that pivots between black humor, satire and, above all, parody.
In the sixties, with a clique of friends that included writers like Carl Reiner or Mario Puzo -author of “The Godfather” and a large eater who did not leave a grain of rice in the Chinese restaurants they frequented, he recalls- Brooks met in a Broadway essay for actress Anne Bancroft (Mrs. Robinson from “The Graduate”).
They married in 1964 and formed one of the most stable couples in Hollywood and he worked with her in several films before the artist’s death in 2005.
In the mid-sixties, he achieved the first of his resounding successes, “Super Agent 86” (NBC), the series about an inept secret agent, a mixture of Inspector Clouseau and Inspector Gadget (in fact, Brooks was a precursor of the mobile when inventing for this character the shoephone).
His move to the cinema seemed logical and his debut came with “The Producers” (1967) for which he not only wrote the script (which won him an Oscar) but also directed this comedy about a couple of rascals who intend to get rich with a musical. about Hitler (“Spring for Hitler”) designed to fail and collect the insurance.
A film -in which he crossed paths with Gene Wilder, his fetish actor and “someone who could be sad and funny at the same time”- with a script that would later also become a successful theatrical production (Grammy and Tony awards included) , which still tours the world, like the version that Àngel Llatzer and Manu Guix will premiere this fall in Barcelona.
In the cinema, he combined the production of titles that could be called “serious” (“The Elephant Man”, “Frances” or “My Favorite Year”…) with the direction and writing of comedies “Sillas calientes”, ” Silent Movie” “Maximum anxiety” or “The crazy history of the galaxies”, to name a few).
A career that peaked in one of his first installments, the hilarious “Young Frankenstein” (1974), a parody of Universal’s horror film -shot in black and white to the horror of the producers- and which, in addition to the look of eyes Marty Feldman’s bulging gags bequeathed some of the best gags in movie history, forcing the crew to stuff tissues in their mouths to keep from laughing while filming, the director recalls with satisfaction.
Although working non-stop, especially in theater and television (“Crazy About You”, winner of several Emmys), the last decades have been a period of recognition for the comedian, such as the one received in 2009 at the Kennedy Center for his ” extraordinary contribution to American culture”, the AFI award, in 2013 or the National Medal of Arts from Barack Obama, in 2016.
If something is clear after reading “All about me. My memorable deeds in the world of entertainment”, it is that for Brooks, capable of camouflaging himself behind the voice of characters from films such as “Toy Story” or “Robots”, the Laughter is not something trivial, you have to find a way to achieve it, even if it is by laughing at yourself. EFE
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Almost 100-year-old Mel Brooks opens up on channel and reveals the sources of his comedic DNA