Mel Brooks Talks Gene Wilder, Blazing Saddles, and More


During a recent interview with Rolling Stone, comedian, filmmaker and writer Mel Brooks opened up about Gene Wilder, and his 1974 film Blazing Saddles.

Brooks on taking Blazing Saddles on the road for special screenings and Q&A sessions: “I can’t remember who first brought the idea up, but I can tell you it works. I’ve done Nashville, Newark, Santa Barbara, Tampa … all sort of crazy places. I just finished doing this in Chicago a little while ago, and I’d been to theater before with “The Producers.” So I knew it was big, but I didn’t think I’d sell it out. Next thing I know, there were 300 or so people circling the theater waiting to see if there were no-shows, trying to get last-minute tickets. “Blazing Saddles” plays first, then I go out and talk — that’s how it works. So about an hour into the show, I went outside and signed autographs. It was a mob scene. I lined everyone up, and said, “I’m going to do my Borscht Belt act for you … it’s only 20 minutes of bad Jewish jokes, so you’ll get home early.” It was all bits on sour cream and why Jews die.”

Brooks on what prompted him to do a Western parody: “”Right, you could describe those pretty easily: Two Broadway producers realize they could make more money with a flop than with a hit. Two guys look for a chair, and find the inequality behind the modern Soviet Union. This was different. I was given Andrew Bergman’s original script for this comedy he’d written, to see if I might be interested doing it. And I’m thinking, Hell, this is a Western: What a great tapestry for a satire! You could have such fun with this. The whole notion of a parody … it works on the hundreds of thousands clichés that we all know. So I’m reading this and I’m already thinking, we have cowboys, we have outlaws, we have horses running in the wrong direction — I’m just seeing comic potential left and right here. So I call Andy up and I say, listen, would you come do this with me if I direct it? But we need a black guy. Otherwise, we can’t use the N word, and we’ve gotta use the N word many, many times.”

Brooks on getting Richard Pryor in as a writer: “So I called up a friend of mine, this guy who was a brilliant writer and the best stand-up comic of all time: Richard Pryor. I said, “Richard, read this, tell me what you think.” He read it and said, “Yeah, this is good … this is real. I like this.” I asked, “Right, but what about the N word? We can’t say this so many times …” “Well, Mel, you can’t say it. But the bad guys can say it. They would say it!” Then I asked him to come write it with us, and he said sure. That was how it started.”

Brooks on coming up with the title of Blazing Saddles: “That one was all me … I can’t take sole credit for a lot of stuff on the movie, but that one’s mine. Originally it was called “Tex X,” but John Calley said, ‘No, sounds too much like a blaxploitation film.’ Then it was ‘Black Bart,’ which obviously had a double meaning — Black Bart was what you called a stock Western villain. Also our character’s name was Bart, and he was black. Not exactly rocket science. But again, Calley said, ‘People will just think this is another Western … next!’ So I waited a couple of weeks, so I said ‘I may have something that says Western and wacky …’ And he says, ‘Whatever it is, it’ll never work.’ ‘And I say, ‘Blazing Saddles.’ And he goes, ‘YES!’ and jumps up and down. ‘That’s a great f—ing title! I’m sending a press release right now!’”

Brooks on getting Gene Wilder for the film: “Ever since we had done The Producers, Gene was my best friend. So he knew I’d cast Gig Young as the Waco Kid; Gighad won the Oscar for “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They,” so he was considered a dramatic actor. But if you see some of the stuff he did earlier, like the Doris Day movies he was in, you’d see he had a real light comic touch. And the Kid is a alcoholic, and so was Gig. He knew how to do it. Then we have the first day of shooting, he literally started throwing up green stuff all over the set. I thought, “We aren’t shooting “The Exorcist,” are we? I think something’s wrong here.” I sent him to the hospital, and called Gene in tears. I heard him sigh over the phone: “I know, Mel, I’m the Waco Kid, you need me, I’ll be there.” This was a Saturday; he flew out on Sunday, tried on the costume, tried on the gunbelt, tried on the horse … [laughs] it all fit. By Monday, he was shooting the scene where he’s hanging upside down next to Cleavon. It all worked.”