In conversation with Turner Classic Movies creative exec, Tom Brown, prior to the TCM Fest screening of his great comedy classic, Young Frankenstein (1974), director Mel Brooks dug deep into his memory bank.
Asked by Brown what spurred his ribald take-off of the James Whale horror flick, Brooks recalled:
“In 1931, I was five years old, I was already born. I was deep into poverty.
“They were playing Frankenstein at the Commodore Theater in Williamsburg [Brooklyn]. My mother took me.
“Now we called the monster ‘Frankenstein.’ You know, the big guy who scared the shit out of us?
“He [not the scientist] was Frankenstein.
“Later that night, when she tucked me in bed, I told my mother to close the window. She said to me, ‘We’re on the fifth floor of a tenement. It’s hot. And air conditioning hasn’t been invented yet.’
“I said to her, ‘Frankenstein’s gonna come and bite me and kill me.’
“My mother said, ‘In order for Frankenstein to come up our fire escape, he has to take a train from Transylvania to the port. Then he has to take a boat across the ocean. Then he has to take the BMT to Brooklyn. And he’ll get the people on the first floor before he would climb five stories up our fire escape.’
“So I let her open the window.”
Brooks went on to recount how his good pal, Gene Wilder, had the initial idea for the flick, how they developed it together, and how Alan Ladd Jr. at Twentieth Century Fox backed the film’s $2 million budget.
“Young Frankenstein” rocked the walls of the Egyptian tonight. Of all the ensemble players in the film — and they are all so hilarious — Marty Feldman (“Damn your eyes!” “Too late!”) gets my vote as the funniest.
Tom Brown discusses Young Frankenstein with Mel Brooks on Friday at the 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, California. 4/13/12 Photographer: Edward M. Pio Roda
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Mel Brooks occasionally walks by my house on his morning constitutionals. On one of those days, standing on my front lawn as he sauntered by, I said, “Good morning, Mel.” He said, “Who are you?” I told him my name. “Rodney? Ah, I know you. Everywhere I go I meet people who know Rodney. You’re famous.”
Just schtick, but it was good for a giggle. Mel is always “on.”