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.