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    • Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony: Mel Brooks, the legendary recipient of all four of these awards, was live onstage here in NYC for a 2 day residency at the Lunt-Fontanne theater on Broadway, and I was fortunate enough to get (nosebleed) seats for yesterday's show.

      Mel won his first Academy Award in 1964, so that makes an incredible 55 years of his performing onscreen - and that's not counting his years of comedy writing, stand-up, and live theater and musical work. So what kind of stories does a legend like Mel recount in an evening on Broadway?

      Mel began the evening by talking about being born in 1926 and growing up in Brooklyn in the 1930's:

      "So whaddya want? The story of my life? I was born in Brooklyn, 365 South Third Street, and my mother already had three boys. She asked the doctor 'is it a girl? is it a girl?" and the doctor said "No, it's another boy, an eight-pound, bouncy boy." And my mother said 'You want him?' So that was my entrance."

      Getting his start in the entertainment industry in the "Borscht Belt" at about 15, and how Bing Crosby can pose a serious threat to one's health:

      "I was about 15, and I was hoping to get onstage, but the only jobs they had open was busboy. So I worked as a busboy, in the mountains. I had the sour cream station. These stainless steel tubs of sour cream. And you'd take them from the kitchen to the dining room, and they're empty in one minute, and you'd take 'em back. I would do five or six, for lunch, about five or six travels, with a lot of sour cream. The Jews loved sour cream. They used to cut vegetables, put them with sour cream. They'd eat everything with sour cream. They'd eat steak with sour cream. They love sour cream. Anyway, you would think that somebody like the people in the mountains eating sour cream would succumb to some kind of heart trouble, because normal cholesterol, up to 100, 200, is okay. Their average cholesterol was 1856! Anyway, after lunch, they would go on the porch, they would line up on the porch of the hotel, and they'd rock. And then they died. Wait! They didn't die because of the sour cream or the cholesterol. They died because they all loved a song that came out year, in '31 or '32,it was called "Dancing in the Dark," and they tried to sing it like Bing Crosby - it's a very rangy song. It goes up and down. Bing Crosby sings it like this - 'dancing in the dark, we can face the music together, dancing in the darrrrrrrk!" and the Jews didn't know where to start. You gotta start it low - but they'd start it higher, 'dancing in the dark, waltzing in the darrrrrrk, we can face the music TOGETHERRRR!!!' and then - heart attack."

      Accompanying audio.

    • So how did Mel finally get onstage and away from the sour cream?

      I was kind of a utility performer, you know? Everything. The comics in the Mountains were sometimes funny. Occasionally, you know. Most of the time they would stink, really. Every once in a while, every once in a blue moon, you’d hear a good joke - most of the jokes were “Ladies and gentlemen, I met a girl last night, she was so thin, I took her to a restaurant, where they said ‘would you like to check your umbrella?’ Those were the jokes. But Myron Cohen, funny guy, he had a joke that was really funny. Here’s the joke. Ready? OK.

      A guy goes into a grocery store, and he says “I don’t understand, on your lower shelves, you have boxes of salt, and then higher up, you have more boxes of salt, and then all along the top, all of the shelves are covered with boxes of salt. Excuse me, I don’t mean to pry sir, but do you sell a lot of salt?” And the grocer says “Me? To tell you the truth, if I sell a box of salt a week, it’s a lot. But the guy who sells ME salt, boy, can he sell salt!”

      So that was one of the few good jokes.

      How did he differentiate his celebrity impressions of the day from other people's?

      Everybody would do Bogart and James Cagney. I like to do impressions, but I didn’t want to be one of the standard comics in the Mountains that did impressions of movie stars. I would do impressions of James Cagney’s sister Susan. Susan Cagney. “Who took my lipstick?” I did impressions. None of them were really good. I wasn't a very good impressionist.

      Growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn - how is it different now than it was then 80 years ago?

      This is all true, believe it or not. We lived on the top floor of 365 Third Street. Sixteen dollars a month. My mother had her bedroom, and four boys slept in one bed in the other bedroom. Unfortunately my father died of tuberculosis which was rampant in those years, '28, '29, but we were trying to make a life. I was a little kid. I was five years old. I was not unhappy. All little kids are not unhappy. There were things to live for! Things weren’t bad.

      His first ever broadway show was thanks to his Uncle Joe's generosity.

      My Uncle Joe drove a cab. How he did it, he was four foot eleven, I don’t know how he saw, he hardly saw through the windshield. I once said to him “Uncle Joe, why don’t you put telephone books on your seat?” And he said “I’ve got 20 telephone books, but nobody has a telephone, they’re very thin!” Anyway, my mother had four sisters and one brother, Uncle Joe. This was his beat, right out here, 46th Street, 48th Street, 44th Street, where the Producers played…he drove a cab, and he would pick up the doormen who lived in Brooklyn, just as a gesture, they never paid or anything. But they would return, sometimes if they had extra tickets, or opening night. So one of the doormen, at the Alvin Theater on 52nd Street - the Neil Simon Theater now, I worked with Neil Simon on Show of Shows - he got Joe tickets, and Joe took me to see the opening, we’re talking about 1931 or something… I was 9, born in 1926, so 1935 - the opening of “Anything Goes,“ Cole Porter’s incredible show at the Alvin Theater on 52nd Street. We go up, we go up, to the last two seats in the third aisle, and I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to see anything because we were so far back. But then out onstage comes out Ethel Merman, and she comes out, “You’re the TOOOOOP!” And I said “Joe, she’s too loud!”

      I was only nine, but it changed my life. I knew that my family and everybody at 365, we were all destined, doomed if you will, to go into the Garment Center, that’s what Jews did from Williamsburg. And I did, but that night, I said to my Uncle Joe, “I love this. I don’t know what they’re doing there, but it’s magical. It’s wonderful. That’s what I want to do, Joe. I want to do that. I want to do this Broadway thing.”

      And here I am, on Broadway! Even in the Army, even when we were fighting Germans, I was a soldier, I was a corporal in the 1104 Engineer Combat Battalion, I took the test - they wanted you in the Army, they wanted you. The test was “One and one.” And I said “Are they side by side, or on top of each other? If they’re on top of each other, it’s gotta be two. If they’re side by side, it’s 11.” And they said you’re in! So here we are, we’re in the theater, I told Uncle Joe I was going to do that…and eventually, it worked out.

      In case you want to hear Ethel Merman for yourself!

    • I’m jealous! You’re so lucky. I saw him on Leno when Leno was young and I thought legend, but so old... Nice to see him on Broadway at 92!

    • He's a national treasure! It was a treat to hear him reminisce about his days of working with Sid Caesar...

      And how there were "stage shows" of comedy or variety shows between movies (Sid was the comic for the Roxy Theater, doing comedy in-between sold-out showings of FOREVER AMBER)...

      Mel kept referring to Sid as the "strongest comedian he'd ever met" and shared several stories about his larger-than-life persona.

      Mel talked about working with Neil Simon to deliver a 1.5 hour comedy show worth of material nonstop, month after month.

      "We were doing an hour and a half show. Thirty-nine weeks every Saturday was quite a job"

    • Mel talked about what it was like to write THE PRODUCERS.

      How do you sell a script like that to a studio?

      You know, we didn’t. Sidney Glazer was the producer, nice guy. We went to Joseph P. Levine, who was making movies like HERCULES: UNCHAINED and HERCULES: CHAINED AGAIN, those kind of movies. And he liked the script. He liked the script. So he said “You know, I’ll make it, but who are we gonna get to direct it?” And I said “I’ll save you a lot of money, I’ll direct it. I wrote it. I have the pictures in my head. I know what the people are supposed to look like.” So he let me be the director. And it was great, really great.

      How did he find Gene Wilder?

      He was in a play that Ann, my future wife, was in. It was called “Mother Courage,” and he played a chaplain. He kept saying “My part is not funny, but I keep getting laughs. Why?” And I said “Gene, look in a mirror! You’re naturally funny, you’re amusing.” And I promised him I’d let him read the script for The Producers. He was born to play Leo, you know? The guy that wants to be in show business. He was sensational. But he said “It’ll never happen.” It didn’t happen for a year. And Gene was in a play on Broadway, he’d replaced Alan Arkin in a play called LUV - I walked into his dressing room after Joseph P Levine put up the money, and I threw the script on his dressing room table, and said “Gene, you’re Leo Bloom!” And he broke into tears. It was incredible.