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Musings with Mel

words SUSAN PEIREZ

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Teri Garr, Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle and Mel Brooks.

I was sitting solo

                                                                          in my neighborhood bistro—writing in my journal, sipping a martini, unable to get “that” movie theme out of my mind—the minute I saw Mel Brooks for the very first time. And even though the distraction of being seated so close to a comic legend was heady, I left this human elixir alone—at least for a while.

When I got up to leave, I sheepishly walked over to Mel’s table to ask for an autograph for my sister’s impending birthday, as his Young Frankenstein was her favorite movie. I apologized for intruding, but joked that it was only me left in the restaurant so no one would know. Mel giggled, kind of, and invited me to sit down with him and some close friends. It was 2000 and his wife, actor “Annie” Bancroft, Mel told me, was back at their home in LA, as he was in development for a new Broadway-bound musical, based on his 1967 original film The Producers.

“OK,” he said, “so, what do you want me to write to your sister?”

“Well, Mr. Brooks, how about your favorite line from Young Frankenstein?”

And thus began Mel and me reciting almost every zinger from this comedy classic together—I am NOT kidding. It was the funniest, quick-witted wordplay exchange that I had ever had in my life. And I learned that Mel and Gene Wilder wrote the film together, alternating characters, and that Marty Feldman’s lines were written by Gene. But the line that Mel liked the most was delivered by Marty: “You take the blonde, I’ll take the one in the ‘toiban.’”

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Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman.

“Ha!, Mr., Brooks, that was Marty’s line!” I actually dared to contradict this über writer. “But didn’t you say that Gene wrote all of his?” I pushed even further.

Mel chuckled to himself. “He did, but it’s still my favorite line,” he gushed. And that’s what Mel wrote to my sister, which would accompany a framed 8 x 10 Young Frankenstein movie still for her special day.

And then Mel got serious: ‘So, Susan, what’s a charming, clearly attractive and intelligent young woman like you doing sitting alone at a restaurant at 10pm?’ I told him that I was “unwinding” after another long day of tough but important documentary field work for Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Institute. “I see that, but you had two martinis, that’s not good,” he warned with a smile as we hugged saying our “zei gezunt” (z'eye-geh-zundt) goodbyes.

The Producers went on to break records, and he’s still breaking ’em now, at 94, though sadly his beloved Annie died in 2005. But Mel Brooks, this icon of art, gave me a singular memory that I will never forget. So, happy Halloween, and zei gezunt, Mel!

. . .

Susan Peirez has always been a storyteller, with vast experience in documentary and feature film, television and live performance art. She’s the ‘normal’ brains behind artist incubator Foxhole Productions, and has just completed her first screenplay, hoping that Mel Brooks will play her dad. She lives in Portland, Maine. 

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