Why 95-year-old Mel Brooks decided to share ‘private’ things in new book ‘All About Me!’ – Daily News

Mel Brooks at 95 has more fascinating stories than anyone could ever match, and yet the comedy legend insists he never planned to write a memoir.

“At the beginning, I said, ‘Well, I don’t know,’” Brooks says on a recent call. “This is all, you know, my stuff. It’s private.”

But then he thought maybe he owed it to young comedy writers interested in his life and how he came to create such beloved movies as “The Producers,” “Blazing Saddles,” and “Young Frankenstein.”

“I thought it through. I said this could be at least an interesting book, and maybe, maybe, it’ll go into colleges and stuff for people who are taking courses in entertainment or comedy,” Brooks says.

Besides, the funnyman says his son Max Brooks, the author of books such as “The Zombie Survival Guide” and “World War Z,” pointed out that he wasn’t exactly swamped with other things to do during the pandemic.

“He said, ‘What are you gonna do, dad, just sit around and wait for the pandemic to be over? Write a memoir!’” Brooks says.

“I said, ‘I don’t know; that’s a lot of work.’ “

“Just tell the stories you told me when I was growing up,” he says Max Brooks told him. “You’ll have a big fat book.”

“All About Me! My Remarkable Life in Show Business,” which arrived Tuesday, Nov. 30, weighs in at 480 pages, and Brooks says he could have easily written another 200 or 300 pages.

“It tried to run away on me,” he says. “I’d lived so long and I’ve had so many adventures and done so many different things.”

The book takes Brooks from his boyhood in Brooklyn during the Depression to World War II, and then from his early days as a Catskills entertainer to his first break as a comedy writer on Sid Caesar’s groundbreaking TV series “Your Show of Shows.”

There are chapters dedicated to his friendships with colleagues, including his beloved friend Carl Reiner, and others on his head-over-heels romance with his second wife, the actress Anne Bancroft.

The movies, of course, take up many pages in a book that Brooks clearly enjoyed writing.

At least, that is, once he decided to do so.

The Brooklyn boy

Brooks says his earliest memories start around the time he was 4 or 5, the youngest of four boys raised by a single mother who was widowed when Brooks was 2 years old.

“They all started coming back,” he says of the memories that flowed as he worked on the earliest chapters of the book. “Going to kindergarten and some lovely stories about cold winter mornings.

“My mother laying out my little kids’ clothes on the radiator, warming it up, and then dressing me under the covers, so when I popped out of bed I was completely warm,” Brooks says. “That was a great feeling, warm on a cold winter day.”

He writes with great love of his mother and the sacrifices she made to keep the family going, and of the playful times he and his brothers had in the streets of their Williamsburg neighborhood. Even getting run over by a car when he was in grammar school was an adventure.

“I thought it was a great thing because I wasn’t killed, and I got a box of candy,” Brooks says. “Things were good.”

When asked over the years in interviews about the happiest time in his life, Brooks says he’s never wavered.

“They’d say, ‘Was it meeting and marrying Anne Bancroft? Was it winning the Academy Award?’” he says. “And I said, ‘No, it’s very easy. My happiest days were from four years of age to nine.’ And then usually the second question was, ‘What happened when you were nine?’

“Homework, I’d say. I realized at nine, ‘Oh, oh, they wanted something back.’ For all the fun – kids would be playing Johnny-on-the-pony and playing cards, stickball after school – they wanted something back!

“And you pay for it with this damn thing called homework.”

Mel and Carl

Friendships were always important to Brooks, he writes, and none was greater than the one he had with Carl Reiner. Reiner, like Brooks, was a comedian, writer, actor and director.

“I miss him wildly every single day because I would look forward to seeing him every night,” Brooks says of Reiner, who died at 98 in June 2020.

Brooks and Reiner met on Sid Caesar’s “Your Show Of Shows,” the weekly variety and sketch comedy show that aired on NBC from 1950-54 and influenced a generation of comedians and writers. In the 1960s, their comedy sketch “The 2000 Year Old Man” became a sensation on television and comedy records.

And, most of all, they really just loved hanging out together, Brooks says, describing how they got together regularly to play a spot-the-cliche kind of TV watching game.

“We made some rules about how many times we’d hear in a movie, ‘Check the perimeters!’ or “Get some rest,” Brooks says. “We had three or four cliches and every time they came up in one of those gangster movies or whatever movies we would jump for joy.”

Often, they’d just slip back into their old roles of funnyman Brooks and straight man Reiner and just riff on random bits of humor.

“Sometimes we would do things for each other and we enjoyed them just for Carl and Mel and nobody else,” he says. “For instance, he had a cigar, and he took the band off it and put it on his finger. I said, ‘Wow, what a great ring!’ He said, ‘It’s not a ring, it’s a cigar band.’ I’d say, ‘No, no, that can’t be; it’s so beautiful!’

“And we’d spend 10 minutes, having fun over whether it was a ring or a cigar band. That’s just us. Nobody around. Nobody to know what we were doing or enjoying.”

Laughter on the set

At the peak of his film career, Brooks was writing, directing, acting, and sometimes even writing the music for his movies. Yet he’s generous with the credit for the success of projects from the ’60s spy parody TV series “Get Smart” and all the movies that followed.

“Success, you know, you can’t just take credit for it,” Brooks says. “Because they’re accidents of talent, like getting Don Adams to play Maxwell Smart. He was always sharp, funny, on target. He energized that show.”

Gene Wilder wasn’t well-known when he was recommended to play the part of Leo Bloom in 1967’s “The Producers,” but his mild manner opposite the bluster of Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock worked brilliantly in a film that earned Brooks an Oscar for screenwriting.

And once he found a talent, Brooks added him or her to his revolving company of players. Wilder returned for “Blazing Saddles,” playing the Waco Kid after original actor Gig Young withdrew, and then made “Young Frankenstein.”

Madeline Kahn appeared in both of those movies, too, and came back for “High Anxiety” and “History of the World, Part I.” Other actors, such as Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman and Marty Feldman, were also regular presences in Brooks’ films.

“These were truly, truly gifted people,” Brooks says. “When we did movies, I said to them that you don’t have to stick to the script. We kind of made movies like the Commedia dell’arte. Not everything was set, we had room to improvise.”

The danger of working on such funny material with such gifted comedians was that the shots sometimes got ruined because the crew would crack up laughing. Brooks says decided to fix that problem by ordering 100 white handkerchiefs for those moments.

“I said, ‘When you feel a laugh coming on, stick this in your mouth,’” he says.

A big test arrived during “Young Frankenstein” when Gene Wilder as Dr. Frankenstein offers to operate on Marty Feldman as Igor’s humpback, to which Feldman deadpanned, “What hump?”

“I turned around and there was a sea of white handkerchiefs,” Brooks says. “And I said, ‘I think this is gonna work.’”

The right one

One of the sweetest parts of the memoir comes in the pages Brooks writes about his love and life with Anne Bancroft, whom he met at a rehearsal for the “Perry Como Variety Show” in 1961 and fell head over heels in love.

“Finding the right one in your life, you know, is a bit of a thrill,” Brooks says. “I mean, you’re not sure about who and why and where and anything, but when it hits you, it hits you hard. You know, boom, that’s the one.”

He was divorced from his first wife Florence Baum, with whom he had three children, in 1962, and two years later he and Bancroft married. But they knew from the start that this was the right match, Brooks says.

“I remember it was in something she wrote, an article where she said, ‘After that day that I met Mel, I went back to my analyst and said, ‘Get me sane, get me ready; I think I’ve met the right one,’” Brooks says. “We both had the same kind of miraculous message. She was definitely the right one.”

Married until Bancroft’s death in 2005, with son Max Brooks born in 1972, Brooks says they had small squabbles like any couple, but only once did it almost feel serious.

“The only time I left we’d had a big fight, ” he says. “And I don’t know why, we were both angry, and I left and four in the morning I was in some hotel somewhere in New York, first time I ever left the house.

“And I called her and said, ‘I’m sorry.’ She said, ‘I’m sorry,’ and I ran right home. Didn’t even spend the whole night away.”

He laughs, recalling a scene from the book during their first few years of marriage, when Bancroft, who won an Oscar for best actress for 1962’s “The Miracle Worker,” was much more successful than him.

“She supported me for three or four years,” Brooks says, before recalling a scene he recounts in the book. “Remember that Chinese restaurant where she handed me a $20 bill under the table?

“And a Chinese restaurant wasn’t that expensive, it was about $13, $14 between us, and I left the rest of for the tip – you know, ‘Keep the change,’ Brooks being the bigshot.

“We got out and she slapped me hard and said, ‘Don’t you ever dare leave such a big tip with my money!’” he says and laughs. “It was so great.”

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