The most important thing I can tell you about the Mel Brooks memoir, All About Me!, is simply put. It took me twice as long to read the book as it otherwise would have because I spent so much time laughing my head off. Mel Brooks may not be the funniest man alive, but he’s certainly near the top of the list. And his outrageous talent comes through loud and clear in this memoir of his astonishing seven-decade career on film, television, and the Broadway stage.
The most-honored Broadway production of all time
OK, I’m fairly sure I’ve made clear to the readers of these reviews that I would be highly unlikely to read a book about show business. But Mel Brooks is in a league all his own. For decades, my favorite film of all time has been The Producers, which he brought to the screen in 1967. I rarely watch movies more than once, but I’ve seen it several times. And nearly 40 years later Brooks adapted the film into a musical on Broadway. The production won twelve Tony Awards. And that’s a record that has yet to be broken two decades after the show opened.
All About Me! My Remarkable Life in Show Business by Mel Brooks (2022) 458 pages ★★★★★
A focus on Brooks’ amazing career
All About Me! is not strictly speaking an autobiography, although Brooks does write about his childhood in Brooklyn and his teenage years during the Great Depression. He covers his service as a combat engineer unearthing land mines in the closing months of World War II and his apprenticeship on the Borscht Belt. But, as the subtitle makes clear, the book is primarily an account of his seventy-year career in television, film, and the Broadway stage.
Apprenticeship with the legends of comedy
Brooks’ career in comedy launched nationwide when comedian Sid Caesar hired him as a writer for his live shows in the early days of television. In the writer’s room of Your Show of Shows (1950-54) and other Sid Caesar hits, Brooks traded wits with the likes of Neil Simon, Woody Allen, and others, many of them far better known at the time. (“The show was so popular that Broadway show receipts were down on Saturday nights, and so were restaurant and taxicab profits.”) That experience, which Brooks credited as his true education in comedy, led to the production of the 2000 Year Old Man records with Carl Reiner and, with fellow comedy writer Buck Henry, the hit Get Smart! television show starring Don Adams.
Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein
But Mel Brooks truly began his rise to fame with the release in 1967 of the film The Producers starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. He followed that success in 1974 with Blazing Saddles, starring Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, and many others, including Brooks himself. Blazing Saddles was Brooks’ breakthrough, a wildly popular film that made a great deal of money for the producers and began Brooks’ own rise to riches. Young Frankenstein followed in 1974, again earning huge profits for the studio and for Brooks and Gene Wilder, the co-creators. Brooks wrote or co-wrote other, less successful films later in the 1970s. The most notable of these was Brooks’ send-up of Alfred Hitchcock in High Anxiety.
Generous to one and all
Brooks is unfailingly generous to the men and women with whom he worked. He doesn’t throw around the word “genius,” as so many do in show business. But he is unrestrained in his praise for the many, many fellow comics and comedy writers he shared stage and screen with. And his deep love for Anne Bancroft, his wife of 40 years, comes through on every page where he mentions her name. But almost no one comes off badly in All About Me!
By the way, if you’ve ever wondered why actors cast in funny movies don’t break down laughing, rest assured. Time and again, Brooks recounts how he had to shoot scenes over and over again because all the actors and crew were cracking up at the jokes.
If you enjoy Mel Brooks’ brand of humor, rush right out and grab a copy of All About Me! You’l laugh yourself silly.
About the author
Mel Brooks was born Melvin Kaminsky in Brooklyn in 1926. He published this memoir in 2022 at the age of 95. Although he is best known as the creator of such broad comedies as The Producers and Blazing Saddles and the 2000 Year Old Man recordings with Carl Reiner, Brooks also brought to the screen such deeply affecting dramas as The Elephant Man (1980) and Frances (1982) through his production company, Brooksfilms.
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