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Funny Man: Mel Brooks

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A deeply textured and compelling biography of comedy giant Mel Brooks, covering his rags-to-riches life and triumphant career in television, films, and theater, from Patrick McGilligan, the acclaimed author of Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane and Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy award–winner M A deeply textured and compelling biography of comedy giant Mel Brooks, covering his rags-to-riches life and triumphant career in television, films, and theater, from Patrick McGilligan, the acclaimed author of Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane and Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy award–winner Mel Brooks was behind (and sometimes in front the camera too) of some of the most influential comedy hits of our time, including The 2,000 Year Old Man, Get Smart, The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein. But before this actor, writer, director, comedian, and composer entertained the world, his first audience was his family. The fourth and last child of Max and Kitty Kaminsky, Mel Brooks was born on his family’s kitchen table in Brooklyn, New York, in 1926, and was not quite three-years-old when his father died of tuberculosis. Growing up in a household too poor to own a radio, Mel was short and homely, a mischievous child whose birth role was to make the family laugh. Beyond boyhood, after transforming himself into Mel Brooks, the laughs that came easily inside the Kaminsky family proved more elusive. His lifelong crusade to transform himself into a brand name of popular humor is at the center of master biographer Patrick McGilligan’s Funny Man. In this exhaustively researched and wonderfully novelistic look at Brooks’ personal and professional life, McGilligan lays bare the strengths and drawbacks that shaped Brooks’ psychology, his willpower, his persona, and his comedy. McGilligan insightfully navigates the epic ride that has been the famous funnyman’s life story, from Brooks’s childhood in Williamsburg tenements and breakthrough in early television—working alongside Sid Caesar and Carl Reiner—to Hollywood and Broadway peaks (and valleys). His book offers a meditation on the Jewish immigrant culture that influenced Brooks, snapshots of the golden age of comedy, behind the scenes revelations about the celebrated shows and films, and a telling look at the four-decade romantic partnership with actress Anne Bancroft that superseded Brooks’ troubled first marriage. Engrossing, nuanced and ultimately poignant, Funny Man delivers a great man’s unforgettable life story and an anatomy of the American dream of success. Funny Man includes a 16-page black-and-white photo insert.

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A deeply textured and compelling biography of comedy giant Mel Brooks, covering his rags-to-riches life and triumphant career in television, films, and theater, from Patrick McGilligan, the acclaimed author of Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane and Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy award–winner M A deeply textured and compelling biography of comedy giant Mel Brooks, covering his rags-to-riches life and triumphant career in television, films, and theater, from Patrick McGilligan, the acclaimed author of Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane and Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy award–winner Mel Brooks was behind (and sometimes in front the camera too) of some of the most influential comedy hits of our time, including The 2,000 Year Old Man, Get Smart, The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein. But before this actor, writer, director, comedian, and composer entertained the world, his first audience was his family. The fourth and last child of Max and Kitty Kaminsky, Mel Brooks was born on his family’s kitchen table in Brooklyn, New York, in 1926, and was not quite three-years-old when his father died of tuberculosis. Growing up in a household too poor to own a radio, Mel was short and homely, a mischievous child whose birth role was to make the family laugh. Beyond boyhood, after transforming himself into Mel Brooks, the laughs that came easily inside the Kaminsky family proved more elusive. His lifelong crusade to transform himself into a brand name of popular humor is at the center of master biographer Patrick McGilligan’s Funny Man. In this exhaustively researched and wonderfully novelistic look at Brooks’ personal and professional life, McGilligan lays bare the strengths and drawbacks that shaped Brooks’ psychology, his willpower, his persona, and his comedy. McGilligan insightfully navigates the epic ride that has been the famous funnyman’s life story, from Brooks’s childhood in Williamsburg tenements and breakthrough in early television—working alongside Sid Caesar and Carl Reiner—to Hollywood and Broadway peaks (and valleys). His book offers a meditation on the Jewish immigrant culture that influenced Brooks, snapshots of the golden age of comedy, behind the scenes revelations about the celebrated shows and films, and a telling look at the four-decade romantic partnership with actress Anne Bancroft that superseded Brooks’ troubled first marriage. Engrossing, nuanced and ultimately poignant, Funny Man delivers a great man’s unforgettable life story and an anatomy of the American dream of success. Funny Man includes a 16-page black-and-white photo insert.

30 review for Funny Man: Mel Brooks

  1. 5 out of 5

    Steven Z.

    Recently I read ROBIN by David Itzkoff, a biography that described the comic genius and troubled life of Robin Williams. The book was thorough and replete with explanations of why Williams turned out as he did, and the role comedy played in his life. There are few people who can approach Williams’ ability to transform themselves into different characters and employ improvisation. One who might approach Williams’ talent is Mel Brooks, the subject of a wonderful new biography by Patrick McGilligan Recently I read ROBIN by David Itzkoff, a biography that described the comic genius and troubled life of Robin Williams. The book was thorough and replete with explanations of why Williams turned out as he did, and the role comedy played in his life. There are few people who can approach Williams’ ability to transform themselves into different characters and employ improvisation. One who might approach Williams’ talent is Mel Brooks, the subject of a wonderful new biography by Patrick McGilligan entitled, FUNNY MAN. Brooks’ background and early life stems from the wave of Russian Jewish immigration to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. Thousands would pass through or remain on the lower east side of Manhattan or move across the Williamsburg Bridge into Brooklyn as Brooks’ family did in 1917. McGilligan describes his subject as a pampered child as the youngest of four brothers and his role in the family seemed to be to make everyone laugh. All was not laughter as at the age of two and a half, Brooks’ father passed away, leaving a void in his life that would affect him throughout adulthood. McGilligan goes on to describe Brooks’ life in minute detail as he ponders his future leading up to World War II, a turning point as he will wind up as an “entertainment specialist.” Though he passed through areas of combat with the US Army as it made its way toward Germany, Brooks was considered a “barracks character” throughout the war. McGilligan does a workman like job describing Brooks’ transition from a grunt who entertained his comrades to scheduling touring entertainment for the USO, hosting programs, and even taking the stage with his comedy act. By 1946, Brooks found his enlistment extended an extra year where he continued his “entertainment” responsibilities. McGilligan’s narrative is replete with numerous watershed moments that altered the course of Brooks’ career, personal life, attempts at psychological analysis to explain Brooks’ actions, and a careful rendering of each of his films. McGilligan’s approach is fascinating though at times the constant entrance into the world of “psychobabble” can be annoying. Important turning points are many and the key to Brooks’ career is his association with Sid Ceasar dating back to the late 1940s. Brooks would become an integral part of “Club Ceasar,” a group of writers and later directors and producers who wrote for the Show of Shows and the Ceasar Hour in the 1950s. The group includes Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner, Mel Tonkin, Lucille Kallen, and Howard Morris. McGilligan takes the reader inside the writer’s room (called “the jockstrap”) for the Ceasar’s programs and the mayhem which was a daily occurrence. He explores the relationships among the writers and how Brooks fit in on a personal and professional level. We witness Brooks’ obnoxiousness, crudeness, temper, rudeness, but also his overwhelming comedic talent. Kallen would describe “writing scripts was like throwing a magnetized piece of a puzzle into a room with the other pieces racing toward it.” Reiner would always play his straight man and try and keep him out of trouble and their friendship would last for decades as he always indulged Brooks’ outbursts. Of course, McGilligan launches into an explanation of how Ceasar was a father figure for Brooks, who was trying to fill the void in his fatherless life. The author follows Brooks’ career carefully from the Catskills, early television, and finally film pointing out how he was able to navigate the “comedic writing world” and the roadblocks that he had to overcome. But the key to McGilligan’s narrative in dealing with the Show of Shows and Ceasar Hour apart from the insights into the writer’s relationships was how the history of comedy was shaped by them for decades. Brooks’ personal life receives extensive coverage particularly his two marriages. The first to dancer, Flora Baum provides insights into what kind of character Brooks really was. During their marriage and relationship Baum readily gave up her own career and the couple would have three children. Once the philandering Brooks found himself in a failed marriage, he did his best not to own up to his financial obligations toward his soon to be ex-wife and children. Brooks would miss alimony and child support payments on a regular basis and when he finally made it big with films like Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein his duplicitous nature came to the fore as he was able to avoid sharing his new found wealth with his first family through the approach taken by his lawyers. His second marriage to actress Ann Bancroft followed a different pattern. They had one child, but Bancroft was a stronger person who did not let Brooks run roughshod over her as Baum had. She had an exceptional career of her own and was equal to her husband in talent and wealth. They did have a happy marriage and they were able to pursue separate careers which is probably why their marriage was so successful. McGilligan digs down into Brooks’ personality issues. For years he was afraid of dying before the same age as his father. He was a hypochondriac who really was never sick. But he would use his hypochondria to learn all he could about illness and diseases from books and medical journals and freely offered medical advice to friends. His own psychiatrist, Dr. Clement Staff diagnosed him as having “anxiety hysteria,” a phobia where the mental aspects of anxiety are emphasized over any accompanying physical symptoms. His overly aggressive personality and sometimes crude comedic impulses sprang from defense mechanisms as he desperately tried to please his absent father, getting even with those who had rejected him in his past, and resentment for having been born short, poor, and Jewish. Brooks himself would explain the choice of some of his characters from a Freudian perspective, i.e., in the film The Producers Leopold Bloom would be considered his ego, and Max Bialystock his id! The strongest part of McGilligan’s narrative is his review of the history of comedy in the 1960s and 1970s. The program, Get Smart is a good example of how comedy was evolving, and the role Brooks played. Perhaps an even more important component of the narrative is McGilligan’s dissection of Brooks’ film career. The constant reference to “Springtime for Hitler” an idea that Brooks worked on for a decade and its evolution into the film The Producers is fascinating. The description of the actual shooting of the film with the novice director Mel Brooks was eye opening as his insecurities concerning a project that was so much a part of his life are completely exposed. One of Brooks’ best decisions was to cast Gene Wilder as Leon Blum in the film and for the next few years Wilder would become Brooks’ alter ego and the two would emerge as the key to the success of several future films. McGilligan digs deep into the origins of Blazing Saddles which emerged from the novella Tex X written by Andrew Bergman. Brooks loved westerns, wanted to skewer the genre, and told his writers to “write the craziest shit.” McGilligan’s details are marvelous especially how Brooks cast the film. His first choice for the black sheriff was Richard Pryor, but the comedian was too controversial for Warner brothers, so the part was taken by Cleavon Little, then an unknown singer-actor. The substitution of Gene Wilder as the “Waco kid” at the last minute was genius and proved to be the key to the film’s success. These were lucky breaks and Brooks knew it. McGilligan will unravel the production process taking the reader behind the scenes of Brooks’ approach to directing and finally starring in his own movies, including how the films were edited and distributed. He will continue the process with all of Brooks’ major films including Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, Space Balls, Silent Movie etc. Though some where more successful than others and reflected Brook’s obsession to be accepted by the critics they will reflect an evolution away from more crude dialogue and offensive scenes. If there was anyone who competed with Brooks during the proliferation of his films it was Woody Allen, who McGilliigan brings up several times as he compares the critiques and popularity of the work of both men, especially when Allen’s Sleeper and Annie Hall were so successful. A major difference between the two according to Milligan was that Allen invited audiences into his semiautobiographical fictions, in which his lead characters often behaved as variants of himself. Brooks’ films had little or nothing to do with his private self. Perhaps Brooks success as a director and comedic actor was due to his marriage to Ann Bancroft as it appears it was no accident that his career took off after their marriage. Brooks will branch out with the creation Brooksfilms in the early 1980s. Brooks will develop into a shrewd producer-director; however, his main successes were the films, Elephant Man and My Favorite Year. Brooks will shift back to the bad taste excesses that had made earlier films a success with History of the World Part I. McGilligan analyzes the film in detail and the result is a series of skits that spoof historical events with song and dance routines which are hysterical, i.e., “The Inquisition” and others. The critics were split on its quality which did not approach the popularity of his earlier successes in the United States but did well in foreign markets. Brooks’ last major accomplishment was bringing The Producers to Broadway for a six-year run. Overall, McGilligan describes the differences of the “nice” Mel, and the “bad” Mel throughout the book. This dichotomy is a useful tool in understanding Brooks, and McGilligan handles it well. McGilligan is a veteran show business biographer and has written a monograph that reflects enormous research and extensive knowledge of the industry. The main drawback to the book is that there is so much detail at times plowing through the narrative can become cumbersome, however it is an interesting book that explores American comedy, focusing in large part the role that Jews played.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Art

    “When he comes home at night, when that key goes in the door, I mean, my heart’s fluttering,” said Anne Bancroft, the wife of Mel Brooks for forty-one years. “I am so happy he’s home, you know. I mean, it’s like the party’s going to start. … He’s so alive to the fun of life.” Although that’s fun to know, other people do not feel that way. This overlong book takes us on the odyssey of Mel Brooks including the highs and lows, as well as the smothering ego and credit hog who began as Sid Caesar’s b “When he comes home at night, when that key goes in the door, I mean, my heart’s fluttering,” said Anne Bancroft, the wife of Mel Brooks for forty-one years. “I am so happy he’s home, you know. I mean, it’s like the party’s going to start. … He’s so alive to the fun of life.” Although that’s fun to know, other people do not feel that way. This overlong book takes us on the odyssey of Mel Brooks including the highs and lows, as well as the smothering ego and credit hog who began as Sid Caesar’s bootlicker. Through the story of Brooks, this book also serves as a history of early television comedy. What made Mel Brooks funny? Brooklyn, the Depression, being Jewish, a short guy whose father died early? As the youngest of four brothers, he bore the least responsibility. So, he made people laugh. From his youth, Brooks felt impelled toward comedy. At thirteen, in The Catskills, Brooks met Sid Caesar, who played sax in the house band. After his release from the army, Brooks was on his own in The Catskills as an acquired taste and not clearly destined for greatness. In the late forties, backstage at the Copacabana, he met Sid Caesar again, now billed as “a comedy star.” Caesar could mimic sounds, sing, dance, act and play the sax. They took to each other immediately. NBC offered a television series for a live one-hour program. Caesar saw Brooks as a sidekick, a smart-aleck. And as a gagman, Brooks topped off what others wrote with a better joke or stronger finish. Brooks found himself in demand as a script doctor who could deliver knockout punches to strengthen a show. Producers expected Brooks to inject laughs into feeble scenes. But not everyone found Mel Brooks funny when they met him. People needed time to get used to his manner and sense of humor. Brooks irritated people early on with his cockiness and arrogance. He made an art of rude, crude and impolite behavior. Brooks arrived late to meetings and became brusque to the point of offensive. People took offense at his erratic hours and insulting manner. Brooks embroidered stories and confabulated so much that he told variations of anecdotes, making himself the hero. His first wife felt that Brooks lived in public as a one-man happening but lived in private as glum and sullen. Brooks’ analyst found two personalities: Nice Mel, who loved people, attuned to arts and literature. The Rude Crude Mel used uncivil behavior and offensive humor to defend himself against slights. As a drama queen, Brooks struggled to find the balance. Your Show of Shows debuted in nineteen fifty. The ninety-minute program broadcast live before a studio audience without cue cards and before teleprompters. Sid Caesar starred, supported by writers such as Mel Brooks and Neil Simon. Classic early television comedy. Catch it on video. Woody Allen joined Caesar later. In early seventy-two, Brooks’ agent told him about a property named “Tex-X,” a wild west comedy about a hip, militant black sheriff in a prejudiced frontier town. Warner Brothers took an option on the novella, set in the eighteen seventies, written by Andrew Bergman, who earned a doctorate in film studies at UW-Madison. “Write from the gut,” Brooks told the writers. “Write from the heart.” Gene Wilder replaced an unreliable actor. His bemused and quizzical but ingratiating character proved a godsend to the film. Gene Wilder imagined and wrote the first draft of “Young Frankenstein,” in black and white as homage to the monster’s films of the thirties. The special-effects guy from the original “Frankenstein” kept parts of the lab set in his garage. The new film used those pieces to reproduce the luh-bore-uh-tory. “Blazing Saddles” survives as Brooks’ anarchy on film, while “Young Frankenstein” became his most controlled film. Those two films became the pinnacle of Brooks’ career. While “Blazing Saddles” became the comedy of the year, critics began comparing Mel Brooks to Woody Allen, who just released “Sleeper” about the same time. Mel and Woody worked as writers for Sid Caesar. But a weekend rescreening of “Blazing Saddles” and“Young Frankenstein” revealed them as films that do not survive the test of time. Except for a few classic bits, “Frankenstein” now comes across as unfunny and a long slog. “Saddles,” meanwhile, includes many funny sketches while inducing squirms as an out-of-date movie. The two films released forty-five years ago. During his career, Brooks wanted the approval of critics while resenting their power and opinions. He eschewed the critics and intellectuals while embracing John Wayne and Lawrence Welk country. And this set him apart from Woody Allen. Brooks feels he fell short in his career. He wanted to make comedy based on pathos and real life, writing scripts around characters and the human condition. Instead, ego got in the way. Anne Bancroft, meanwhile, earned critical accolades during her career, including her film roles in “The Miracle Worker,” “The Graduate” and "84, Charing Cross Road," where she played Helene Hanff, who wrote the memoir. As life marched on, Brooks became a stalwart at funerals, weeping then cheering people, although he is phobic about illness and hospitals. “It’s empty spaces,” said Mel Brooks when asked about the hardest thing to accept while aging. He’s ninety-two. “That (space) used to be filled with the people you grew up with, the people you love, your family. They’re all gone. That’s the toughest.” “People love people who make them laugh,” writes Patrick McGilligan, the author. Mel Brooks “turned his invented identity into a brand name of laughter.” Many people did not reply to inquiries, declined interviews or spoke anonymously or off the record because they feared the temper or litigiousness of Brooks, writes McGilligan in the appendix. Also, especially in the early chapters, Brooks makes claims that cannot be verified today, leading to such phrases as “no evidence exists.” McGilligan gets credit for questioning the veracity of probable hokum. A four-star book about a three-star subject. Although long at six hundred pages, I enjoyed it. The well-written story gives us the back story of Mel Brooks as well as his early days of television comedy, which I find interesting. Through Brooks’ story, we intersect with many others who made us laugh.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Viktor

    Very disjointed with lots of information repeated over and over. It becomes annoying, as I read this in chunks. However, if you just want to read, say, the Blazing Saddles chapter, the added background detail -- repeated from earlier chapters -- is quite welcome. He seems to be a credit-hogging, mean-spirited, thin-skinned, wildly-funny crank. The author says -- in a footnote! -- that he had never met in person with so many people who refused to be interviewed about the subject for fear of Brooks' Very disjointed with lots of information repeated over and over. It becomes annoying, as I read this in chunks. However, if you just want to read, say, the Blazing Saddles chapter, the added background detail -- repeated from earlier chapters -- is quite welcome. He seems to be a credit-hogging, mean-spirited, thin-skinned, wildly-funny crank. The author says -- in a footnote! -- that he had never met in person with so many people who refused to be interviewed about the subject for fear of Brooks's anger and litigiousness.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mediaman

    This is an incredibly boring 600-page book that doesn't even start to cover Mel Brooks' interesting career until around page 177, then goes into lengthy unnecessary detail about minute day-to-day things that you'll never care about, includes a whole lot of side stories about other people that don't directly relate to Brooks, before wrapping up the last 25 years of his life in the quick final 50 pages. And virtually none of it is funny. The book confirms that Brooks is a complete jerk and horrible This is an incredibly boring 600-page book that doesn't even start to cover Mel Brooks' interesting career until around page 177, then goes into lengthy unnecessary detail about minute day-to-day things that you'll never care about, includes a whole lot of side stories about other people that don't directly relate to Brooks, before wrapping up the last 25 years of his life in the quick final 50 pages. And virtually none of it is funny. The book confirms that Brooks is a complete jerk and horrible human being, at the same time overstating the success of many Brooks' projects. The writer is biased, including subjective language and making some things up when he doesn't know, and claims that many of Brooks TV shows and movies are successful when in truth his career is filled with mediocre flops and only a few true successes. There's too much about Anne Bancroft's career, which really has nothing to do with Brooks, and there is very little about their reported marriage issues. I came away not having any better idea of the couple other than they like to play games with celebrity friends. The biggest disappointment is the very short section on the Broadway production of The Producers, which gets less space than some of Brooks movies that were royal flops. It's not worth reading, unless you just want reinforced what a terrible guy Mel Brooks is. He certainly stole most of his ideas or became successful off the creativity of other people. It makes him seem like an insensitive, overbearing fraud, not the genius the book jokingly proclaims him to be. He wasn't a funny man and this isn't a funny book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    A must-read for Mel Brooks fans I loved this book. Author Patrick McGilligan tells a great story of Mel Brooks’s life and career. But the book is more than that; it is also a history of American comedic television. I’m a big Brooks fan and I couldn’t put the book down. But there is a darker side to Brooks that McGilligan also describes that is equally as fascinating as Brooks's comedic side. As a biography in general I think this book is well worth reading. But for anyone familiar with Brooks’s w A must-read for Mel Brooks fans I loved this book. Author Patrick McGilligan tells a great story of Mel Brooks’s life and career. But the book is more than that; it is also a history of American comedic television. I’m a big Brooks fan and I couldn’t put the book down. But there is a darker side to Brooks that McGilligan also describes that is equally as fascinating as Brooks's comedic side. As a biography in general I think this book is well worth reading. But for anyone familiar with Brooks’s work, it is a must read. Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book via Edelweiss for review purposes.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    The Mel Brooks biography really got off to a slow, boring start, but I decided to give it a little more time. Brooks may seem like a harmless, funny old guy in public and in the media, but he was really driven, actually obsessed with success and his need for acknowledgement, so much so that he became a dreadful person to deal with professionally and in his personal life. The author thinks that some of Brooks’s behavior seemed to come from his own father dying when Mel was about 2, but his mother The Mel Brooks biography really got off to a slow, boring start, but I decided to give it a little more time. Brooks may seem like a harmless, funny old guy in public and in the media, but he was really driven, actually obsessed with success and his need for acknowledgement, so much so that he became a dreadful person to deal with professionally and in his personal life. The author thinks that some of Brooks’s behavior seemed to come from his own father dying when Mel was about 2, but his mother and brothers doted on him, so maybe it just came from being a spoiled child who never grew up. He was ruthless as a businessman, and cheated many people out of what should have been their rightful royalties and credits on projects that he claimed were entirely his creation. After finishing the book, it is obvious that other than The Producers, Brooks never had another original idea. Everything else was someone else’s creative property, or a retread of his humor. Additionally, he pretty much abandoned his first wife and was inconsistent about supporting their children. There's a lot to dislike about this man. The interesting parts of the book are the ones concerning his more famous movies (The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein) and how they got written and produced. I learned that his company, Brooksfilms, was also behind some well-done, serious movies like The Elephant Man, and Frances (about the actress, Frances Farmer). Reading pages 428 through 434 will tell you everything you need to know about how he did business – even if the law may have been on his side, he should be embarrassed by his lack of ethics. In my opinion, Brooks totally defrauded the man who wrote the nonfiction novel that Frances was based on (Shadowland), denying him any credit or compensation for his intellectual property, and bullying him in meetings and in court, which devastated the author. Those few pages describing his behavior are horrifying to read. The author notes that many of the people who were interviewed for the book declined to be identified. What does that tell the reader? While the author did his job in showing all sides of Brooks's personality, at the end, he gives him the "lovable old guy" pass. On the whole, I came away with a much different opinion of this man, and I don't think I'd read the book ever again, nor recommend it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Prolific biographer Patrick McGilligan ("Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light") offers a massive warts-and-all biography of writer/director/producer/actor Mel Brooks. Brooks is a member of the exclusive club of EGOT winners (those who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award), but his success and critical acclaim were hard-won. As a member of the writing team of the classic Sid Caesar TV series "Your Show of Shows", Brooks was often dismissed as a gagman who tossed out funny line Prolific biographer Patrick McGilligan ("Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light") offers a massive warts-and-all biography of writer/director/producer/actor Mel Brooks. Brooks is a member of the exclusive club of EGOT winners (those who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award), but his success and critical acclaim were hard-won. As a member of the writing team of the classic Sid Caesar TV series "Your Show of Shows", Brooks was often dismissed as a gagman who tossed out funny lines rather than a comedy writer who constructed scenes. All his eventual screenplays were co-authored with others. McGilligan skillfully profiles Brooks's two sides--the bullying, raging and credit-grabbing "Rude Crude Mel" and the "Nice Mel," who performed discreet and generous acts of kindness and was a lightning rod for laughter in public. "Behind his façade as a perpetual amusant were depths of self-loathing and a fury at the world," writes McGilligan. The behind-the-scenes tales of "The Producers", "Blazing Saddles", "Young Frankenstein" and other films show Brooks's need for collaboration at constant odds with his desire to control everything. Much like his relationship with critics: "Brooks desperately yearned for the approval of critics while at the same time resenting their power and opinions," writes McGilligan. Brooks joked, "Critics are like eunuchs at an orgy--they just don't get it." But he also quoted negative reviews verbatim decades later. This fascinating and exhaustive biography presents a complicated and immensely talented man whose inner demons fed his hilarious output of films, TV series and albums. This thorough and candid biography of Mel Brooks showcases his outrageously funny creative talents and his prickly and litigious side.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Yasmin

    For the most part the book is very well written, not too much detail, however, I suppose because there are other biographies of Mel Brooks that covers the most. My opinion of Mel Brooks? To paraphrase Harriett Johnson from Blazing Saddles he is one of the leading assholes in Hollywood (or anywhere for the matter). Indeed he made his first wife miserable and reneged on providing anything for his first children. He sabotaged Anne Bancroft's directorial career to gratify his own ego; however, most For the most part the book is very well written, not too much detail, however, I suppose because there are other biographies of Mel Brooks that covers the most. My opinion of Mel Brooks? To paraphrase Harriett Johnson from Blazing Saddles he is one of the leading assholes in Hollywood (or anywhere for the matter). Indeed he made his first wife miserable and reneged on providing anything for his first children. He sabotaged Anne Bancroft's directorial career to gratify his own ego; however, most of the time he had more misses than swings. He cheated on both wives, even though the book will be shady for Bancoft's marriage to Brooks. Well in his case once a cheater always a cheater. I think it is fairly obvious from two accounts that he was attempting to and did two time on her, more than once most likely. Unfortunately, McGilligan did not provide any possible motive to the abuse he put on Florence Baum and Anne Bancroft. The conclusion must be simply because he could and no said or did anything about it. Although around the 300 or page mark McGilligan said Brooks could be generous and gave the shirt off his back to someone; however, after all that it seems to fail to stir much in the soft heart for Brooks as a man. He was abusive not only to his wives but to people working with him, or as he saw it for him. He was ruthless, cold, indifferent, cruel and rather petty to the people that made Brooks films (not just under the umbrella name). Most of the credit he gives himself in the credits at the beginning of the film was not even due to his work or efforts. I couldn't find too much fault with the book, the subject itself, yes, but not the material.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Don

    Someone I had previously thought as slightly funny turns out to be a moody, joke thieving, arrogant putz. The book puts everything in the right perspective—both slightly good and monumentally bad. The bad concerning this Jewish prick (and Brooks would agree completely with that phrase, though 'Gentiles' are not supposed to utter any form of anti-semitic statement nowadays—unless you are a Jew), taking his story to where I can see he stole joke ideas outright, took credit when it wasn't his and wa Someone I had previously thought as slightly funny turns out to be a moody, joke thieving, arrogant putz. The book puts everything in the right perspective—both slightly good and monumentally bad. The bad concerning this Jewish prick (and Brooks would agree completely with that phrase, though 'Gentiles' are not supposed to utter any form of anti-semitic statement nowadays—unless you are a Jew), taking his story to where I can see he stole joke ideas outright, took credit when it wasn't his and was a total cheap little vile weasel to most people unless he wanted to show off for narcissistic attention and egotistical admiration. The good? Some aspects were interesting in regards to early television. That's pretty much what I got from the book. Yet going on and on and on of how Brooks outmaneuvered this guy and then that guy and so on and so forth made for more of a boring reading experience than I really wanted. Really fucking boring. Rant at HapperCollins publishers design department: whoever thought of the typeface to use should be slapped on the side of their head. THE '1's LOOK LIKE 'I's. Sloppy, tacky, and not very artsy if that was the sad purpose of doing so (seeing for example 1991 as I99I). Unless Brooks had a hand in it by his usual nature of being controlling. Ultimately this was my discovering he's more of an asshole than I previously thought. A rich asshole, but still an asshole. Utterly and completely, grade A, 100% un-kashrut asshole. Oh, I did find a couple of spelling errors. Fire that typesetter. Mel Brooks would (even in his 90s for something to do because deep down he's a Semitic dickhead—maybe an old one, but still one). Putz. Big time.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    There was no much depth in who Mel Brooks is. The author noted in the acknowledgements he had a real difficult time in getting on the record interviews. Mel can be funny, but very difficult and obnoxious to deal with. The book was mostly a recounting of his successes and failures in linear fashion with a lot of naming without much depth, critic review. The author could not seem to get past the public figure of Mel and who he was merely recounted on Mel being money hungry and acquiring homes. Aft There was no much depth in who Mel Brooks is. The author noted in the acknowledgements he had a real difficult time in getting on the record interviews. Mel can be funny, but very difficult and obnoxious to deal with. The book was mostly a recounting of his successes and failures in linear fashion with a lot of naming without much depth, critic review. The author could not seem to get past the public figure of Mel and who he was merely recounted on Mel being money hungry and acquiring homes. After a while, the book became a slog to get through.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alliemy7583

    I KNEW IT! I'M SURROUNDED BY ASSHOLES! I was excited for a new biography of Mel Brooks, but as with any biography there's a chance you'll find out things you don't want to know. Unfortunately this was the case here. Mel was an asshole with an inferiority complex and treated a lot of people like garbage. At times the book was a fascinating play-by-play of early television history, but that same minutiae bogs down most of the story. The focus is on financial deal, legalities, and quotes from critic I KNEW IT! I'M SURROUNDED BY ASSHOLES! I was excited for a new biography of Mel Brooks, but as with any biography there's a chance you'll find out things you don't want to know. Unfortunately this was the case here. Mel was an asshole with an inferiority complex and treated a lot of people like garbage. At times the book was a fascinating play-by-play of early television history, but that same minutiae bogs down most of the story. The focus is on financial deal, legalities, and quotes from critics and the story is lacking a personal touch, the complete opposite of the recent Robin Williams biography.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Summer

    Repetitive, could be a schmuck. Anne Bancroft was the best thing for him.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jmoore

    This is a book club choice. Started skimming by chapter three and gave up on chapter five.

  14. 4 out of 5

    David Macpherson

    so mel brooks is a jerk who steals other people's work. Okay got it. Took a long time in telling that point, but I suppose it was just being thorough.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rosemary

    A cruel man.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Braxwall

    Inte så roligt det här utan mer tjatigt och oinspirerat staplande av händelser och anekdoter. Mel Brooks karaktär kan sammanfattas genom uttrycket what you see is what you get.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Judy G

    After reading 6 chapters of a very large and detailed biography of the comedy writer Mel Brooks I returned it to the library and am waiting for the ebook for the Nook. Its very well researched and well written. I now have the ebook so Im reading it from chapter 6... The more I read the more I dislike this man and I am now up to chapter 10. I dont know if I will finish this. Patrick McGilligan has done an outstanding task her to investigate Mel Brooks and Brooksfilms. It is I think a challenge to w After reading 6 chapters of a very large and detailed biography of the comedy writer Mel Brooks I returned it to the library and am waiting for the ebook for the Nook. Its very well researched and well written. I now have the ebook so Im reading it from chapter 6... The more I read the more I dislike this man and I am now up to chapter 10. I dont know if I will finish this. Patrick McGilligan has done an outstanding task her to investigate Mel Brooks and Brooksfilms. It is I think a challenge to write a detailed biography of someone famous and wealthy yet quite despicable. I am quite amazed that I read this book from beginning to end and I did. I did four * not five cause there was an opportunity that the author didnt take to pull it all together give his views of the man and even to analyze how Brooks became this narcissistic man who didnt grow Judy

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    long and very tedious

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mike Maginot

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jim Zubricky

  21. 4 out of 5

    Joel

  22. 4 out of 5

    Exapno Mapcase

  23. 5 out of 5

    Camron

  24. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  25. 5 out of 5

    Louann

  26. 5 out of 5

    Pat

  27. 5 out of 5

    William R. Tedford

  28. 4 out of 5

    Doug

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kate

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

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