With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Mel Brooks Delivers 500 Pages on His Favorite Subject – Himself

All About Me!: My Remarkable Life in Show Business
By Mel Brooks
Ballantine Books, 480 pages, $25

Mel Brooks’ memoir begins with a promise. In a preface, the 95-year-old actor-writer-director vows an intimate confession — not to be shared with anyone.

Then, he thinks a bit more about the economics. “This book needs to sell!” Brooks realizes. “Tell all! Tell everybody! Let everybody you know hear all the terrible things I’ve done!”

While there are entire chapters devoted to “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” and “Dracula: Dead and Loving It,” it may not surprise you to learn there are no truly heinous acts buried in this nearly 500-page tome, aptly titled “All About Me!” Though there’s no real impropriety — or even many new stories — the book at times seems to be a response to allegations made elsewhere. Patrick McGilligan’s 2019 biography “Funny Man” painted a picture of Brooks with a fuse as short as his stature and an inveterate stealer of credit.

And so, Brooks’ own account at times becomes not much more than a list of credits — and not just his own. One typical, and, if you’d believe it, shorter example is given for William Tuttle, makeup artist on “Young Frankenstein,” who “had done the makeup for ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ (1952), ‘North by Northwest’ (1959), and ‘The Twilight Zone.’” Tuttle is later given credit for dreaming up the zipper on the side of Peter Boyle’s Frankenstein’s monster’s neck. One person you won’t see credited is Brooks’ first wife, Florence Baum (she is mentioned once, and not by name).

Brooks’ collaborators are regularly described as “a bit of a genius,” but the greatest one conjured is Brooks himself. You were expecting someone else?

How did Brooks’ comedic genius arise? We have Williamsburg, the Catskills and the U.S. Army to thank. Episodes of Melvin Kaminsky, the youngest of four boys raised by a single widowed mother, are the most vivid parts of the book, not weighed down by a litany of film and production dates or the onus of cameos at a studio commissary.

Brooks — who claims he got his name after writing his mom’s maiden name “Brookman” on a drum skin and running out of room — used to entertain friends by pretending to be Boris Karloff singing “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (how’s that for foreshadowing?). He had his first taste of show business working as a tummler in the Borscht Belt, where he dressed like a suicidal businessman in an alpaca coat and, bearing suitcases full of rocks, plunged into the pool.

In the Army he had a crack at writing comedy with a column for his troop transport, “My Floating Day,” where he described how after a hearty breakfast the boat’s “gentle, exotic sway” caused him to dash to the latrine “where the menu underwent a full-field layout.” These and the glimpses into Sid Caesar’s writing room make for the book’s best stuff, with the filmmaking largely resembling an IMDB trivia — or even quotes — page.

The stuff that hasn’t been public, or at least is tough to find, makes the book worthwhile.

Read entire article at Forward