All About Me! My Remark­able Life in Show Business

  • Review
By – August 15, 2022

Not since the drama­tists of the Eliz­a­bethan Age had so many tal­ent­ed writ­ers con­verged in one moment as when they con­tributed to Sid Caesar’s fifties-brand of tele­vi­sion com­e­dy. He enlist­ed Neil Simon, who would go on to become the most com­mer­cial­ly suc­cess­ful play­wright in Broad­way his­to­ry. Along­side him were the likes of Woody Allen and Lar­ry Gel­bart, the as-yet auteur of the beloved series M*A*S*H, and female writ­ers like Sel­ma Dia­mond and Lucille Kallen. The zani­est of this Jew­ish group was Mel Brooks, who, now nine­ty-five, wants the world to know all about him.

The ear­ly chap­ters of Brooks’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy see him through an impov­er­ished boy­hood in Brook­lyn to army ser­vice in the Sec­ond World War and show busi­ness. He quick­ly rose from an any­thing-for-a-laugh tum­mel­er in the Borscht Belt to a thrilling inno­va­tor of ear­ly tele­vi­sion. The best chap­ter in the book dis­clos­es the tremu­lous excite­ment of writ­ing for a show that went live every Sat­ur­day night for thir­ty-nine weeks. On one occa­sion, Caesar’s dress­er mixed up the order of the sketch­es and had the com­e­dy star walk into a mod­ern board meet­ing wear­ing an ancient Roman cos­tume and bran­dish­ing a sword. For any­one else, it might have been a calami­ty. But Cae­sar bare­ly missed a beat. Sor­ry I’m late, but I just came from an all-night cos­tume par­ty,” he ad-libbed. Let’s get on with the business.”

While Brooks is not a boast­ful nar­ra­tor, there is much for him to brag about. Blaz­ing Sad­dles (1974), his par­o­dy of how the West was won, has ranked among the high­est-gross­ing West­erns in the his­to­ry of Hol­ly­wood. Mean­while, the stage ver­sion of The Pro­duc­ers (2001) won more Tony Awards than any musi­cal in Broad­way his­to­ry. Brooks is one of sev­en­teen vir­tu­osos to rank as an EGOT, hav­ing earned an Emmy, a Gram­my, an Oscar, and a Tony.

Though noto­ri­ous for comedic trans­gres­sions like the Spring­time for Hitler” sequence in The Pro­duc­ers, Brooks has writ­ten a tame auto­bi­og­ra­phy that is unfail­ing­ly gen­er­ous to col­lab­o­ra­tors and com­peti­tors. It may appear, then, that the cre­ator made no ene­mies or ever yield­ed to resent­ment or anger. But he does reveal that he spurned George W. Bush’s offer of a Kennedy Cen­ter Hon­or, opposed as he was to the inva­sion of Iraq. In 2009, he would accept the award from Barack Oba­ma, who then bestowed on him a Nation­al Medal of Arts sev­en years later.

While shoot­ing a film in Eng­land, Brooks was invit­ed to London’s posh Brooks’s Club, orig­i­nal­ly found­ed in 1762. After not­ing the coin­ci­dence, he admit­ted that his real name was Melvin Kamin­sky. He asked the august mem­bers: What was the club’s name before it was changed to Brooks?”

Discussion Questions