Hailing from Brooklyn, N.Y., and born in 1928 as Melvin Kaminsky, Mel Brooks has been a comedy writer-director with a satiric touch and farcical stylings. Together with Woody Allen and Bill Cosby, he set the stage in the 1960s for the entire post-burlesque, TV generation of comedians.
Brooks started his career as a stand-up comic in the 1940s, heavily influenced by Harry Ritz of The Ritz Brothers. While working the Catskills, he met Sid Caesar, who later hired him as one of the writers for his fledgling TV series. "Your Show of Shows" and its follow-up, "Caesar's Hour," boasted such other writers as Woody Allen, Neil Simon, and co-star Carl Reiner.
After years of writing sketches for TV and Broadway revues (one of which, New Faces was filmed in 1954), Brooks made his first mark on film by creating, with Ernie Pintoff, a hilarious Oscar-winning animated short, The Critic (1963). He scored a hit on TV by co-creating "Get Smart" (1965-69), and this won him the backing, from Joseph E. Levine, for his first feature film, The Producers (1968), which he wrote and directed. The movie was a success and won Brooks an Oscar for Best Screenplay. He followed it with another independently made feature, The Twelve Chairs (1970), in which he also costarred.
Warner Bros. bankrolled his next film, the cowboy-movie spoof Blazing Saddles (1973) pulverized audiences, and pointed Brooks in a new direction: parody. It also established his "stock company" of actors, and had him working for the first time with cowriters (Richard Pryor was one of the screenwriters). Gene Wilder co-wrote Brooks' next great success, Young Frankenstein (1974), a hilarious horror spoof. Future filmmaker Barry Levinson joined his writing team for subsequent features. But Brooks' efforts became more scattershot, and predictable, in Silent Movie (1976) and the Hitchcock parody High Anxiety (1977).
In 1979, Brooks formed his production company, BrooksFilms, Ltd., which produced in a versatile way films like David Lynch's "The Elephant Man" (1980), Graeme Clifford's "Frances" (1982), Freddie Francis's "The Doctor and the Devils" (1985), David Jones' "84 Charing Cross Road" and David Cronenberg's "The Fly" (both 1986). As an actor, Brooks appeared in The Muppet Movie (1979), and Sunset People (1984), and lent his voice to Look Who's Talking Too (1990).
Life Stinks came out in 1991, in which Brooks starred as a tycoon who spent a month living with the homeless in order to win a bet. The very subject matter of his lackluster comedy made audiences uneasy. Brooks learned his lesson, and returned to parody for his next film, Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993).
In 2000, Brooks collaborated with Thomas Meehan (the award-winning librettist of "Annie") in adapting the comedy classic "The Producers" for the stage. For this, Brooks composed a battery of 19 new songs. Under the skillful direction of Susan Stroman and with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in the lead roles, "The Producers" began a pre-Broadway tryout in Chicago where it became an immediate hit. Arriving in New York, the musical became the most acclaimed show in years and went on to amass numerous accolades, including a record 15 Tony Award nominations.