Brian and I had just run across a very busy Hollywood Boulevard to get to the next big screening of the day. Mel Brooks was introducing his Hitchcockian classic, High Anxiety. We left the screening of ‘Baby Jane’ early to get better seats for Brooks, but over 300 people had the same idea, as we ended number 314 and 315. Luckily Grauman’s Chinese theater seats 1,152, so we were in good shape. As we stood for the next hour, we watched hundreds of other people file in behind us. Soon the line went as far as I could see. My pal Danny and his wife were only a few people behind us, so we were able to pass the time chatting with them. Danny had been my line partner the year before when we were in the high 500’s to see Manchurian Candidate.
Once we made it into Grauman’s, we still ended up much further away from Mel Brooks as I would have liked to have been but to be honest, I would have preferred to be seated on his lap for his introduction. I have always really loved Brooks’ sense of humor and films. My dad is a huge fan of Young Frankenstein, and my mom loves Blazing Saddles. I was brought up in a very Mel Brooks friendly home. What I had seen of several of the stars of yesteryear during these festivals is the older, slower and quieter versions of themselves. Mel Brooks is 90 years old. I prayed he would be what I wanted, or at least coherent and mobile. What I got was so much more than I could have imagined.
Ben Mankiewicz gave his introduction and said: “Please welcome, Mel Brooks.” Brooks walked over to Ben greeted him and proceeded to walk back and forth already mid-bit. With endless energy he shared story after story, each ending with roars of laughter and him wiping the sweat from his brow. I had recorded his interview so I could quote it and share it with you all, but the first ten minutes of my video is me laughing so hard that I can’t hear most of what he is saying all you hear is my loud, obnoxious laugh.
At one point Ben Mankiewicz tossed his cards to the floor because Brooks was on a roll all on his own. After nearly 15 minutes Brooks sat down for the actual interview. He made fun of Ben Mankiewicz’s tie, so it was swiftly taken off, tossed to the floor and met with a huge roar of laughter.
The film we were there to see, High Anxiety is a spoof on Hitchcock films. Brooks said he wasn’t even sure how many Hitch references they ended up with, but the entire thing was modeled after every big Hitchcock film made up until that point. He said he was nervous to share it with Alfred Hitchcock before its release. He went to dinner with the ‘Master of Suspense’ and sent him home with a screener.
Soon after that, Hitch sent him a bottle of his favorite priceless wine with a note saying ‘Have no anxiety about High Anxiety, it’s a truly wonderful picture, love Hitch,’ Brooks mimed wiping away tears, saying it meant so much to him.
Brooks discussed bringing Madeline Kahn in for High Anxiety after she had starred in Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. He told a story about when Kahn came in to audition for ‘Saddles,’ she sang for him, and once she had finished, he asked her to lift her skirt, to which she replied ‘Oh it’s one of those auditions.’ As Brooks shared this story, I kept thinking about that famous Paul Newman quote: ‘Why go out for hamburger when I have steak at home?’ (Newman was referring to his wife, Joanne Woodward.) I think Madeline Kahn is a beautiful woman, but Mel Brooks had a steak at home, he was married to the breathtaking Anne Bancroft. Brooks continued his story saying ‘No, no, no, no! That’s not what I meant; I am very happily married.’ Brooks explained there would be a scene where the audience would see her legs and ‘they had to be good no matter what.’
‘So she (Kahn) grabbed a chair and straddled it and her legs, they were beautiful! They were amazing!’ Brooks shouted. He yelled ‘You got the part! You got the part!’
‘Then Madeline left my office, and I thought why couldn’t have been one of those auditions,’ said Brooks. Of course, this got a tremendous laugh from the crowd.
Mel Brooks had more energy at 90 than I currently have at 33. He’s charming, funny and everyone who was in that theater fell madly in love with the man. I had always wondered how he landed a hot dish like Anne Bancroft and now I get it. There is something incredibly magical about being in his presence.
Once the interview concluded, Brooks walked into the crowd, to the left of Brian and me, sat down and enjoyed the film. We got to watch a Mel Brooks film with Mel Brooks!
We were riding a high as we entered the final film of the night, the midnight screening of Zardoz. Miguel Rodriguez from Film Geeks San Diego and his friend, Beth Accomado made everyone Zardoz cookies to enjoy prior to the film. They were up half the night making these cookies that looked exactly like Sean Connery, which were amazing and hilarious! (Horrible Imaginings is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that was created to accommodate the lack of events in the city of San Diego that celebrate the horror genre. They are working to get their film festival off the ground. For more info you can visit, www.hifilmfest.com). Zardoz, a science fiction fantasy film starring Sean Connery was the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Seeing Connery, a man, my grandma, worshiped, run around in a weird skin-tight romper, was funny at first. Then laughter turned to confusion. At 2 a.m. we all filed out of the theater, some tickled, some confused and some angry, but all of us near comatose.
At the end of the night, we made it back to our hotel and realized that Brian had lost his phone. He ran back to the theatre to see if they would let him in to look. They were nice enough to let him go in and search, but he came back with no phone. At 4:30 a.m. we gave up and went to bed. We were back up at 6:30 a.m. to shower and get around so we could go find Brian's phone and get in line for our first morning's film.