Interestingly, as he remains such a public figure – there’s the guest spots on TV shows, newspaper interviews, he’s still there with his musicals – the real pinnacle of Mel Brooks’ career was forty-five years ago. In 1974 both BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN were released. Okay, that would be the highlight of most people’s careers. You’d have to be Alfred Hitchcock or Steven Spielberg to claim you had better years, but the thing with Mel (and after spending over twenty hours listening to his biography, I feel I can call him by his first name), is that not only do the works that follow not reach that pinnacle, they all have a faint whiff of disappointment about them. It’s not just that they’re not good enough to match those heights, it’s that they all could have been better. They all could have been that bit funnier and better crafted.
This biography reflects this in that we reach 1974 about two thirds through the book, and even though half the man’s life is ahead, everything after is more rushed than what went before. Part of that seems to be that the friends he had earlier are more eager to dish the dirt, while the friends he has now are more loyal – and so there’s more material to work with from back in the day. But also, it’s probably the case that there’s as lot less to linger on. Yes, the musical of THE PRODUCERS is a massive hit, but it’s still a re-tread of what went before, isn’t it?
Much like what seems to happen in real life, Mel in these pages seems to be forgiven a lot because he’s funny. He’s an awful husband (certainly to his first wife and possibly less than faithful to his second), a neglectful father to the kids from his first marriage and a man who’ll quite happily screw over his collaborators. There are frequent temper tantrums and grudges held and there is perhaps a sense that knowing Mel – even if it’s through twenty hours of an audio book – is frequently a wearing and trying experience.
Patrick McGilligan does a great deal of capturing the man’s life, even if some things (what his friendship with Gene Wilder was like all those years they weren’t working together, for instance) are beyond the author’s ability to find out. Stephen Hoye’s narration (yes, I listened to the audio version) is superb and really captures Mel’s voice when dialogue (and yelling) is needed. I’m glad I listened to it and it made me think back fondly to THE PRODUCERS, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and BLAZING SADDLES – the last of which I haven’t seen in thirty years and really should revisit – but after so much Mel, I also feel the urge to lie down.
My debut novel, THE WANNABES – which has been out of print for a little while – is now available for free. A supernatural thriller of beautiful actresses and deadly ambition in London town, it’s well worth your time. You can get your copy here!