Mel Brooks Turns 90 Today — Happy Birthday To The Master Of Parody

Mel Brooks is a legend among parody directors, and today he celebrates his hopefully happy birthday once more. The man who made science fiction and horror funny is turning 90.

Brooks wasn’t always a success, though. His early years were spent scraping by with TV and stage plays. He was in his early 40s when he made The Producers, a parody on Hitler starring his often recurring comedian Gene Wilder. He had done what few could, and made something uncomfortable into a joke. This was a feat which nobody has been able to duplicate, even though the Wayans brothers came close with the first Scary Movie.

Mel Brooks’ success continued with his spoof on Westerns, a film which could never be made today due to modern sensibilities. He had dressed up in “red-face” and played an American Indian in Blazing Saddles, and there was racist humor all over it. Ironically, as you might hear in the commentary on the film’s DVD and Blu-Ray releases, the black community laughed the loudest.

One thing most of Brooks’ films have in common is his cameo in some form. He appears to be a humble man, regularly poking fun at himself and his own Jewish roots. This showed most in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, where he plays a mohel, offering to circumcise Robin’s men. Even the intro scene showed his ability to laugh at himself, as the villagers watch their homes burn down and one asks, “Who keeps burning down our village?” At this point a flaming arrow catches on the nearby roof and fire spells out Mel’s name, and the whole village yells, “Leave us alone, Mel Brooks!”

Gene Wilder went for his third appearance in Young Frankenstein, where he played the titular mad scientist. Mel Brooks poked fun at the classic horror film tendency to shoot entirely in black and white, the way most of the popular monsters of the day had been introduced. Not even Laurel and Hardy could get as many laughs as Brooks’ send-up of Frankenstein’s monster.

Brooks’ next film was a take on the silent film, a medium which existed before producers figured out how to add recorded dialogue. The short title was Silent Movie, possibly the first parody to use the word “movie” in its title, a trend which took years to die after the Wayans brothers gave up.

Mel Brooks took on the horror genre once again with High Anxiety, which was a spoof on Alfred Hitchcock’s work. He then took a shot at the period piece with a film which poked fun at history and the Bible itself, History of the World, Part 1.

The only film on Brooks’ resume which has had a sequel possibly in the works is Spaceballs, a parody which is almost as famous as the George Lucas movies it pokes fun at. It also snuck in references to other classics like The Wizard of Oz and Alien, and introduced one of his most memorable characters with John Candy’s Barf (“half man, half dog, I’m my own best friend”).

Mel Brooks’ first real flop was Life Stinks, a parody on romantic comedies made in 1991.

Brooks once again went after the horror genre with the legendary late comedian Leslie Nielsen in Dracula: Dead and Loving it.

As stated above, Mel Brooks has said that there will be a sequel to Spaceballs, his first sequel ever, even though he was set to remake The Producers ten years ago. There has been no confirmation, but Brooks told Adam Carolla that he wants to get the original cast back together for Spaceballs 2, as many as possible.

Happy 90th birthday, Mel Brooks. Thank you for making us laugh for 50 years, and here’s to another 50.

[Image via Brooksfilms]

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