We’ve had a ton of memorials for the late Gene Wilder in recent days, but it is also odd that Mel Brooks also happens to be in the spotlight at the same time. Brooks has been promoting his speaking engagement at Radio City Music Hall, allowing him to look back on his career while also remembering his friend. Both are connected via their classic works and it shows when we slow down to look back.
Rolling Stone chatted with Brooks earlier in the week, discussing the history of Blazing Saddles and how WIlder came aboard the project. This was the same day we found out that Brooks’ film and WIlly Wonka were returning to theaters in honor of Wilder, so there’s clearly something in the air.
The interesting bits of Rolling Stone’s chat with Brooks sorta revolve around Wilder and his other comedic partner, Richard Pryor. Brooks talks about how Pryor helped to write the film and what cost him the role of Black Bart ahead of filming:
So I called up a friend of mine, this guy who was a brilliant writer and the best stand-up comic of all time: Richard Pryor. I said, “Richard, read this, tell me what you think.” He read it and said, “Yeah, this is good … this is real. I like this.” I asked, “Right, but what about the N word? We can’t say this so many times …” “Well, Mel, you can’t say it. But the bad guys can say it. They would say it!” Then I asked him to come write it with us, and he said sure. That was how it started.
Pryor was supposed to play the Cleavon Little part, right?
Right. I almost quit the movie because the studio was scared of casting him. He was the original Black Bart. But Richard said, “Mel, don’t quit — I still have two more payments coming to me from the Screenwriters’ Guild, let’s make the movie. I have to get paid. We’ll find a good Black Bart, let’s just do this.” We saw about 20 different people before we saw Cleavon. The minute he read for us, Richard and I just said, “This is the guy.” He was so laid-back and took his time with the jokes.
Elsewhere, he talks about the moment that brought Wilder into the movie. The part was originally Gig Young’s and you can sort of hear Brooks telling the story in your head:
Gene Wilder came into the picture late, right?
Every since we had done The Producers, Gene was my best friend. So he knew I’d cast Gig Young as the Waco Kid; Gig had won the Oscar for “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They,” so he was considered a dramatic actor. But if you see some of the stuff he did earlier, like the Doris Day movies he was in, you’d see he had a real light comic touch. And the Kid is a alcoholic, and so was Gig. He knew how to do it.
Then we have the first day of shooting, he literally started throwing up green stuff all over the set. I thought, “We aren’t shooting “The Exorcist,” are we? I think something’s wrong here.” I sent him to the hospital, and called Gene in tears. I heard him sigh over the phone: “I know, Mel, I’m the Waco Kid, you need me, I’ll be there.” This was a Saturday; he flew out on Sunday, tried on the costume, tried on the gunbelt, tried on the horse … [laughs] it all fit. By Monday, he was shooting the scene where he’s hanging upside down next to Cleavon. It all worked.
This interview, and his previous interviews across late night television, really make you think that Brooks is always on when he’s out in public. He can’t hold back trying to be funny and most of the time he succeeds. Check out the full interview over here and go see Blazing Saddles if you have the chance. It might not age perfectly, but there’s a lot of good comedy in there.
(Via Rolling Stone)