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June 28: Mel Brooks

June 28, 2012

Mel Brooks (Kaminsky), the comic madman of stage and screen, was born in Brooklyn on this date in 1926. After serving in the army during World War II, he became a working Borscht Belt musician (he was taught to play drums by Buddy Rich) and changed his professional name to avoid being confused with trumpeter Max Kaminsky. Brooks eventually began to do stand-up comedy and rose to become tumler (emcee/head entertainer) at Grossinger’s. In the 1950s, he worked as a behind-the-scenes comedy writer for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, where he teamed up with Carl Reiner to create “The 2,000-Year-Old Man” and other routines. In 1962, Brooks wrote a Broadway show, All-American; in 1965, he partnered with Buck Henry to create the television comedy series, Get Smart; in 1968, he created The Producers, for which he received a Best Screenwriting Oscar (he would later turn it into a Broadway stage mega-hit that won 12 Tony Awards); in 1974 he created Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, which are among the most highly rated film comedies of all time. Brooks is often at his best lampooning popular culture, but he has also been the executive producer of serious dramatic films, including The Elephant Man (1980) and 84 Charing Cross Road (1987), which starred his long-time wife, Anne Bancroft. His utter irreverence on subjects of Jewish suffering, as well as his comic Judaizing of mainstream culture, would probably be protested by the ADL were Brooks not such a Jewish Jew. Somehow, he gets away with it.
“Bad taste is simply saying the truth before it should be said.” —Mel Brooks
Watch Mel Brooks chat with Jerry Seinfeld and Carl Reiner in a September, 2012 episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee:

JEWDAYO ROCKS! Murray the K (Kaufman) hosted a CBS television special, “It’s What’s Happening, Baby,” on this date in 1965, with the Supremes, Dave Clark Five, Tom Jones, Mary Wells, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Temptations, Four Tops, and many, many other performers. The show was sponsored by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and was condemned by Republicans in Congress. Unfortunately, excerpts are not available at YouTube, but to see Martha and the Vandellas perform “Nowhere to Run,” which they sang that night, click here.You can now watch the opening credits to the CBS special: