Mel Brooks, Cloris Leachman, Rain Pryor, And More React To The Death Of Gene Wilder

Mel Brooks is speaking out on the death of his longtime friend and movie collaborator Gene Wilder. Brooks, who famously worked with Wilder on a long list of films, including the 1974 cult classic Young Frankenstein, took to Twitter to remember the movie legend, who died from complications from Alzheimer’s disease at age 83.

“Gene Wilder-One of the truly great talents of our time. He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship,” Mel Brooks wrote.

Mel Brooks collaborated with Wilder on some of the director’s biggest films, including his very first movie, The Producers, as well as Blazing Saddles, and, of course, Young Frankenstein. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Brooks explained why he repeatedly used the same stockpile of actors in his films. Mel often cast Wilder, Madeline Kahn, and Cloris Leachman in his movies.

“It’s so much better to have a stock company of players,” Brooks said. “You know what they’re capable of, how high they can fly. You’re not writing in the dark and then casting.”

“I’m writing High Anxiety before it’s a movie — it’s just an idea. And I know I have Madeline Kahn. I know how crazy I can go, and she’s gonna nail it. Same thing with Gene Wilder, whether it was sad and touching or whether it was hysterical.”

In a 2002 interview with talk show host Larry King, Gene Wilder said that he met Mel Brooks when the director was dating his co-star, Anne Bancroft. The actor went on to reveal that Mel actually gave him acting tips early on.

“I was in a play called Mother Courage by Bertolt Brecht, starring Ann Bancroft, whose boyfriend was Mel Brooks. And Mel came by to pick her up each evening after the show. And I was having trouble with one little section in the play. And he said — he gave me tips on how to act. But he said that’s a song and dance. He’s proselytizing about communism. Just skip over. Sing and dance right over it, and get on to the good stuff. And he was right. That’s the irony. And it is.”

The actor once told Moviefone that Mel Brooks started things off with a joke when they first met.

“He was in the dressing room, and I walked in and there was Mel. He was wearing this beautiful merchant marine pea jacket, and I said ‘Hello, Mr. Brooks. You look so handsome in that pea jacket.’ He said, ‘Yeah, they used to call them urine jackets but they didn’t sell!'”

Once their movie collaborations kicked in, Wilder dished that Brooks originally didn’t want him to play gunslinger Jim, or “The Waco Kid.” in Blazing Saddles, but as fate would have it.

“Mel didn’t want me to do that part; he wanted me to do Hedley Lamarr. I said, ‘I wouldn’t be any good doing that, Mel. What about The Waco Kid? He said ‘No, no, I got two people who want that.’ He brought in one of them — I won’t mention names — but he had an outfit on, and Mel walked with him to the jail cell and foam started coming out of his mouth. Mel said ‘Keep doing what you’re doing’ — he thought he was a [method] actor — and he kept foaming at the mouth. Eventually, Mel had to call an ambulance. Then he picked up the telephone and called me and said ‘Can you come here right now?’ A day later I was on a plane, and a day after that I was upside-down in a jail cell.”

While Wilder was also known for his role as Willy Wonka in the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, his work with Brooks dominated his career and spawned a friendship that spanned decades. According to EW, the 1968 Mel Brooks film The Producers earned the actor his first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor before Brooks asked him to replace Gig Young in the 1974 film Blazing Saddles. The duo later penned the screenplay for Young Frankenstein, earning them both Oscar nods for Best Adapted Screenplay.

In addition to Mel Brooks, many other fans and friends remembered the late star with tributes on social media, including Willy Wonka stars Julie Dawn Cole and Denise Nickerson, his Young Frankenstein co-star Cloris Leachman, and Rain Pryor, the daughter of Gene’s See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Stir Crazy co-star Richard Pryor.

Take a look at the video below to see Mel Brooks talking about writing with Gene Wilder.

[Image via Public Domain | Wikimedia Commons]