TCM Classic Film Festival – Blazing Saddles

From The Hollywood Reporter

Mel Brooks on Why ‘Blazing Saddles’ ‘Could Be The Funniest Motion Picture Ever Made’

by Chris Willman               

At the TCM Classic Film Festival, the writer-director regaled the audience with tales of how Warner Bros. executives almost buried the film.

When it comes to Blazing Saddles, humility fails Mel Brooks. “It may be my favorite movie,” the filmmaker told Robert Osborne before a packed 40th anniversary screening for the TCM Classic Film Festival Friday night at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. By the end of the Q&A, Brooks was only getting bolder. “It’s not right for me to say so, but I really think this could be the funniest motion picture ever made.”

The TCM gathering is one of very few film festivals in the world where the filmmaker interviews take place before the screenings because pretty much everyone in the audience has already seen the movies. Since it was a given that much of the crowd was with Brooks on those self-accolades, or close enough, he was in a mood to share how not every Warner Bros. executive was rolling in the screening-room aisles in 1974.

“This is true,” he prefaced. “I remember the first screening the executives had; there were very little laughs. John Calley, who was [president of] the film studio, laughed, and so did Dick Shepard, God bless them both. But there were about eight other big execs at WB, and all they did was say ‘Oy… ooh… s—… oh my God.’ At the end of it, [then-head of distribution] Leo Greenfield—nice guy—said, ‘I’ve never asked WB to bury a film, but will you please bury this film. You can’t issue this one. It’s simply too vulgar for the American public.’ And I said, ‘They are vulgar! They’ll love it!’ But Callie said, ‘No, let’s try it in New York, Chicago, and L.A., and if there’s any love for it, we’ll release it. If it doesn’t do any business, we’ll bury it.’ So they opened it in those three cities, and believe it or not, it ended up being the biggest hit WB had that year.”

But not before more executives non-laughingly weighed in, this time one at the top of the chain.

“We had a sneak preview at the Avco Embassy on Wilshire. We had cattle in the lobby, cowboys pulling up and hitching their horses… and the audience loved it. But the truth is that the [studio chairman] at the time, who shall be nameless…Ted Ashley,” he said, nearly shouting the name—“Mr. Ashley who ran all of Warner Bros. took me by the scruff of the neck, threw me into the manager’s office, handed me a legal pad and a pencil, and said ‘Take these notes… No farting! You can’t punch a horse. You can’t beat up an old lady.’ And there were like 20 of those notes… Had I listened to him, the movie would have been 12 minutes long… So when he left, I crumpled up all of my notes—Calley was with me, God bless him—and I threw [the wad] way across the manager’s office and hit the wall into the basket, and Calley said, ‘Good filing.’ That was the end of that. I didn’t cut a sentence or a word or even an expression on somebody’s face. So, you’re in on a lot of private stuff that people didn’t know. But keep it under your hat.”

For the roles of the black sheriff and his white gunslinger buddy, Brooks wanted Richard Pryor — a co-writer on the picture — and Gig Young. Fate and insurance companies had other plans.

“I knew Gig Young was a recovering alcoholic, so I said he was perfect for the Waco Kid,” Brooks told Osborne. “Unfortunately, he was not really recovering. So during the first scene he began spewing something green from his mouth. He sprayed the jail cell all green, and I said to his agent, ‘I don’t think he’s ready.’ I didn’t know what to do so I called my best friend in New York, Gene Wilder… He said ‘I’ll be out tomorrow.’ Boy, he saved me and he saved the picture. He was the best Waco Kid I could have chosen. It was fate.”

As for Pryor, “I asked Warner Bros. to hire him as Black Bart, and they said no, they were having problems with insurance, we can’t do it. There was a big to-do. I nearly quit, and Richard said, ‘Don’t quit, I haven’t got my last payment for writing!’ So Richard and I did a lot of auditions looking for the black sheriff.” Straight off of Broadway, they found Cleavon Little, who was “absolutely eloquent and beautiful. And Richard said something really profound.” Some of the other possibilities for the role had lighter skin, but Pryor told Brooks, “This guy is coal black. He’s gonna scare the s— out of that town. That’s the guy you want, he’s so damn handsome.”

When it came to the racial epithets — as stunning in 2014 as they were in 1974 — Brooks gave all the credit or blame to Pryor. When the director said he thought the use of the N-word in the script was getting to be too much, “Richard said ‘No. We are writing a story of racial prejudice. It’s profound, it’s real, and the more we use it from the bad guys’ or rednecks’ side, the more the victory of the black sheriff being loved by the townspeople [will resonate]. I said, ‘Okay, Richard, the N-word will be all over the screen.’”

As with a number of TCM Festival screenings, the new DCP print was made for a forthcoming Blu-Ray special edition, in this case due out next month. But home viewers won’t get the privilege of seeing the film in one of its actual settings, since the fourth-wall-breaking Blazing Saddles still stands as the only Western ever to have its climax take place at the Chinese Theatre.

BLAZING SADDLES – TCM Classic Film Festival 2014

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The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival kicks off this week in Hollywood! This year it includes the 40th anniversary screening of Mel Brooks’ BLAZING SADDLES.

Mel will appear at the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX® on Friday, April 11th to introduce his legendary film.

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Passes for the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival can be purchased exclusively through the official festival website: http://www.tcm.com/festival

Held over four days in the heart of Hollywood, the TCM Classic Film Festival is a place where movie lovers from around the world can gather to experience classic movies as they were meant to be experienced: on the big screen, in some of the world’s most iconic venues, with the people who made them. Moreover, the TCM Classic Film Festival strives to be a place where a community of movie fans of all ages can share their love of classic movies with each other, make new friends and see films as they are seldom seen today.tclchinese-4

The central theme of the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival is Family in the Movies: The Ties that Bind. In celebration of the network’s 20th birthday and the fifth anniversary of the TCM Classic Film Festival, TCM is summoning its family of movie lovers from around the globe to come to Hollywood for a cinematic celebration of the ties that bind us together. In keeping with this theme, the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival is going to showcase on-screen clans of all types – big and small, happy and imperfect, musical and dramatic. The Festival will spotlight the first families of Hollywood and the filmmaking dynasties that have entertained generations. It will explore the kinship that connects close-knit groups of professionals behind the camera, such as the stock companies of classic Hollywood. From the bond between parents and children to sibling rivalries, TCM recognizes the power of family to touch us all.

The Original Muppet Movie

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As Muppets Most Wanted opens in theaters across the country today, we pay tribute to the genius of Jim Henson and the original Muppet Movie.

muppets 1The 1979 film was directed by Jim Frawley (above) and featured Mel as Professor Max Krassman - the world’s leading authority in the rapidly growing field of mind control in frogs. Krassman is hired by Doc Hopper (The late great Charles Durning) to force Kermit the Frog to appear as a commercial spokesman for Doc Hopper’s Frog Legs.

The result of many late nights at his laboratories in Cologne and Dusseldorf, Krassman’s latest muppets 7achievement is an imposing device used to perform an electronic cerebrectomy, a process by which a frog’s brain is reduced to guacamole. Krassman’s lab coat has “Prof” emblazoned on the back. This is an allusion to Mel’s role as Governor LePetomaine in Blazing Saddles, the back of whose suit coat was clearly labeled “Gov.”muppets 5

The movie was a critical and commercial success. In 2009, the film was selected by the U.S. National Film Preservation Board for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

 

Free to Be…You and Me at 40!

The Paley Center Celebrates Free to Be…You and Me at 40
Watch this event live streamed at 7:00 pm ET/4:00 pm PT.  You can also join in the conversation with #PaleyLive

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Co-moderators: Marlo Thomas and Gloria Steinem
Alan Alda
Dan Greenburg
Rosey Grier
Carol Hall
Sheldon Harnick
Carole Hart
Stephen Lawrence
Letty Cottin Pogrebin
Tony Walton

First a platinum LP, then a best-selling book—and then, at last, an award-winning prime-time television special. In 1974, Free to Be…You and Me burst into homes across America, introducing children (and their parents) to a whole new way of combining education and entertainment. It quickly became iconic. A landmark concept in the field of teaching gender neutrality, Free to Be has been embraced by generations for its potent message of freedom, equality, and personal liberation. As creator Marlo Thomas observed, “We wanted to let children know that their wildest dreams were not just okay, but wonderful—and completely achievable.” In the book, When We Were Free to Be, historians and educators Lori Rotskoff and Laura L. Lovett declared, “Free to Be’s creators didn’t talk down to children, but instead took them seriously, inspired their curiosity, and made the world seem like a more welcoming place. That sounds pretty ‘classic’ to us.”

Today, Free to Be continues to be a touchstone for children everywhere, thanks in large part to the home-viewing edition of the TV special. Cherished moments in that historic broadcast include Thomas’s duet with Harry Belafonte about the many professions available to both men and women (“Parents Are People”); “William’s Doll,” which joyously celebrates the universality—and commonality—of girls’ and boys’ playthings; and football hero Rosey Grier’s tuneful testimony that “It’s Alright to Cry.” Members of the cast and creative team will reunite at the Paley Center for a special 40th anniversary celebration of Free to Be’s TV debut, and will discuss why their creation remains important and vibrant in today’s digital world.

Mel Brooks and Marlo Thomas in Boy Meets Girl from the original 1974 TV broadcast. This remastered version with improved audio and unrealesed material is available at http://www.freetobefoundation.org

You can also find this clip and so much more on Shout Factory’s The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection Of Unhinged Comedy DVD boxed set.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman opens tomorrow, March 7th.

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In theaters tomorrow – watch for Mel as Albert Einstein! Mr. Peabody, the most accomplished dog in the world, and his mischievous boy Sherman, use their time machine—the Wabac—to go on the most outrageous adventures known to man or dog. But when Sherman takes the Wabac out for a joyride to impress his friend Penny, they accidently rip a hole in the universe, wreaking havoc on the most important events in world history. Before they forever alter the past, present and future, Mr. Peabody must come to their rescue, ultimately facing the most daunting challenge of any era: figuring out how to be a parent. Together, the time-traveling trio will make their mark on history.