Mel Brooks was on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” Tuesday and took the opportunity to remember his friend Gene Wilder. The two had been friends and collaborators for nearly 50 years before Wilder’s death earlier this week.
“He was sick and I knew it,” Brooks said. “I expected it — I expected he would go, but I dunno, when it happens, it’s still tremendous. It’s a big shock. I can’t call him.”
Brooks and Wilder met when Brooks’ wife Anne Bancroft was doing a play with Wilder. “He came backstage and I got to know him a little bit,” Brooks said. “He kept going, ‘Why are they always laughing at me?’ And I said, ‘Well, look in the mirror, blame it on God!’
Brooks talked about the origin of “Young Frankenstein,” which started as scribbles on a legal pad:
“Everyone was having lunch and he was writing on a legal pad. I look at the top and it says, ‘Young Frankenstein.’ And I say, ‘What the hell is that?”‘ He said, ‘Well, I had an idea. What if the grandson of Victor Frankenstein was a serious, brilliant surgeon, and wanted nothing to do with the people that were responsible for making a monster, reanimating dead tissue and so forth? And he’s fighting it, but it’s in his blood.’ I said, ‘That’s a terrific idea! You want to write it with me?’ He said, ‘Yeah!’
But perhaps the most touching anecdote Brooks relayed was getting his new friend Gene to play Leo Bloom in a little play he was writing called “The Producers.”
“I told him about Leo Bloom and the thing I was writing called ‘The Producers.’ And I said, ‘I promise you, when we get the money, you are gonna be Leo Bloom.’ He said, ‘Oh, yeah, when you get the money. You’re doing a play about two Jews who are producing a flop instead of a hit, they can make more money with a flop, and it’s Springtime for Hitler. Yeah, you’re gonna get the money.’ Miracle of miracles, I did get the money. I went backstage and Gene was in a Murray Schisgal play called ‘Luv.’ He was wonderful in it. He was taking off his makeup, he was in his dressing room, and I took the script and I said, ‘Gene, we got the money, we’re gonna make the movie. You are Leo Bloom,’ and I threw it on his makeup table, and he burst into tears. He held his face and cried. I hugged him. It was a wonderful moment.”
Watch the interview above.