Mel Brooks, or pure American burlesque

It is the portrait of a man fulminating with ideas, a storyteller in his own way, with a smile and a certain derision, that Pascale Vanlerberghe presents to us in her program On an air of cinema. This is of course Mal Brooks.

Mel Brooks turned 96 this year, and still looks good, since he released his autobiography at the end of 2021: “All about me”, published by Ballantine, a biography which is not translated into French, where he recounts his life with a certain dose of humour. He makes us relive his years spent in “show business made in the USA”. A veritable mine of information on the history of cinema and television in the 20th century.

Since he was born, this genius humorist has always seen life on the bright side, always seeing the glass half full…

American director, actor, screenwriter, composer and producer, Mel Brooks alias Melvin Kaminski was born on June 28, 1926 in New York. 96 years and so many things to tell!

However, life has not always spoiled him in his early days, since he comes from a poor family of German-Russian Jewish origin having lived all his childhood in Brooklyn.

The youngest of a sibling of four boys, Melvin will consider his mother a real hero since widowed very early, at the age of 30, she raised her 4 sons alone, in the Jewish tradition, working from morning to night to educate them as he must. She liked to sing the standards of Bing Crosby, or any other singer of the moment, and Mel Brooks believes that he inherited this love of music and songs from his mother.

And it was at the age of 9 that he attended with his uncle Jo the Broadway performance of the musical “Anything goes” by Cole Porter created in 1934. It was a revelation for little Melvin: he knows then that the “musical” and him will henceforth be inseparably linked for life. He would like to be “a Broadway writer”, “a writer for Broadway”, write the stories, the characters but also the songs!

He will study the battery, will be interested in all styles of cinema such as the films of Marcel Carné, Vittorio de Sica or Orson Welles. Later, his destiny will push him to become a producer of films such as “Elephant man” by David Lynch or “The Fly” by David Cronenberg.

He will fall under the spell of all burlesques, from the Marx Brothers to Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton or Laurel & Hardy.

From his childhood, comedy was for him a cry of protest against death, depression or misfortune. Mel Brooks is therefore in essence happy.

He participated in the war effort during the Second World War and ended up in Normandy at the Mon repos farm in 1945 where he learned French. (He will return there later to prepare the film ELEPHANT MAN with the screenwriters of the film). For Mel Brooks, the army will be a school of life that allows him to “stand on his own two feet”.

Along with Woody Allen, Neil Simon, Carl Reiner and others, he wrote for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, which later became Caesar’s Hour.

Subsequently, Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, also an actor and screenwriter, worked together to create on television the famous spy parody Max la Menace (Get Smart) broadcast from 1965 to 1970, with Don Adams.

Success is at his doorstep and he then begins the production of feature films such as “the Producers” (Oscar winner), “The sheriff is in prison”, “Frankenstein Jr” or “Silent Movie” which will be the vectors of a long career. accompanied by favorite actors and friends, such as Gene Wilder or Marty Feldman. As for the choice of composer, Mel Brooks worked most of the time with the American John Morris.

Mel Brooks, or pure American burlesque