Introduction

Mel Brooks 1926–

(Pseudonym of Melvin Kaminsky) American scriptwriter, director, actor, and comedian. Involved for many years in comedy writing for television, Brooks is now best known for directing zany films in which he often acts. His humor is frequently concerned with Jewish subjects and characters. He explains his position in this way: "Unrelieved lamenting would be intolerable. So, for every ten Jews beating their breasts, God designated one to be crazy and amuse the breast-beaters. By the time I was five I knew I was that one." Brooks's career took off when he began writing for Sid Caesar's television series "Broadway Revue" and "Your Show of Shows." His first filmscript won him an Academy Award in 1963. It was an animated short, "The Critic," inspired by an old immigrant who sat behind Brooks in the theater, mumbling his negative opinions of an abstract animated film. Brooks asked his friend, Ernie Pintoff, to draw a similar piece and as he viewed it for the first time, he improvised a prejudiced reaction to it, using the comments as the final sound track. Brooks began directing because he considered it his only defense against rewrite experts. Although his first film, The Producers, won the 1968 Academy Award for best original screenplay, it was not a great success, financially or critically. In subsequent years, however, his reputation has soared. He is, at this time, lauded by many critics as one of the best comedy directors in America. His work in films is characterized by his broad humor, which many times borders on slapstick. However, Brooks has noted that the loss of his father when he was two years old gave him an awe and fear of death. This recurs in his work in a variety of ways, such as the desperation to create life (Young Frankenstein) or the denial of mortality (the character of the 2000 Year Old Man). Although not always apparent, such serious comments are an important aspect of his humor, an undercurrent of its surface absurdity. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 65-68.)