Mel Brooks was born Melvin Kaminsky on June 28 1926, in Brooklyn, New York to Kate Brookman and Max Kaminsky. The young Brooks worked as a comic in his neighborhood and learned how to play the drums as a teen from Buddy Rich. He served in World War II and returned home to work at resorts in the Catskills for a time, utilizing a variety of talents and skill sets.
By 1949, Brooks came to partner with legendary comedian Sid Caesar as a writer on ‘The Admiral Broadway Revue’ and then, in 1950, on ‘Your Show of Shows’. He later worked with Carl Reiner, another Caesar writer, to develop the “2000 Year Old Man” skit, which they released on a series of related albums.
Mel Brooks found more television success as the co-creator with Buck Henry of ‘Get Smart’, a series starring Don Adams that debuted in 1965 and parodied the spy genre. After working on an animated short, ‘The Critic’, which won a 1964 Academy Award, Brooks made his feature-length film debut in 1968 with the comedy ‘The Producers’, starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder as greedy Broadway creators who knowingly put on a play, ‘Springtime for Hitler’, that’s in appallingly bad taste. Producers didn’t fare well at the box office initially but would be lauded in later years, and Brooks nonetheless received the 1969 Oscar for best screenplay.
Brooks next directed the 1970 film ‘Twelve Chairs’ and did screenwriting work for the animated adaptation of the musical ‘Shinbone Alley’ before having two grand slams in 1974. Early that year saw the release of ‘Blazing Saddles’, a parody of westerns co-written by Richard Pryor that starred Wilder, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn and Cleavon Little as the first African-American sheriff of a town. The film, known for a number of mouth-dropping sequences, earned almost $120 million domestically.
Then in December, Brooks released another future classic and immediate hit, ‘Young Frankenstein’, for which Wilder developed the script and starred in. The film, also featuring Kahn, Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman and Peter Boyle Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, offered among its gags a show-stopping reworking of the Irving Berlin tune “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
Brooks continued writing and directing films over the next two decades, as seen with ‘Silent Movie’ (1976), ‘High Anxiety’ (1977), ‘History of the World – Part 1’ (1981), ‘Spaceballs’ (1987), ‘Life Stinks’ (1991), ‘Robin Hood: Men in Tights’ (1993) and ‘Dracula: Dead and Loving It’ (1995).
In addition to appearing onscreen in his own projects, Brooks started his own production company, Brooksfilms, with the desire to push forth more serious fare. Brooksfilms has helmed movies like ‘The Elephant Man’ (1980), ‘To Be or Not to Be’ (1983), in which Brooks and his wife, actress Anne Bancroft, co-starred, and ‘The Fly’ (1986).
Brooks and Bancroft were married for more than four decades, from 1964 until her death in 2005. The couple’s son, Max Brooks, has become the author of ‘The Zombie Survival Guide’ series and ‘World War Z’, with the latter book having been turned into a 2013 blockbuster film starring Brad Pitt.
Brooks is one of only a handful of people to have won Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony awards. He won two Grammys for the Broadway version of ‘The Producers’ and another for the comedy album ‘The 2000 Year Old Man in The Year 2000’. He also received a 1967 Emmy for his variety show writing and, decades later, won three additional statues over three consecutive years for his role as Uncle Phil on the NBC sitcom ‘Mad About You’.
The new millennium has seen Brooks continue to enjoy success with the 2001 Broadway musical version of ‘The Producers’, which earned a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards and ran for six years, inspiring a 2005 film as well. He was also behind the 2007 musical version of ‘Young Frankenstein’.
More recently it was announced that Brooks would be honored with the American Film Institute’s 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award. He is also the subject of the PBS American Masters documentary ‘Mel Books: Make a Noise’, which aired the same year. Fast forward to 2015 and the iconic star could be seen on screens across the U.S. starring in the one-man show ‘Mel Brooks Live at the Geffen’, which aired on HBO at the end of January and went on to nab two Emmy nods. Brooks also received an Emmy nomination for Guest Actor in a Comedy (for ‘The Comedians’). Additional 2015 projects for Brooks include voicing the vampire Vlad in ‘Hotel Transylvania 2’ as well as being an interviewee in ‘The Last Laugh’, a documentary that looks at the ethical implications of using humor in connection to the Holocaust.