Mel Brooks Honored at Academy for 'Young Frankenstein'

September 10, 2014 9:13 PM

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Mel Brooks Honored at Academy for 'Young Frankenstein'

Last night at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences (AMPAS, of which I am a member), Mel Brooks was honored with a celebratory screening of his iconic film, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. Naturally, I was there cheering him on. You see, I have known Mel Brooks most of my life. He was born Melvin Kaminsky a few years before me and lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn while I grew up in Flatbush. We first met when I was working during summer college break as a waiter at Grossinger's Hotel in the Catskills, where Mel was the 'tummler' or nightly comic emcee. During the '50s we would run into each other while he was working as a TV writer for Sid Caesar and I was toiling as a Broadway press agent. By then he had changed his name to Mel Brooks (from his mother's maiden name, Brookman) because there was a musician named Max Kaminsky around. But we became better friends in1961-62 when I was a publicist for a Broadway show, "All American," of which Mel wrote the book. I was doubling as a manager (with Hilly Elkins) for the show's two songwriters, lyrics by Lee Adams and music by Charles Strouse (later of "Annie" fame.) As I write this, I am remembered of an evening when Mel was with Hilly and me backstage at the rehearsal of the Perry Como Variety Hour, for Como was going to introduce a song, Once Upon A Time, from our show that the boys wrote and which went on become a huge hit for the singer. Either Hilly or I introduced Mel to a young Broadway actress we knew who was also there; her name was Anne Bancroft and he married her three yeas later. They were happily married 'til she died in 2005. "All American" starred the dancer, Ray Bolger, who played a Southern science professor at a university who took the principles of engineering and taught the football team to use them and become a winning team. I distinctly remember Mel becoming infuriated at director Josh Logan, who rewrote some of it to introduce a gay element. The show ran for 80 performances and was nominated for two Tony awards. Mel at 88 is one of the few people in show business who has won all four of the major awards: Grammy, Oscar, Emmy, Tony. Imagine that!

The occasion last night was precipitated by the release after 40 years of a new Blu-ray DVD of 1974's Young Frankenstein from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. On Monday, there was a 40th anniversary ceremony of Mel putting his hand-and-foot prints into the cement of the famed TCL Chinese Theatre...

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