I've often lamented on this blog (and Facebook...and Twitter...and life) of the lack of originality in Hollywood. They have remade in the last few years Star Trek's greatest villain, TV classics Lost In Space, Ironside and Hawaii Five O. The movies sow such originality as The Adams Family, Starsky & Hutch, Car 54, Where Are You?, Get Smart and True Grit. And I'm hearing the remake of Space 1999 in the future.
This was not the case with Blazing Saddles. Mel Brooks, coming off his lampoons of Hitchcock, (High Anxiety), received a scrip called Tex X, like what he saw and the rest is history. I've put in selected parts of the article but the full list is well worth the read. Another movie
that will never be match and thankfully will never be remade!
Mindhole Blowers: 20 Facts About Blazing Saddles That Might Leave Your Mind Aglow with Whirling, Transient Nodes of Thought Careening Through a Cosmic Vapor of Invention
Mel Brooks' raunchy, insane Blazing Saddles had a heck of a time getting out the gate, but when it finally did, oh what a race it ran. With pitch perfect performances by Cleavon Little, Madeline Kahn and Harvey Korman, the little Western (spoof) that could took on racial bigotry, sex and bodily functions, defied closed-minded fears and went on to become a great success, both with audiences and the awards circuit. Whether or not one enjoys this shocking, in-your-face comedy, Brooks' (and his actors') willingness to charge headfirst into dangerous waters is nothing if not admirable.
1. Blazing Saddles, originally titled Tex X, began as a story outline written by Andrew Bergman (Honeymoon in Vegas, The Freshman, Soapdish). After Mel Brooks (Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Spaceballs, High Anxiety) became involved, the film script was written by Bergman, Brooks, Norman Steinberg (Johnny Dangerously, My Favorite Year), Alan Uger ("Family Ties, Champs") and Richard Pryor (Bustin' Loose, Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling).
2. Brooks told the story of how he came to be involved with the film: He was "walking the streets of New York, looking in the gutters for change," having just done The Producers and The Twelve Chairs back to back. Neither film made a lot of money, though The Producers ran a long time. As he was walking, Brooks heard a voice say, "Mel;" it was David Begelman, Creative Management Associates (talent agency) founder--and an old friend. Begelman took Brooks to lunch where he had "scrambled eggs, sliced tomatoes and rye toast with butter," then Begelman told Mel that Richard Zanuck and David Brown (Jaws, Planet of the Apes,) owned a property called Tex X, but they didn't know what do do with it. The agent thought it had a "Mel Brooks" feel to it. Brooks read it and liked it, but he told Begelman he didn't normally do things he hadn't written himself; Begelman said Brooks should write the script (it was only an outline at that point). Brooks let his wife, Anne Bancroft read Tex X and she liked it too, so Brooks let Begelman know he wanted to work with the original writer, Andrew Bergman. Brooks also wanted to get a group of writers together in a room (like he had done when writing with Carl Reiner, Neil Simon and others on "Your Show of Shows"), whoever has an idea puts it out and the group runs with it. Bergman liked the idea. Brooks said they needed to find a black writer and suggested Richard Pryor--Bergman was concerned ("He's a little nuts, isn't he?"). But Mel knew and liked Pryor, who was just starting out as a comedian and he called to ask Pryor to come work with them. Pryor agreed, but told Brooks he would take the train because he didn't like to fly. There was a certain kind of brandy Pryor liked and asked Brooks to have it waiting for him--"I can get more of it into me on the train before I meet you."
3. The writing group included a former lawyer who wanted to be a scriptwriter (Norman Steinberg) and his friend the dentist (Alan Ugo), both of whom had to go back to their regular jobs toward the end of the writing process (to earn money). Brooks said he wrote most of the sheriff's part and Pryor wrote most of Mongo. The group would write for three to four hours, then separate to chill out and get away from each other, coming back "when they could take each other again." Brooks said they wrote at 666 Fifth Avenue on the sixth floor; he was afraid (because of The Omen) that they were doomed. Coincidentally, that particular building was visible in 1977's The Exorcist II: The Heretic and a restaurant at the top of the building is featured in Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's Good Omens.
4. The writers agreed that Tex X was not a good film title, Brooks thought it sounded like a black exploitation film. He suggested Black Bart (the sheriff's name), but Warner Bros. wouldn't approve that title. Brooks also suggested The Purple Sage, a reference to Zane Grey's 1912 novel, Riders of the Purple Sage and was told it was too wild and too arcane--no one would get it. They left the title alone and kept writing....
6. "The whole movie cost about $2.6 million--nobody got anything." Brooks said he hardly made much himself, around $50k to write, direct, for everything. The remaining writers (after those that left for financial reasons) held in there and finished writing. They'd write every day until around midnight, then walk to Chinatown where there was a restaurant they liked--they'd have beef and broccoli and a Pepsi, then walk back. Brooks spoke of working hard to get the script done, it had to be completed by July....
...8. Brooks wanted Richard Pryor to play the sheriff--Calley was okay with it--but because Pryor was unknown, others were not. Brooks called Pryor "the most blessed with talent guy he'd ever seen in his life. So sweet a guy." The director went back to New York and to every studio executive to beg for Pryor, but they wouldn't let him have the part. When he saw Cleavon Little, Brooks knew he was "the guy." "Everyone who had ever worked with him loved him." Brooks said he knew Little "got it" and that Cleavon delivered the lines just the way Bart should (say them).
9. Madeline Kahn had done Paper Moon; Brooks cast her right away, saying he loved her and knew how funny she was from Off-Broadway. When she auditioned, he said "Let me see your legs." She said, "Oh, you're that kind of guy." Kahn was nervous. Mel demanded to see them, explaining that "If you're going to do Dietrich, you've gotta have the legs." Kahn showed them and said, "You're not going to touch them?" He said, "No" and he never did. Brooks called Kahn good natured and (she was) fun on the set.
10. Director/Actor Claude E. Starrett Jr. (aka Jack) knew Mel Brooks and had once done a George "Gabby" Hayes immitation for Brooks. Mel called him and said, "I want you to do your Gabby Hayes in the movie;" he agreed to play Gabby Johnson.
11. Brooks chose Slim Pickens ("Bonanza, Gunsmoke," The Apple Dumpling Gang) based on seeing him ride the bomb down to earth in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
12. Liam Dunn (Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie), who played Reverend Johnson, was described by Brooks as "very weird." The actor had emphysema and when he would finish a scene, they'd ask him "Do you want water? Do you want orange juice? Do you want a cigarette?" Dunn would always choose the cigarette; he'd take a few puffs of smoke, then a few puffs of oxygen.
13. Brooks wanted actor Dan Dailey (It's Always Fair Weather, The Getaway, My Blue Heaven ) for The Waco Kid, calling him the best civilian horse rider around, but Dailey said he couldn't do it, he was blind (wore "Coke bottle glasses"). Brooks later ran into John Wayne in the commissary and asked him to read the script. Wayne told Brooks he would read it that night and that Mel should meet him back at the commissary at noon the next day. When they met again, the actor said it was too dirty; "I can't do it, I'm John Wayne." Wayne did love the script and told Brooks he was up all night screaming, he loved it and would be first in line to see it....
...15. When (Gene) Wilder arrived, he brought with him a four page outline he'd written for Young Frankenstein and asked Mel to do it with him. While editing Blazing Saddles the two worked together writing the script--Blazing Saddles was released in February, 1974--Young Frankenstein was released in December, that same year. Madeline Kahn, Liam Dunn, Wilder and Brooks starred in both films. While working on the script, Brooks realized he was smoking too much and quit, cold turkey. When he started working on Young Frankenstein, Brooks met Marty Feldman, who smoked "two cartons a day and wore a lighter around his neck."
16. The finished film was shown to twelve executives. Brooks described the scene: They couldn't help but laugh at a couple of things (the farting scene); the film comes to a "glorious end" and the lights come up..."nothing...just quiet. It was pretty rough." The silence lasted about ten minutes, with only some throat clearing. Finally, Leo Greenfield (distribution executive) said, "New York, Chicago, LA, we can open in those three cities. It's funny, but I don't know if we should open this." Some people said, "We can bury this. It's only about $2.6 million, it will cost more to deal with the negatives and the advertisers." But John Calley thought there was lots of good stuff and suggested they "sleep on it." Producer Michael Hertzberg (Entrapment, The Producers) decided to set up a viewing at room 12, the biggest Warner Bros. screening room. They went to all the offices and got every secretary, assistant, whoever they could find and filled the theater. Brooks: "Right from the singing and the titles, there was thunder--you never heard laughter like that in your life. People were screaming and yelling and rolling in the aisles. Word got out to the big shots." The next day, Brooks got a call from Calley, who said he was going to put his job on the line and get it out there, spend maybe a million bucks. Brooks thought the poster was brilliant, with the tagline "Never Give a Saga an Even Break" taken from a W. C. Fields line in You Can't Cheat an Honest Man, " Never give a sucker an even break or smarten up a chump" (credited to P.T. Barnum by Brooks). For the opening, horses were brought down Wilshire Boulevard.
17. At the screening, Warner Bros. head Ted Ashley cornered Brooks and said "You have to do the following: take out the word n*****, take out the bean scene, punching a horse, the Lili von Shtupp and the black sheriff--"You're sucking my arm," or something--you've got to take all that out." Brooks (who was writing it down) says, "Great! They're all out!" He walks away, crumples up the paper and throws it away--they guy didn't know Brooks had final cut control in his contract. He never heard from Ashley again. "Imagine if I didn't have final cut?" Brooks lamented over the version that is shown on television, says he can't even watch it--everything is cut out. The film did well upon initial release; even better for its second, summer release (Warner Bros. didn't have a big summer release and people kept clamoring for Blazing Saddles).
18. Brooks received a lot of letters from animal lovers who thought they really punched the horse (they didn't). There were two horses on set, trained to fall down. "Lots of white people got upset, but never any blacks. They knew it (n*****) was used correctly." Brooks said he doesn't think the word should ever be used unless "absolutely correctly to show racial prejudice. And we dIdn't show it from good people, but from bad people who didn't know any better."...