The Producers


1h 28m 1968
The Producers

Brief Synopsis

A Broadway producer decides to get rich by creating the biggest flop of his career.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Comedy
Release Date
Jan 1968
Premiere Information
Pittsburgh opening: 22 Nov 1967
Production Company
Crossbow Productions; Sidney Glazier; Springtime Productions
Distribution Company
Embassy Pictures
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 28m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Pathécolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Synopsis

Max Bialystock is a seedy, disreputable, has-been Broadway producer who ekes out a living by charming love-starved little old ladies into investing in his disastrous productions. One day a timorous and neurotic accountant, Leo Bloom, arrives at Max's office to check the books on his latest theatrical fiasco. He finds a $2,000 difference in the books and naively mentions that a producer could make a killing by finding a sure-fire flop, over-financing it, and then pocketing the remainder of the investors' money after the show closes. Max becomes wildly excited and cons the reluctant Bloom into becoming his partner in producing the worst play in theatrical history. After rejecting hundreds of manuscripts, they finally find the ideal script in Springtime for Hitler , a musical comedy about Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun romping in Berchtesgaden, written by Franz Liebkind, an unregenerate Nazi who keeps pigeons and staunchly maintains that Hitler was "a swell guy with a song in his heart." After oversubscribing by 25,000%, Max and Bloom insure disaster by hiring Roger De Bris, a flagrant transvestite generally regarded as the world's worst director, to stage their play, and Lorenzo St. Du Bois, a mind-blown hippie known as LSD, to play the young Führer who danced his way to glory. On opening night, they add a final touch to their scheme by wrapping a $100 bribe around the ticket of the drama critic from the New York Times. But the play and production are so unremittingly awful that the audience interprets it as a gigantic put-on and roars with approval. Stunned to discover they are stuck with a smash hit, Max, Bloom, and Liebkind frantically try to close their show, even to the point of blowing up the theater. Apprehended and sent to jail after a trial in which they are found "incredibly guilty," they soon revert to their former tactics by producing a prison show called Prisoners of Love and selling shares--well over 100%--to their fellow inmates and the warden.

Photo Collections

The Producers - Movie Posters
Here two different styles of the American one-sheet movie poster for Mel Brooks' The Producers (1967). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

Hosted Intro

Film Details

MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Comedy
Release Date
Jan 1968
Premiere Information
Pittsburgh opening: 22 Nov 1967
Production Company
Crossbow Productions; Sidney Glazier; Springtime Productions
Distribution Company
Embassy Pictures
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 28m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Pathécolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Award Wins

Best Writing, Screenplay

1969
Mel Brooks

Award Nominations

Best Supporting Actor

1968
Gene Wilder

Articles

The Producers - The Essentials


SYNOPSIS

Max Bialystock is a failing Broadway producer who has been reduced to wearing a cardboard belt and taking money from elderly women in exchange for fulfilling their sexual fantasies. His luck changes for the better when he meets Leo Bloom, a neurotic accountant who inadvertently gives him an idea of how to turn failure into fortune -- solicit a huge financial investment for a play, produce a guaranteed flop, and pocket the investors' money. Armed with Springtime for Hitler, the worst play they can find, Max and Leo set out to conquer Broadway--by closing in one night.

Director: Mel Brooks

Producer: Joseph E. Levine, Sidney Glazier
Screenplay: Mel Brooks
Cinematography: Joseph Coffey
Editing: Ralph Rosenblum
Music: Mel Brooks, John Morris
Cast: Zero Mostel (Max Bialystock), Gene Wilder (Leo Bloom), Christopher Hewett (Roger De Bris), Kenneth Mars (Franz Liebkind), Dick Shawn (Lorenzo Saint DuBois), Lee Meredith (Ulla), Andreas Voutsinas (Carmen Ghia).
C-89m.

Why THE PRODUCERS Is Essentials

The Producers plays like a demented parody of the Hollywood musical, particularly the ones where Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney decide to "put on a show in the old barn." It's also a blistering assault on the dubious ethics at work on Broadway and in the film industry.

Filled with some of the funniest dialogue in contemporary screen comedy, The Producers reconnected audiences with a tradition of American film humor that had not been seen since the heyday of W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers. Furthermore, it encouraged other comedy writers like Woody Allen to take up directing in order to express their own comic vision. The film's freewheeling style and unique mixture of sight and sound gags, vaudeville routines, and blackout sketches pushed the envelope with potentially tasteless jokes and humor.

Critics and audiences who saw The Producers during its scattershot theatrical run obviously relished the film's irreverent humor and it quickly acquired a cult following in its subsequent repertory and college screenings. It also established Mel Brooks, already a well-known television comedy writer (Your Show of Shows) and producer (Get Smart), as a promising film director and won him the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Brooks would continue to develop his "anything goes" style of humor which audiences would come to expect and love in such films as Blazing Saddles (1974) and Young Frankenstein (1974). It was this anarchic comic approach that would inspire future filmmakers like John Landis (National Lampoon's Animal House, 1978) and Jim Abrahams, Jerry and David Zucker (Airplane!, 1980).

The Producers was responsible for making Gene Wilder a star and the role of Leo Bloom earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

For Mel Brooks, The Producers was the gift that kept on giving. Thirty years after its theatrical release, he turned it into a smash hit Broadway musical. Following the musical's success, another film version was shot in 2005 starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.

by Andrea Passafiume & Scott McGee
The Producers - The Essentials

The Producers - The Essentials

SYNOPSIS Max Bialystock is a failing Broadway producer who has been reduced to wearing a cardboard belt and taking money from elderly women in exchange for fulfilling their sexual fantasies. His luck changes for the better when he meets Leo Bloom, a neurotic accountant who inadvertently gives him an idea of how to turn failure into fortune -- solicit a huge financial investment for a play, produce a guaranteed flop, and pocket the investors' money. Armed with Springtime for Hitler, the worst play they can find, Max and Leo set out to conquer Broadway--by closing in one night. Director: Mel Brooks Producer: Joseph E. Levine, Sidney Glazier Screenplay: Mel Brooks Cinematography: Joseph Coffey Editing: Ralph Rosenblum Music: Mel Brooks, John Morris Cast: Zero Mostel (Max Bialystock), Gene Wilder (Leo Bloom), Christopher Hewett (Roger De Bris), Kenneth Mars (Franz Liebkind), Dick Shawn (Lorenzo Saint DuBois), Lee Meredith (Ulla), Andreas Voutsinas (Carmen Ghia). C-89m. Why THE PRODUCERS Is Essentials The Producers plays like a demented parody of the Hollywood musical, particularly the ones where Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney decide to "put on a show in the old barn." It's also a blistering assault on the dubious ethics at work on Broadway and in the film industry. Filled with some of the funniest dialogue in contemporary screen comedy, The Producers reconnected audiences with a tradition of American film humor that had not been seen since the heyday of W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers. Furthermore, it encouraged other comedy writers like Woody Allen to take up directing in order to express their own comic vision. The film's freewheeling style and unique mixture of sight and sound gags, vaudeville routines, and blackout sketches pushed the envelope with potentially tasteless jokes and humor. Critics and audiences who saw The Producers during its scattershot theatrical run obviously relished the film's irreverent humor and it quickly acquired a cult following in its subsequent repertory and college screenings. It also established Mel Brooks, already a well-known television comedy writer (Your Show of Shows) and producer (Get Smart), as a promising film director and won him the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Brooks would continue to develop his "anything goes" style of humor which audiences would come to expect and love in such films as Blazing Saddles (1974) and Young Frankenstein (1974). It was this anarchic comic approach that would inspire future filmmakers like John Landis (National Lampoon's Animal House, 1978) and Jim Abrahams, Jerry and David Zucker (Airplane!, 1980). The Producers was responsible for making Gene Wilder a star and the role of Leo Bloom earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. For Mel Brooks, The Producers was the gift that kept on giving. Thirty years after its theatrical release, he turned it into a smash hit Broadway musical. Following the musical's success, another film version was shot in 2005 starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. by Andrea Passafiume & Scott McGee

Pop Culture 101: THE PRODUCERS


Before the release of Blazing Saddles (1974) established Brooks as a major comedic talent, The Producers was practically considered an underground film. This was the kind of movie that was hard to see prior to the video cassette era and could only be found on college campuses and the repertory film circuit. The Producers enjoyed a die-hard cult following for several years until the cable and VHS market brought the film to the attention of the general public.

Mel Brooks would continue to work with Gene Wilder after the release of The Producers. The duo went on to collaborate on two brilliant comedy classics in the early 1970s, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein (1974).

Years later, Brooks returned to lampooning the world of the theatre with a remake of To Be or Not to Be (1983), a World War II-era comedy about a Polish theatre troupe who foil the Nazis with a mistaken identity plot. Hitler was once again used as the target of numerous jokes but the film, despite the presence of Mel Brooks and his real-life wife Anne Bancroft in the leads, lacked the sheer lunacy of The Producers and Brooks' other comedies.

The band U2 named its album Achtung Baby after a line in the film spoken by the Franz Liebkind character.

In 2001 Mel Brooks adapted The Producers into a smash Broadway musical starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.

In 2005 a movie version of the Broadway musical was made with Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane reprising their original roles.

by Andrea Passafiume

Pop Culture 101: THE PRODUCERS

Before the release of Blazing Saddles (1974) established Brooks as a major comedic talent, The Producers was practically considered an underground film. This was the kind of movie that was hard to see prior to the video cassette era and could only be found on college campuses and the repertory film circuit. The Producers enjoyed a die-hard cult following for several years until the cable and VHS market brought the film to the attention of the general public. Mel Brooks would continue to work with Gene Wilder after the release of The Producers. The duo went on to collaborate on two brilliant comedy classics in the early 1970s, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein (1974). Years later, Brooks returned to lampooning the world of the theatre with a remake of To Be or Not to Be (1983), a World War II-era comedy about a Polish theatre troupe who foil the Nazis with a mistaken identity plot. Hitler was once again used as the target of numerous jokes but the film, despite the presence of Mel Brooks and his real-life wife Anne Bancroft in the leads, lacked the sheer lunacy of The Producers and Brooks' other comedies. The band U2 named its album Achtung Baby after a line in the film spoken by the Franz Liebkind character. In 2001 Mel Brooks adapted The Producers into a smash Broadway musical starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. In 2005 a movie version of the Broadway musical was made with Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane reprising their original roles. by Andrea Passafiume

Trivia & Fun Facts About THE PRODUCERS


In the role of the outrageous choreographer Roger De Bris, TV fans may recognize actor Christopher Hewett before his long-running success as TV's Mr. Belvedere.

For the Springtime for Hitler number, Mel Brooks dubbed the actor who sings the lyric, "Don't be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi Party!" with his own voice when he didn't feel that the original line had enough punch. Brooks would later lend his voice for one of Madeline Kahn's outrageous musical numbers in Blazing Saddles (1974).

Mel Brooks learned his stock in live television, when he was hired to write gags for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows in 1950. For over a decade, he served as script doctor for TV, radio, and stage musicals, including the libretto of a real Broadway musical flop, All American, which starred Ray Bolger and ran 80 performances in 1962.

Mel Brooks derived the title of the play within the film, Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva in Berchtesgarten, from a favorite of the summer stock circuit called Springtime for Henry. He had used the provocative title as a running gag for many years; when anyone asked him what his next project was, he'd say he was planning a musical called Springtime for Hitler. This news, of course, was usually received with shocked expressions, exactly the reaction Brooks wanted.

Mel Brooks had an extremely rare deal for the production of The Producers: a contract that gave a novice director full creative control of the project. Producer Sidney Glazier gave him creative autonomy based on Brooks' brilliant comedic work with Sid Caesar and the legendary audio recording of The 2,000-Year-Old-Man that he made with Carl Reiner. Furthermore, Brooks helped his own case by agreeing to direct the picture at one-third his normal fee. Glazier raised $600,000 for the production .

When Mel Brooks accepted his Oscar for the Best Original Screenplay for The Producers at the April 14, 1969 awards ceremony, he quipped, "I'll just say what's in my heart -- ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump."

The Springtime for Hitler sequence was filmed at Broadway's Playhouse Theater (torn down in 1969), whose marquee can be glimpsed momentarily. However, in the scene where the theater blows up, we see the marquee of the Cort Theater, which stood (and still stands) across 48th Street from the Playhouse.

Zero Mostel's early film work mainly consisted of playing the menacing heavy in such films as Panic in the Streets (1950) and The Enforcer (1951). Unfortunately, Mostel's promising film career took a nosedive when allegations put him in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Even though Mostel denied ever being a Communist Party member, he was blacklisted from working as a film actor for several years. He returned to the Broadway stage in 1958. In the early 1960s, he scored three successive stage triumphs, winning Tony Awards for his performances in Rhinoceros, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Fiddler on the Roof. Now a heralded stage phenomenon, Mostel returned to film in 1966, after a 15-year absence, with Richard Lester's adaptation of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966). He followed this with the role of Max Bialystock in The Producers.

Brooks described to Gene Wilder the character of Leo Bloom as "a neurotic bud that blossoms into a neurotic flower, a shy guy who carries around a piece of blue baby blanket with him for security." He continued to reassure Wilder that he wouldn't have to act, because Brooks was careful to hire only the actors "who are just right for the parts." Concerned, Wilder asked Bancroft, "Does he really think I'm like that?" She replied, "Just go along with him."

The drunk in the theater bar is played by William Hickey, a familiar character actor who was nominated in 1985 for Best Supporting Actor for his work in John Huston's Prizzi's Honor. He also lent his unique, high-pitched voice for the mad scientist in Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. (1993).

The Producers was banned in Germany during its initial release due to its negative portrayal of Germans.

Actor Kenneth Mars, who portrayed Springtime for Hitler author Franz Liebkind, took his costume home every night and slept in it, thinking it would help him channel the character.

Zero Mostel had it written into his contract that he didn't have to work past 5:30 PM due to a leg injury he had suffered in a bus accident.

For the pivotal scene in which Max finally convinces Leo to help him with his scheme, Mel Brooks was originally going to shoot it on the parachute jump ride at Coney Island. When he discovered that the ride was out of order awaiting repair, Brooks decided instead to shoot the scene at the fountain in Lincoln Center.

The actor who played Carmen Ghia, Andreas Voutsinas, was a friend of Anne Bancroft (Mel Brooks' girlfriend at the time) at the Actors Studio. He received the following direction from Brooks on how to portray his character: "I want you to look like Rasputin and behave like Marilyn Monroe.''

For the scene in which Leo goes crazy when his blue blanket is taken away, Gene Wilder did a sense memory, imagining that it was his beloved dog Julie that was being taken from him.

Max Bialystock is named after the Polish city of Białystok.

Franz Liebkind's last name means literally "love child'' in German.

During his search for "the worst play ever written," Max reads from one of the submissions a description of a man waking up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant cockroach. Max rejects the story, on the grounds that it is "too good." In actuality, it is the opening sentence to Franz Kafka's classic short story, The Metamorphosis.

Carmen Ghia is named after the Volkswagen car, the Karmann Ghia.

TV star Bill Macy can be glimpsed in the courtroom scene as the jury foreman, who proclaims Bialystock and Bloom "incredibly guilty." Macy later became a television fixture as Bea Arthur's husband on the sitcom Maude (1972-1978). He also appeared in a number of films for Mel Brooks' good friend and colleague, Carl Reiner.

Famous Quotes from THE PRODUCERS

"Bialystock and Bloom, I presume! Heh heh, forgive the pun!"
"What pun?"
"Shut up, he thinks he's witty." -- Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewett), Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), and Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel)

"Not many people know it, but the Fuhrer was a terrific dancer." – Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars)

"That's exactly why we want to produce this play. To show the world the true Hitler, the Hitler you loved, the Hitler you knew, the Hitler with a song in his heart." – Max to Franz Liebkind

"Actors are not animals! They're human beings!"
"They are? Have you ever eaten with one?" – Leo and Max

"Hitler...there was a painter! He could paint an entire apartment in one afternoon! Two coats!" – Franz Liebkind

"You have exactly ten seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect." – Max to Leo.

"I'm condemned by a society that demands success when all I can offer is failure." – Max Bialystock

"I'm hysterical! I'm having hysterics. I'm hysterical. I can't stop when I get like this. I can't stop!" – Leo Bloom

"I'm in pain and I'm wet and I'm still hysterical! No, no, no don't hit, don't hit. It doesn't help. It only increases my sense of danger." – Leo Bloom to Max

"Will the dancing Hitlers please wait in the wings? We are only seeing singing Hitlers." – Roger De Bris

"I don't know about tonight. I'm supposed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, but I think I look more like Tugboat Annie." – Roger De Bris

"How could this happen? I was so careful. I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast. Where did I go right?" – Max Bialystock

"He who hesitates is poor!" – Max to Leo

"I want everything I've ever seen in the movies!" – Leo Bloom

MEL BROOKS QUOTES TO REMEMBER:

"There's not enough bad taste! I LOVE bad taste! I live for bad taste! I am the spokesman for bad taste!" - Films Illustrated, January 1982

"Vulgarity is in the hand of the beholder." - Films Illustrated, January 1982

"Comedy is serious---deadly serious. Never, never try to be funny! The actors must be serious. Only the situation must be absurd." - Playboy, December 1974

"One day, God said 'Let there be prey.' And he created pigeons, rabbits, lambs and Gene Wilder." - Newsweek, February 17, 1975

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume & Scott McGee

Trivia & Fun Facts About THE PRODUCERS

In the role of the outrageous choreographer Roger De Bris, TV fans may recognize actor Christopher Hewett before his long-running success as TV's Mr. Belvedere. For the Springtime for Hitler number, Mel Brooks dubbed the actor who sings the lyric, "Don't be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi Party!" with his own voice when he didn't feel that the original line had enough punch. Brooks would later lend his voice for one of Madeline Kahn's outrageous musical numbers in Blazing Saddles (1974). Mel Brooks learned his stock in live television, when he was hired to write gags for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows in 1950. For over a decade, he served as script doctor for TV, radio, and stage musicals, including the libretto of a real Broadway musical flop, All American, which starred Ray Bolger and ran 80 performances in 1962. Mel Brooks derived the title of the play within the film, Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva in Berchtesgarten, from a favorite of the summer stock circuit called Springtime for Henry. He had used the provocative title as a running gag for many years; when anyone asked him what his next project was, he'd say he was planning a musical called Springtime for Hitler. This news, of course, was usually received with shocked expressions, exactly the reaction Brooks wanted. Mel Brooks had an extremely rare deal for the production of The Producers: a contract that gave a novice director full creative control of the project. Producer Sidney Glazier gave him creative autonomy based on Brooks' brilliant comedic work with Sid Caesar and the legendary audio recording of The 2,000-Year-Old-Man that he made with Carl Reiner. Furthermore, Brooks helped his own case by agreeing to direct the picture at one-third his normal fee. Glazier raised $600,000 for the production . When Mel Brooks accepted his Oscar for the Best Original Screenplay for The Producers at the April 14, 1969 awards ceremony, he quipped, "I'll just say what's in my heart -- ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump." The Springtime for Hitler sequence was filmed at Broadway's Playhouse Theater (torn down in 1969), whose marquee can be glimpsed momentarily. However, in the scene where the theater blows up, we see the marquee of the Cort Theater, which stood (and still stands) across 48th Street from the Playhouse. Zero Mostel's early film work mainly consisted of playing the menacing heavy in such films as Panic in the Streets (1950) and The Enforcer (1951). Unfortunately, Mostel's promising film career took a nosedive when allegations put him in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Even though Mostel denied ever being a Communist Party member, he was blacklisted from working as a film actor for several years. He returned to the Broadway stage in 1958. In the early 1960s, he scored three successive stage triumphs, winning Tony Awards for his performances in Rhinoceros, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Fiddler on the Roof. Now a heralded stage phenomenon, Mostel returned to film in 1966, after a 15-year absence, with Richard Lester's adaptation of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966). He followed this with the role of Max Bialystock in The Producers. Brooks described to Gene Wilder the character of Leo Bloom as "a neurotic bud that blossoms into a neurotic flower, a shy guy who carries around a piece of blue baby blanket with him for security." He continued to reassure Wilder that he wouldn't have to act, because Brooks was careful to hire only the actors "who are just right for the parts." Concerned, Wilder asked Bancroft, "Does he really think I'm like that?" She replied, "Just go along with him." The drunk in the theater bar is played by William Hickey, a familiar character actor who was nominated in 1985 for Best Supporting Actor for his work in John Huston's Prizzi's Honor. He also lent his unique, high-pitched voice for the mad scientist in Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. (1993). The Producers was banned in Germany during its initial release due to its negative portrayal of Germans. Actor Kenneth Mars, who portrayed Springtime for Hitler author Franz Liebkind, took his costume home every night and slept in it, thinking it would help him channel the character. Zero Mostel had it written into his contract that he didn't have to work past 5:30 PM due to a leg injury he had suffered in a bus accident. For the pivotal scene in which Max finally convinces Leo to help him with his scheme, Mel Brooks was originally going to shoot it on the parachute jump ride at Coney Island. When he discovered that the ride was out of order awaiting repair, Brooks decided instead to shoot the scene at the fountain in Lincoln Center. The actor who played Carmen Ghia, Andreas Voutsinas, was a friend of Anne Bancroft (Mel Brooks' girlfriend at the time) at the Actors Studio. He received the following direction from Brooks on how to portray his character: "I want you to look like Rasputin and behave like Marilyn Monroe.'' For the scene in which Leo goes crazy when his blue blanket is taken away, Gene Wilder did a sense memory, imagining that it was his beloved dog Julie that was being taken from him. Max Bialystock is named after the Polish city of Białystok. Franz Liebkind's last name means literally "love child'' in German. During his search for "the worst play ever written," Max reads from one of the submissions a description of a man waking up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant cockroach. Max rejects the story, on the grounds that it is "too good." In actuality, it is the opening sentence to Franz Kafka's classic short story, The Metamorphosis. Carmen Ghia is named after the Volkswagen car, the Karmann Ghia. TV star Bill Macy can be glimpsed in the courtroom scene as the jury foreman, who proclaims Bialystock and Bloom "incredibly guilty." Macy later became a television fixture as Bea Arthur's husband on the sitcom Maude (1972-1978). He also appeared in a number of films for Mel Brooks' good friend and colleague, Carl Reiner. Famous Quotes from THE PRODUCERS "Bialystock and Bloom, I presume! Heh heh, forgive the pun!" "What pun?" "Shut up, he thinks he's witty." -- Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewett), Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), and Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) "Not many people know it, but the Fuhrer was a terrific dancer." – Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars) "That's exactly why we want to produce this play. To show the world the true Hitler, the Hitler you loved, the Hitler you knew, the Hitler with a song in his heart." – Max to Franz Liebkind "Actors are not animals! They're human beings!" "They are? Have you ever eaten with one?" – Leo and Max "Hitler...there was a painter! He could paint an entire apartment in one afternoon! Two coats!" – Franz Liebkind "You have exactly ten seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect." – Max to Leo. "I'm condemned by a society that demands success when all I can offer is failure." – Max Bialystock "I'm hysterical! I'm having hysterics. I'm hysterical. I can't stop when I get like this. I can't stop!" – Leo Bloom "I'm in pain and I'm wet and I'm still hysterical! No, no, no don't hit, don't hit. It doesn't help. It only increases my sense of danger." – Leo Bloom to Max "Will the dancing Hitlers please wait in the wings? We are only seeing singing Hitlers." – Roger De Bris "I don't know about tonight. I'm supposed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, but I think I look more like Tugboat Annie." – Roger De Bris "How could this happen? I was so careful. I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast. Where did I go right?" – Max Bialystock "He who hesitates is poor!" – Max to Leo "I want everything I've ever seen in the movies!" – Leo Bloom MEL BROOKS QUOTES TO REMEMBER: "There's not enough bad taste! I LOVE bad taste! I live for bad taste! I am the spokesman for bad taste!" - Films Illustrated, January 1982 "Vulgarity is in the hand of the beholder." - Films Illustrated, January 1982 "Comedy is serious---deadly serious. Never, never try to be funny! The actors must be serious. Only the situation must be absurd." - Playboy, December 1974 "One day, God said 'Let there be prey.' And he created pigeons, rabbits, lambs and Gene Wilder." - Newsweek, February 17, 1975 Compiled by Andrea Passafiume & Scott McGee

The Big Idea


"Somewhere in the back of my head," said Mel Brooks in a 2005 interview, "I knew there was a good story in the adventures of the producer that I was working for when I was 16-years-old. He was an unforgettable character and I just thought, 'one day I'm going to write a story about him.'"

And thus the seed was planted for the film that would launch Mel Brooks' feature film career and become a comedy classic. Brooks had started out as a comedy writer on the TV program, "Your Show of Shows," with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. He had gained some recognition with his Oscar®-winning short film The Critic (1963) and the TV show "Get Smart," which he co-created, but he yearned for something bigger.

Brooks first began writing The Producers as a book titled Springtime for Hitler, but there was too much dialogue and not enough narrative. So he tried writing it as a play, but there were too many scenes and sets for it to be practical for the stage. Finally, friends convinced him that he needed to make it as a movie.

When the screenplay was finished, Brooks showed it to his friend Sidney Glazier, who was a producer. Glazier loved it and vowed to get the movie made. The two shopped the project around Hollywood, and came close to making the film at Universal. At the last minute, however, the studio balked at having Hitler figure prominently in the story, regardless of the satiric tone, and decided to pass.

Brooks then met with producer Joseph Levine, who also loved the script. When Levine asked Brooks who was going to be the director, Brooks said that he was. Brooks had never directed a film before, but he talked Levine into giving him the chance. As the writer, he already had a detailed vision of what he wanted to see on screen. Levine had Brooks make one significant change to the script: the title would now be called The Producers. Springtime for Hitler was just too controversial a title, and Levine feared that no exhibitor would want to put that title on its marquee.

Brooks had written the character of Max Bialystock with Broadway legend Zero Mostel in mind. It was a role custom made to fit his larger-than-life persona. Mostel read the script and liked it, but he turned down the role at first. In fact, he turned it down several times before Brooks used a secret weapon: Mostel's wife, Kate. Brooks gave the script to Kate Mostel, who saw that the role was perfect for her husband. "Kate read it, she called me, she said, 'It's marvelous, it's sensational, I'm gonna work on Zero until he does it,'" recalled Brooks. "And she worked on him. He called me a week later and he said, 'You son of a bitch, I'm gonna do it. My wife talked me into it.'"

For the role of timid accountant Leo Bloom, Brooks first asked Peter Sellers to do it. Sellers agreed, but then Brooks never heard from him again. He had to look elsewhere.

Mel Brooks' girlfriend (and later, wife), actress Anne Bancroft, was starring in the play Mother Courage with a young actor named Gene Wilder. Brooks and Wilder had become friendly through their association with Bancroft, and Brooks realized that Wilder would make a great Leo Bloom.

In June 1963 Brooks invited Wilder to spend the weekend with him and Bancroft on Fire Island, where he gave him the first 30 pages of The Producers to read. He liked it immediately and Brooks offered him the part.

Three years passed without Wilder receiving a phone call or any contact with Brooks about The Producers. He assumed the project was dead. Then one night when he was performing in the play Luv, Brooks showed up in his dressing room out of the blue with producer Sidney Glazier in tow. It was as if not a day had passed. "We got the money, here's the script, you're Leo Bloom," said Brooks. Wilder couldn't believe it. There was just one obstacle: Zero Mostel didn't know Wilder and wanted to meet him first. If he passed muster with Mostel, he had the part.

Wilder was nervous about his first meeting with Mostel. "This huge, round, fantasy of a man came waltzing towards me," said Wilder in his 2005 autobiography Kiss Me Like a Stranger. "My heart was pounding so loud I thought he'd hear it. I stuck out my hand, politely, to shake his, but instead of shaking my hand, Zero pulled me into his body and gave me a giant kiss on the lips. All nervousness floated away...I gave a good reading and was cast."

Dustin Hoffman, who was then an unknown, was originally cast as the Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind. When an offer came through at the last minute for a starring role in Mike Nichols' The Graduate (1967), however, Hoffman pulled out. Brooks saw dozens of new actors for the role of Liebkind, but no one impressed him until Kenneth Mars showed up for the audition wearing a German helmet and gave a perfect reading. "I didn't know if the character was crazy or Kenny Mars was crazy," said Gene Wilder.

Rounding out the hilarious cast was Lee Meredith as the sexy secretary Ulla, Andreas Voutsinas as Carmen Ghia, Christopher Hewett as choreographer Roger De Bris, and Dick Shawn as the scene-stealing L.S.D.

by Andrea Passafiume

The Big Idea

"Somewhere in the back of my head," said Mel Brooks in a 2005 interview, "I knew there was a good story in the adventures of the producer that I was working for when I was 16-years-old. He was an unforgettable character and I just thought, 'one day I'm going to write a story about him.'" And thus the seed was planted for the film that would launch Mel Brooks' feature film career and become a comedy classic. Brooks had started out as a comedy writer on the TV program, "Your Show of Shows," with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. He had gained some recognition with his Oscar®-winning short film The Critic (1963) and the TV show "Get Smart," which he co-created, but he yearned for something bigger. Brooks first began writing The Producers as a book titled Springtime for Hitler, but there was too much dialogue and not enough narrative. So he tried writing it as a play, but there were too many scenes and sets for it to be practical for the stage. Finally, friends convinced him that he needed to make it as a movie. When the screenplay was finished, Brooks showed it to his friend Sidney Glazier, who was a producer. Glazier loved it and vowed to get the movie made. The two shopped the project around Hollywood, and came close to making the film at Universal. At the last minute, however, the studio balked at having Hitler figure prominently in the story, regardless of the satiric tone, and decided to pass. Brooks then met with producer Joseph Levine, who also loved the script. When Levine asked Brooks who was going to be the director, Brooks said that he was. Brooks had never directed a film before, but he talked Levine into giving him the chance. As the writer, he already had a detailed vision of what he wanted to see on screen. Levine had Brooks make one significant change to the script: the title would now be called The Producers. Springtime for Hitler was just too controversial a title, and Levine feared that no exhibitor would want to put that title on its marquee. Brooks had written the character of Max Bialystock with Broadway legend Zero Mostel in mind. It was a role custom made to fit his larger-than-life persona. Mostel read the script and liked it, but he turned down the role at first. In fact, he turned it down several times before Brooks used a secret weapon: Mostel's wife, Kate. Brooks gave the script to Kate Mostel, who saw that the role was perfect for her husband. "Kate read it, she called me, she said, 'It's marvelous, it's sensational, I'm gonna work on Zero until he does it,'" recalled Brooks. "And she worked on him. He called me a week later and he said, 'You son of a bitch, I'm gonna do it. My wife talked me into it.'" For the role of timid accountant Leo Bloom, Brooks first asked Peter Sellers to do it. Sellers agreed, but then Brooks never heard from him again. He had to look elsewhere. Mel Brooks' girlfriend (and later, wife), actress Anne Bancroft, was starring in the play Mother Courage with a young actor named Gene Wilder. Brooks and Wilder had become friendly through their association with Bancroft, and Brooks realized that Wilder would make a great Leo Bloom. In June 1963 Brooks invited Wilder to spend the weekend with him and Bancroft on Fire Island, where he gave him the first 30 pages of The Producers to read. He liked it immediately and Brooks offered him the part. Three years passed without Wilder receiving a phone call or any contact with Brooks about The Producers. He assumed the project was dead. Then one night when he was performing in the play Luv, Brooks showed up in his dressing room out of the blue with producer Sidney Glazier in tow. It was as if not a day had passed. "We got the money, here's the script, you're Leo Bloom," said Brooks. Wilder couldn't believe it. There was just one obstacle: Zero Mostel didn't know Wilder and wanted to meet him first. If he passed muster with Mostel, he had the part. Wilder was nervous about his first meeting with Mostel. "This huge, round, fantasy of a man came waltzing towards me," said Wilder in his 2005 autobiography Kiss Me Like a Stranger. "My heart was pounding so loud I thought he'd hear it. I stuck out my hand, politely, to shake his, but instead of shaking my hand, Zero pulled me into his body and gave me a giant kiss on the lips. All nervousness floated away...I gave a good reading and was cast." Dustin Hoffman, who was then an unknown, was originally cast as the Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind. When an offer came through at the last minute for a starring role in Mike Nichols' The Graduate (1967), however, Hoffman pulled out. Brooks saw dozens of new actors for the role of Liebkind, but no one impressed him until Kenneth Mars showed up for the audition wearing a German helmet and gave a perfect reading. "I didn't know if the character was crazy or Kenny Mars was crazy," said Gene Wilder. Rounding out the hilarious cast was Lee Meredith as the sexy secretary Ulla, Andreas Voutsinas as Carmen Ghia, Christopher Hewett as choreographer Roger De Bris, and Dick Shawn as the scene-stealing L.S.D. by Andrea Passafiume

Behind the Camera


Production began on The Producers in May 1967. It was shot entirely on location in New York City.

In a Playboy magazine interview (December 1974 issue), Mel Brooks recalled the filming of The Producers: "I did dumb things. First day on the set, first scene, sound men are ready, cameras are rolling, the director's supposed to say: 'Action!' Being a little nervous, I said: 'Cut!'"

Brooks, being a first time director, was often challenged in his creative decisions by Zero Mostel who had his own ideas about staging and performance after years of experience on the stage and in film. Brooks was used to the lightning pace of live television and could easily get impatient with the slowness of a film shoot. Zero, in turn, often offered unsolicited advice to Brooks on how he should direct a scene. The two lashed out at each other occasionally, but there was a mutual respect. Any animosity on the set was short lived.

Mostel took Gene Wilder under his wing while making The Producers, and the two became friends. "You may have heard stories about how bombastic, aggressive, and dictatorial Zero might be," said Wilder. "It didn't happen with me. He always took care of me. I loved him. He looked after me as if I were a baby sparrow."

The composer of the film, John Morris, was given the daunting task of creating the showcase musical number "Springtime for Hitler." Brooks directed him to create the biggest, flashiest, tackiest, most terrible number he could think of. "Every time we hit a level," said Morris, "we'd have to go broader, bigger, and that was the fun of it."

When it was completed, The Producers was in danger of not receiving a theatrical release. Producer Joseph Levine was dubious about its offensive humor and thought it might cause more trouble than it was worth so the film was temporarily shelved.

One night actor Peter Sellers and a group of show business friends saw The Producers. They had formed an informal film society where they watched one film a week together in Los Angeles. On this particular night, they couldn't get the film they originally intended to watch, but a copy of The Producers was available so they watched it instead. Although the group's reaction may have been influenced by the use of some illegal substances, an enthusiastic word of mouth campaign slowly grew from there. Peter Sellers even took out a full page ad in Variety singing his praises for The Producers and proclaiming it the "ultimate film."

by Andrea Passafiume & Scott McGee

Behind the Camera

Production began on The Producers in May 1967. It was shot entirely on location in New York City. In a Playboy magazine interview (December 1974 issue), Mel Brooks recalled the filming of The Producers: "I did dumb things. First day on the set, first scene, sound men are ready, cameras are rolling, the director's supposed to say: 'Action!' Being a little nervous, I said: 'Cut!'" Brooks, being a first time director, was often challenged in his creative decisions by Zero Mostel who had his own ideas about staging and performance after years of experience on the stage and in film. Brooks was used to the lightning pace of live television and could easily get impatient with the slowness of a film shoot. Zero, in turn, often offered unsolicited advice to Brooks on how he should direct a scene. The two lashed out at each other occasionally, but there was a mutual respect. Any animosity on the set was short lived. Mostel took Gene Wilder under his wing while making The Producers, and the two became friends. "You may have heard stories about how bombastic, aggressive, and dictatorial Zero might be," said Wilder. "It didn't happen with me. He always took care of me. I loved him. He looked after me as if I were a baby sparrow." The composer of the film, John Morris, was given the daunting task of creating the showcase musical number "Springtime for Hitler." Brooks directed him to create the biggest, flashiest, tackiest, most terrible number he could think of. "Every time we hit a level," said Morris, "we'd have to go broader, bigger, and that was the fun of it." When it was completed, The Producers was in danger of not receiving a theatrical release. Producer Joseph Levine was dubious about its offensive humor and thought it might cause more trouble than it was worth so the film was temporarily shelved. One night actor Peter Sellers and a group of show business friends saw The Producers. They had formed an informal film society where they watched one film a week together in Los Angeles. On this particular night, they couldn't get the film they originally intended to watch, but a copy of The Producers was available so they watched it instead. Although the group's reaction may have been influenced by the use of some illegal substances, an enthusiastic word of mouth campaign slowly grew from there. Peter Sellers even took out a full page ad in Variety singing his praises for The Producers and proclaiming it the "ultimate film." by Andrea Passafiume & Scott McGee

The Critics Corner - The Critics' Corner: THE PRODUCERS


AWARDS AND HONORS

The Producers received Two Academy Award nominations: one for Best Original Screenplay and one for Gene Wilder's performance (Best Supporting Actor). Mel Brooks won Best Screenplay, but Gene Wilder lost to Jack Albertson in The Subject Was Roses.

Mel Brooks' screenplay was nominated for a Golden Globe along with Zero Mostel as Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.

In 1996 The Library of Congress named The Producers to the National Film Registry.

Mel Brooks received two nominations from the Writers Guild of America (WGA) for Best Written American Comedy and Best Written American Original Screenplay. Brooks won for the latter.

The American Film Institute named The Producers #11 on its list of the 100 Funniest Movies of All Time.

The Critics' Corner - THE PRODUCERS

"A violently mixed bag. Some of it shoddy and gross and cruel...the rest is funny in an entirely unexpected way...The Producers leaves one alternately picking up one's coat to leave and sitting back to laugh." – The New York Times.

"The Producers has many things going for it -- notably a wild, ad-lib energy that explodes in a series of sight gags and punch lines....Unfortunately, the film is burdened with the kind of plot that demands resolution, and here Brooks the writer has failed Brooks the director. Springtime for Hitler is supposed to be like Valley of the Dolls - so excessively bad that it's hilarious. Instead it is just excessive." --Time.

"Mel Brooks has turned a funny idea into a slapstick film, thanks to the performers, particularly Zero Mostel.....The Producers is fast-paced and doesn't linger over the multiple puns, etc. that dot the script more frequently than punctuation marks....it makes a very entertaining film." -- Variety.

"It's a Marx Brothers sort of madness Brooks concocts, soaring to glorious heights of madness and hilarity in a gay camera romp through the city and the theatrical game." -- Judith Crist /The Today Show.

"Dismally unfunny satire except for the play itself, Springtime for Hitler, which is neatly put down. This has, however, become a cult film, so that criticism is pointless." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide.

"An almost flawless triumph of bad taste, unredeemed by wit or style," - Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

"Some of the material is funny in an original way, but Mel Brooks...doesn't get the timing right and good gags fall apart or become gross or just don't develop. The sequence consisting of tryouts for the role of Hitler in the play...is potentially so great that what he does with it lets you down. Still, terrible as the picture is, a lot of it is very enjoyable. For satire of the theatre as inspired as Brooks' gags at their best, it's not hard to put up with the ineptitude and the amateurish camera angles. It's even possible to put up with Zero Mostel in closeups." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies.

"...an absolutely hilarious and tasteless New York Jewish comedy about Broadway...Mostel and Wilder (as his bumbling Portnovian accountant) ham outrageously, and some of the humour falls flat. But the entire flop itself could serve as the definition of kitsch, its centerpiece being the number "Springtime for Hitler," all tits, pretzels and beer steins, in the best tradition of gaudy American burlesque." - Rod MacShane, TimeOut Film Guide.

"The major strength of Mel Brooks's cult favorite is its clever premise...Max would seem to be the ideal role for Zero Mostel, but he looks uncomfortable whenever anyone else is dominating a scene and, like the most unskilled, insecure amateur, resorts to mugging to get attention. Wilder is fine, but Mostel can't handle being his straight man on occasion. Film's highlight is LSD's audition song, "Love Power"...." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic.

"The Producers has moments of rich bad taste, and its Jewish show-biz angle is all the sharper for having Hitlerism as an opponent and Zero Mostel as its spokesman." - David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film.

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume, Scott McGee & Jeff Stafford

The Critics Corner - The Critics' Corner: THE PRODUCERS

AWARDS AND HONORS The Producers received Two Academy Award nominations: one for Best Original Screenplay and one for Gene Wilder's performance (Best Supporting Actor). Mel Brooks won Best Screenplay, but Gene Wilder lost to Jack Albertson in The Subject Was Roses. Mel Brooks' screenplay was nominated for a Golden Globe along with Zero Mostel as Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. In 1996 The Library of Congress named The Producers to the National Film Registry. Mel Brooks received two nominations from the Writers Guild of America (WGA) for Best Written American Comedy and Best Written American Original Screenplay. Brooks won for the latter. The American Film Institute named The Producers #11 on its list of the 100 Funniest Movies of All Time. The Critics' Corner - THE PRODUCERS "A violently mixed bag. Some of it shoddy and gross and cruel...the rest is funny in an entirely unexpected way...The Producers leaves one alternately picking up one's coat to leave and sitting back to laugh." – The New York Times. "The Producers has many things going for it -- notably a wild, ad-lib energy that explodes in a series of sight gags and punch lines....Unfortunately, the film is burdened with the kind of plot that demands resolution, and here Brooks the writer has failed Brooks the director. Springtime for Hitler is supposed to be like Valley of the Dolls - so excessively bad that it's hilarious. Instead it is just excessive." --Time. "Mel Brooks has turned a funny idea into a slapstick film, thanks to the performers, particularly Zero Mostel.....The Producers is fast-paced and doesn't linger over the multiple puns, etc. that dot the script more frequently than punctuation marks....it makes a very entertaining film." -- Variety. "It's a Marx Brothers sort of madness Brooks concocts, soaring to glorious heights of madness and hilarity in a gay camera romp through the city and the theatrical game." -- Judith Crist /The Today Show. "Dismally unfunny satire except for the play itself, Springtime for Hitler, which is neatly put down. This has, however, become a cult film, so that criticism is pointless." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide. "An almost flawless triumph of bad taste, unredeemed by wit or style," - Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. "Some of the material is funny in an original way, but Mel Brooks...doesn't get the timing right and good gags fall apart or become gross or just don't develop. The sequence consisting of tryouts for the role of Hitler in the play...is potentially so great that what he does with it lets you down. Still, terrible as the picture is, a lot of it is very enjoyable. For satire of the theatre as inspired as Brooks' gags at their best, it's not hard to put up with the ineptitude and the amateurish camera angles. It's even possible to put up with Zero Mostel in closeups." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies. "...an absolutely hilarious and tasteless New York Jewish comedy about Broadway...Mostel and Wilder (as his bumbling Portnovian accountant) ham outrageously, and some of the humour falls flat. But the entire flop itself could serve as the definition of kitsch, its centerpiece being the number "Springtime for Hitler," all tits, pretzels and beer steins, in the best tradition of gaudy American burlesque." - Rod MacShane, TimeOut Film Guide. "The major strength of Mel Brooks's cult favorite is its clever premise...Max would seem to be the ideal role for Zero Mostel, but he looks uncomfortable whenever anyone else is dominating a scene and, like the most unskilled, insecure amateur, resorts to mugging to get attention. Wilder is fine, but Mostel can't handle being his straight man on occasion. Film's highlight is LSD's audition song, "Love Power"...." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic. "The Producers has moments of rich bad taste, and its Jewish show-biz angle is all the sharper for having Hitlerism as an opponent and Zero Mostel as its spokesman." - David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film. Compiled by Andrea Passafiume, Scott McGee & Jeff Stafford

The Producers


The Producers is considered by many to be one of the top comedies of all time; this 1968 film ranked at number eleven on the American Film Institute's list of the top one hundred comedies. The film, which has grown to cult status, is noteworthy for a number of reasons: first, it marked Mel Brooks' directorial film debut. Brooks had begun his career in stand-up comedy, then moved into writing for the television comedies You Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour. After winning an Oscar in 1963 for his animated short The Critic, Brooks received financial backing from Joseph E. Levine to direct his hilarious original screenplay The Producers.

Brooks cast three-time Tony Award winner Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock, a failing Broadway producer who has been reduced to wearing a cardboard belt and taking money from elderly women in exchange for fulfilling their sexual fantasies. Mostel had taken a break from the silver screen somewhat unwillingly, as a result of being blacklisted during the McCarthy era Communist hunt. He had continued to act on stage, then made his return to movies in 1966 with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The Producers cemented Mostel's reputation as a zany comedian, and did much to restore his popularity with film audiences.

Gene Wilder was cast as neurotic accountant Leo Bloom, who gives corrupt Bialystock the idea to produce a huge flop and pocket the investors' money. Wilder had at that point only appeared in one film: a small yet amusing role in Bonnie and Clyde the year before. The Producers turned out to be a star-making performance for Wilder, and he was nominated by the Academy for Best Supporting Actor that year. Wilder would go on to become one of the great comedic actors of our time, and often starred in Brooks's later films.

The Producers also established many of the Mel Brooks trademarks that would be seen in his films to come. A wacky and often twisted sense of humor that was shocking to some at the time was part of Brooks's repertoire. Who else could make a film about two Jewish men putting on a play called "Springtime for Hitler"? Incidentally, that was one of Brooks's favorite running jokes before he made this film. When asked what his next project would be, he would often say that he was going to do a musical called "Springtime for Hitler". Because of the musical scenes, the movie was banned in Germany. It later made its appearance in that country in a film festival featuring the works of Jewish filmmakers. Brooks's sense of humor was recognized at the Academy Awards that year when he received the Oscar® for Best Screenplay, his only Oscar® to date. Brooks would later produce a musical version for the Broadway stage that became a long-running hit starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick; they recreated their roles for the 2005 film version directed by Susan Stroman.

Director: Mel Brooks
Producer: Joseph E. Levine
Screenplay: Mel Brooks
Cinematography: Joseph Coffey
Editing: Ralph Rosenblum
Music: Mel Brooks, John Morris
Cast: Zero Mostel (Max Bialystock), Gene Wilder (Leo Bloom), Christopher Hewitt (Roger DeBris), Kenneth Mars (Franz Liebkind), Dick Shawn (Lorenzo Saint DuBois).
C-88m. Letterboxed.

by Sarah Heiman

The Producers

The Producers is considered by many to be one of the top comedies of all time; this 1968 film ranked at number eleven on the American Film Institute's list of the top one hundred comedies. The film, which has grown to cult status, is noteworthy for a number of reasons: first, it marked Mel Brooks' directorial film debut. Brooks had begun his career in stand-up comedy, then moved into writing for the television comedies You Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour. After winning an Oscar in 1963 for his animated short The Critic, Brooks received financial backing from Joseph E. Levine to direct his hilarious original screenplay The Producers. Brooks cast three-time Tony Award winner Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock, a failing Broadway producer who has been reduced to wearing a cardboard belt and taking money from elderly women in exchange for fulfilling their sexual fantasies. Mostel had taken a break from the silver screen somewhat unwillingly, as a result of being blacklisted during the McCarthy era Communist hunt. He had continued to act on stage, then made his return to movies in 1966 with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The Producers cemented Mostel's reputation as a zany comedian, and did much to restore his popularity with film audiences. Gene Wilder was cast as neurotic accountant Leo Bloom, who gives corrupt Bialystock the idea to produce a huge flop and pocket the investors' money. Wilder had at that point only appeared in one film: a small yet amusing role in Bonnie and Clyde the year before. The Producers turned out to be a star-making performance for Wilder, and he was nominated by the Academy for Best Supporting Actor that year. Wilder would go on to become one of the great comedic actors of our time, and often starred in Brooks's later films. The Producers also established many of the Mel Brooks trademarks that would be seen in his films to come. A wacky and often twisted sense of humor that was shocking to some at the time was part of Brooks's repertoire. Who else could make a film about two Jewish men putting on a play called "Springtime for Hitler"? Incidentally, that was one of Brooks's favorite running jokes before he made this film. When asked what his next project would be, he would often say that he was going to do a musical called "Springtime for Hitler". Because of the musical scenes, the movie was banned in Germany. It later made its appearance in that country in a film festival featuring the works of Jewish filmmakers. Brooks's sense of humor was recognized at the Academy Awards that year when he received the Oscar® for Best Screenplay, his only Oscar® to date. Brooks would later produce a musical version for the Broadway stage that became a long-running hit starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick; they recreated their roles for the 2005 film version directed by Susan Stroman. Director: Mel Brooks Producer: Joseph E. Levine Screenplay: Mel Brooks Cinematography: Joseph Coffey Editing: Ralph Rosenblum Music: Mel Brooks, John Morris Cast: Zero Mostel (Max Bialystock), Gene Wilder (Leo Bloom), Christopher Hewitt (Roger DeBris), Kenneth Mars (Franz Liebkind), Dick Shawn (Lorenzo Saint DuBois). C-88m. Letterboxed. by Sarah Heiman

The Producers Guild of America Conference June 4-6


The Producers Guild of America (PGA) will hold the second annual Produced By Conference June 4-6 at the 20th Century Fox Studios in Los Angeles.

For one weekend only, you will learn from the greatest producers in film, television and new media. This conference will feature extraordinary panel sessions, unique mentoring round tables, special workshops and exhibits, new tech demos and most of all incomparable networking opportunities. You will have access to the best and brightest in the filmmaking community at one of the most useful conferences you will attend all year.

For a complete listing of sessions and speakers, please visit our website: wwwproducedbyconference.com. The conference was sold out last year so register now. Industry discount available!

The Producers Guild of America Conference June 4-6

The Producers Guild of America (PGA) will hold the second annual Produced By Conference June 4-6 at the 20th Century Fox Studios in Los Angeles. For one weekend only, you will learn from the greatest producers in film, television and new media. This conference will feature extraordinary panel sessions, unique mentoring round tables, special workshops and exhibits, new tech demos and most of all incomparable networking opportunities. You will have access to the best and brightest in the filmmaking community at one of the most useful conferences you will attend all year. For a complete listing of sessions and speakers, please visit our website: wwwproducedbyconference.com. The conference was sold out last year so register now. Industry discount available!

Author Sam Kashner on The Graduate, The Producers & Other Films Being Featured at the TCM Film Festival in April


Sam Kashner is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair who will be hosting three movies at the TCM Film Festival this April – The Graduate, Sweet Smell of Success, The Producers. Sam (pictured, photo by Henry Diltz) is also the the author of Sinatraland: A Novel (Overlook, 1999) and When I Was Cool (HarperCollins, 2004). He is also the co-author, with Nancy Schoenberger, of Hollywood Kryptonite (St. Martin's Press, 1996), which was the basis for the 2006 film Hollywoodland, and A Talent for Genius: The Life and Times of Oscar Levant (Silman-James, 1998), which is slated to be made into a film, with Ben Stiller as the great hypochondriac pianist. He was kind enough to answer questions about the above films and his books in a recent interview.

TCM: I'd like to start off with questions about the Vanity Fair Tales of Hollywood articles you have written starting with THE GRADUATE. I read in your piece that Ava Gardner was considered for awhile as Mrs. Robinson but I guess I had always heard that Doris Day had been the first choice. I didn't know if you had come across any other information that she had actually gotten the script or commented on it.

Sam Kashner: No, I mean there were people who thought it was tasteless...Mike Nichols and Larry Turman had met with Brian Keith, for example, to play the role of Mrs. Robinson's husband and he just thought that the book was tasteless. And so Mike Nichols essentially said, "Well, in that case we just won't do it"...but I did get Mike to talk about going to see Ava Gardner and how theatrical and over-the-top she was. She made all of her men friends - her all-male entourage - scatter and said to them in a theatrical way, "You know, I'm going to meet with my director now." And I think he knew at that point that it was probably impossible...Marty Melcher actually hated the book so much - I think he refused to even turn it over to Doris Day to read, you know...I think he said it was "dirty."

TCM: And what about Gene Hackman being fired?...Did you get any other indication of what might have been the reasons for him being fired?

SK::No, I think that Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman were not just friends but had roomed together. And on paper, these things sometimes seem like a great idea...but I think it just came down to a question of chemistry and also, believe it or not, size...because there's a scene in which...Mr. Robinson sort of jumps over the bed and crouches in fear from Ben..and whatever you want to say about Gene Hackman he's tall..and a big guy..and the idea - if he could even get himself over the bed and that he'd be cowering in front of Dustin Hoffman is kind of a joke on the face of it. So I think it was things like that that made them feel that...it wasn't a good fit

TCM: I've never read the novel myself. Have you ever read the Charles Webb novel?

SK::I have. It's a really good book. I mean, you can see instantly why Mr. Turman was determined to get the book and to try to make a movie out of it...When I looked at the old cast list - Turman had made a list on the back of his dentist's memo pad - and it had some amazing names in it like Deborah Kerr and Susan Hayward and Patricia Neal and Eva Marie Saint...I mean some of these people seem very unlikely but he did cast a kind of wide net at least on paper and then he got more realistic about it.

TCM: Was the actual novel intended as a satire?

SK::I actually thought that the novel was, in a way, kind of dark actually...and it was very good about placing...eh, describing the kind of limbo that kids are in when they get out of school...it was very good at anticipating the kind of angst and sort of lost generation quality that you'd see a lot of in the 60s and 70s.

TCM: So I guess that explains why they first chose Calder Willingham to do the screenplay since he had worked on such dark dramas as THE STRANGE ONE and PATHS OF GLORY.

SK::Yes, although they weren't crazy about the job he had done because he really turned it into...I AM CURIOUS, YELLOW or something..because he really was turning it into a real sex film and they just felt it was impossible to make that kind of movie. And it lacked that sort of droll, comical quality that, of course, Buck Henry instantly brought to it...Oh, I do want to tell you when we were talking earlier about casting that Mike did go to Robert Redford who was kind of a new friend of his...he had been in PLAZA SUITE and...he discussed the role with Redford, who really wanted the part actually as Benjamin...and Mike Nichols said, "Well, you can't really play this part because this guy is really kind of a loser." And he said, "What do you mean? Of course I can play a loser," and so Mike said, "Tell me, have you ever struck out with a girl?" and he said, "Whatdaya mean, striking out?" He didn't know what he was talking about and he wasn't joking. So he [Nichols] said, "I rest my case"..... I think right from the start...they were thinking tall and blonde...it was really Southern California and that's why Candice Bergen and Charles Grodin auditioned together at one point. But then Mike had this kind of revelation, actually based on reading a story by Henry James called "The Beast in the Jungle" which kind of transfigured his perception of the movie and the characters and...that led him in a way to Dustin Hoffman and in to making it very different.

TCM: The one thing that's really interesting about all the behind-the-scenes stories on THE GRADUATE is Charles Webb, the author of the novel. I didn't realize what a strange life he's had.

SK::Yeah, I think he is...he actually inherited - Charles Webb did - a not insignificant amount of money from his dad. They [Webb & his wife] turned that down and they lived as kind of vagabonds, you know on campgrounds and trailer parks..very, very strange...and fairly recently he kind of came out of hiding when he was about to be evicted I think..and that's when a lot of this became known...you know he wrote a sequel that sort of takes Benjamin through the seventies...

TCM: Home School [The name of the sequel to THE GRADUATE.]

SK::The thing I love about the Charlie Webb story is that...one of his children, I think his son became a performance artist and one of his performances pieces was to eat his father's novel in front of an audience. TCM: The strangeness continues...

SK::Yes...it might be my favorite story after ten years of covering "the making of" movies..that might be my best kind of coda story...that the son of one of the makers actually ate the product.

TCM: Maybe somebody will do a book about Charles Webb because he would make a great topic... SK::Or a documentary. You know, The Marriage of a Stockbroker and Hope Springs are both based on his novels. So, he's done all right by the movies. And the movies would have done all right by him but he seems he's just one of these people who is determined to be poor.

TCM: One thing that I think was interesting was that Dustin Hoffman didn't rush into another major motion picture which seems to be the obvious reaction these days with anybody that becomes successful right away. And it was almost two years before he was in another film which was Midnight Cowboy. Did you come across any research about that decision?

SK::First of all, I think the success of the movie and the fact that he instantly became an almost iconic symbol of that new lost generation..I think...he would be a little entitled to be a little freaked out by it and his career has always been characterized by kind of agonizing decision-making obou what his next role would be. And don't forget, he came out of the theatre. And there's the age old thing about... the movies you know. That was still an issue..in the mid 1960s, this idea of the theatre vs. the movies. And I don't think it was a coincidence that he went....back to the theatre for awhile and also I think just adjusting to his fame.

TCM: Just out of curiosity, did you ever see the Broadway play with Kathleen Turner and Jason Biggs of THE GRADUATE.

SK::No, I didn't.

TCM: Let's talk about SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS...when you first started doing your research on SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, did you have any idea of what a troubled behind-the-scenes, stressful production it was?

SK:: I had no idea. It was only when meeting Ernest Lehman, Ernie Lehman and getting to know him a little bit that you realize he was still carrying the scars of working for [Harold] Hecht and [Burt] Lancaster's company. It was only then that I realized....that fifty years later he's still carrying around the effects of that relationship.

TCM: It's a very sympathetic portrayal of him and of course I have huge admiration for him as a screenwriter...I always knew or read that Burt Lancaster was a very powerful and volatile personality but I don't think I ever realized - at least until I read this article - what a mean-spirited, SOB he could be.

SK::Oh yeah. Well, I think he was kind of a troubled guy....to some degree he was kind of a deeply closeted bisexual man...they did everything kind of to excess and he was kind of a bully and a brute. I remember someone said...I don't know if it was Kirk Douglas who told me this...but they said there was only one person in Hollywood they were afraid of, physically afraid of, and that was Burt Lancaster. And it was someone who was formidably male too....and Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, you know he kind of loomed over that group of men.

TCM: Ernie [Lehman] was actually lucky to have gotten out of it although he had an ulcer by the time he left.

SK::You know, Confidential Magazine had kind of outted Lancaster as an abuser of women...very screwed up guy. Unhealthy, as I was taught to say in therapy.

TCM: It's interesting that the stuff that was going on in the office behind the scenes with these three guys was also happening on the screen with..the Tony Curtis character procuring women for clients and stuff...

SK::That's true....it was a very strange place to work. Harold Hecht had a very, kind of periphetic career. I think he started out as a dancer or a tap dancer. He wound up as a literary agent. He liked to have his afternoon "snoot." And yet he was an incredible snitch during the Hollywood blacklist...I think someone described him as one of the chief informers. I mean he was just a nasty piece of work...but you know it was kind of an amazing place. They had this beautiful North Canon Drive office which used to belong to the William Morris Agency and it was kind of a great place..And they also maintained an apartment, I think, on Wiltshire Blvd where they could all meet women other than their wives. So it was like THE APARTMENT...It was apparently a kind of showplace...you know, great art on the wall like Utrillos and gold plated faucets...it was really a place for them to get laid.

TCM: I guess a lot of that was going on in Hollywood then...still is.

SK::But for them to actually have a production company with its own apartment for trysts..I mean that's gotta be somewhat unique.

TCM: In terms of Burt Lancaster's performance in the film, do you think it's one of his best?

SK:: I think so. I'm partial to this film because he's...far from a hero and he's playing much closer to his maleovent self. And those eyeglasses are like a terrifying weapon. You know, I'm partial to his very early and very late work. I'm no expert but that film where he plays the Swede - THE KILLERS - and then his autumnal work like in ATLANTIC CITY, the Louis Malle film. He's kind of wonderful in that. And, of course, TRAPEZE, is kind of stunning, all by itself for a lot of reasons. And on the other hand he's so energetic. Oh, and I don't want to forget...talk about a great autumnal work - his work in THE LEOPARD. That's very powerful. But I'm partial to SWEET SMELL just because that performance tells you just about everything you need to know about Burt Lancaster. TCM: Now that you know the behind the scenes story, he becomes the character - he IS the character.

SK::I remember watching that film with my mother when I was working on it. And even she didn't know any of the background thought that his relationship with his sister was incredibly creepy...Susan Harrison's character. It's a remarkable performance and I think that what happens in films like that is that it sort of elevates everyone's performance. Tony Curtis just takes your breath away in that part.

TCM: The one weak link for me and it's partly because of the character as written but it's the Susan Harrison character. There's not a lot there, even from a performance standpoint. You don't really know anything about this person. She's almost an enigma. And I was curious of how they came to cast her.

SK::It's curious, isn't it? You know, she re-emerged very soon after the piece came out on an early reality show where her daughter was involved in some controversy. It wasn't THE BACHELOR but it was something like that. And when her daughter either held a press conference or was starting to be stalked by the press - I wish I could remember what the show was - People Magazine, for example, showed a photograph of this young woman accompanied by this little old lady and it said "Former actress Susan Harrison" and it was her. So she was an eighteen year old actress, very pretty, from the Bronx. She didn't have any real experience as an actress. I think she was kind of a beatnik chick. She worked at the Limelight which was a Greenwich Village coffee house. But she had - I think we say in the piece - she had the look of a startled deer which sort of appealed to them. And I did meet a man - he recently passed away - who was a photographer who took pictures of a lot of ingenues in both Europe and Hollywood in that period. And he had an astonishing number - I think he must of kinda been in love with Susan Harrison - of photographs of her as a young woman. But to think of this young, inexperienced, somewhat frightened, psychologically delicate person in the clutches of Hecht and Lancaster - that's scary enough. And Tony [Curtis] and other people thought that she wasn't gonna make it, that somehow she wasn't going to survive the shoot without having a breakdown. So I think that kind of bewilderment and fragility that you see on screen - I don't think that was an act.

TCM: And nothing much happened after that. She sort of vanished...and nobody knew where she was for a long time.

SK::Well, I think it kind of traumatized her, sort of permanently. There was one anecdote - it was sort of this climatic scene and "Sandy" MacKendrick, the director, asked her...he said, "Look, this is where you gonna lock yourself in the room...and whatdaya think you'd want to do before you committed suicide?"..And she actually admitted that her way of killing herself would be to throw herself off a high building. And I think what no one knew was...that before she was actually going to be in the film ...she fell. A photographer was shooting her in a house behind the Chateau Marmont and she fell like ten feet off a kind of platform - so he told me that story and it was kind of shocking. So she had a kind of death wish in a way but she survived because she lived to appear in People Magazine as a little old lady....she was a lot stronger than people gave her credit for, I think.

TCM: One thing I always thought was very curious [about SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS] was the selection of British director Alexander Mackendrick because when you look at what he had done before - WHISKEY GALORE, THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT, THE LADYKILLERS - you wonder why the Hecht-Hill-Lancaster company had selected him as director because he didn't seem like the kind of person who would have been an obvious choice.

SK:: Right, that's true. But he was very well thought of..and he and his wife liked Hollywood and he turned down a lot of big studio offers because he sort of liked what Lancaster-Hill-Hecht were saying to him which was that he could direct - he was, you know, a Shavian, he loved Bernard Shaw - so he wanted to make a film of THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE - and they said he could do that. And you know that old expression about Hollywood, it's the only place where you could die of encouragement. So he kind of fell for them. They made him a lot of promises. But it was clear to everyone that he was kind of a brilliant guy. The funny thing is, he used to actually tell people that he was conceived in California. Yeah, he was born in Boston but he was most likely conceived in California. So he used to tell people that his mistrust of Hollywood was prenatal.

TCM: Unfortunately after working for Lancaster, it sounded like Lancaster had him blackballed from working on other films in Hollywood for years. It must have been true since he didn't make another movie for a long time - DON'T MAKE WAVES was made so much later. I was always curious why he didn't go back to England where he'd had a successful career....But maybe he wanted to sta in California where he liked the climate better.

SK::Yeah, I think he did and also he was starting a family. And the other thing that was going on - he did return to England and made a couple of films - but he came back at the end of the sixties. The poor guy, he spent like ten years, developing a movie about Mary, Queen of Scots and he was just about to make it and Universal cancelled on it. And so sadly and weirdly when he made DON'T MAKE WAVES - I mean, Tony Curtis was in it - and Sharon Tate, strangely enough - and he became very disenchanted. He used to say that "the deal" is the real product in Hollywood but that the movie is the by-product of the deal. So when the California Institute of the Arts came along and make him an offer to head up its film program, he took it, like a lot of talented directors for [whom] there just isn't enough work...I meant to say when I mentioned THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE that he had started working on that picture for Hecht-Hill-Lancaster but they fired him. So, in a way, he was almost say...that SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS was a consolation prize for Mackendrick from Hecht-Hill-Lancaster. Turned out to be his masterpiece, I think.

TCM: It will be great to see it on the big screen again at the TCM film festival.

SK::Oh, that's so exiting...and you know, the one thing that we haven't talked about is the great Clifford Odets dialogue. I mean he was typing this stuff up in the back of a truck in the middle of filming it.

TCM:...in the freezing cold, outside in this truck on a New York street in the middle of the night.

SK::It's amazing. He's a great hero of mine.

TCM: I think you mentioned in your article that David Brown had wanted to make SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS as a Broadway musical and I don't think that ever happened - or did it?

SK::Oh, IT DID!

TCM: Really?

SK::Yes, with John Lithgow as Hunsecker.

TCM: How did I miss that? Was it in the past decade?

SK::Yes, it was just a couple of years ago. You missed it because it was a tremendous flop. And it played for like a week on Broadway. And it was just a huge bust.

TCM: Did you happen to see it?

SK::I did, yes. And it was...terrible. It was one of the worst things I'd ever seen. It would have been better as an opera. And John Lithgow's such a wonderful actor and he couldn't breathe any life into it. That, and maybe the musical of SUNSET BLVD. are the two most memorably bad things ever seen on stage.

TCM: Years ago, I had read a pre-production gossip item about a possible remake of SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS with two female actresses. And they mentioned Faye Dunaway as Hunsecker and Bette Midler in the Tony Curtis role.

SK::God, that would have been funny. If nothing else, it would have been one of the great camp classics.

TCM: Let me move on to THE PRODUCERS. There's that intesting connection that I never realized before between THE GRADUATE and THE PRODUCERS with Dustin Hoffman - where he has actually being considered for the Kenneth Mars role at the time he got the call to go to Los Angeles to interview for THE GRADUATE.

SK::That's right. And one factors into the other, doesn't it? You know, he wanted to play Franz Liebkind and Sidney Glazier, the producer, liked Dustin a lot. But, of course, Dustin was the only person who wanted to play that part but Mel and all these other people didn't think that was such a great idea. And I think it was Mel Brooks who told me that someone was throwing rocks at his window and it was Dustin Hoffman...who was standing there saying, you know, I can't read, I can't do the audition...for Franz. I'm going to L.A. to audition for Mike Nichols to be in a movie with your wife. And Mel Brooks, he always had a rejoiner, said "Don't worry, you've gonna be back. They're going to get a better looking guy for the part. This part will still be waiting for you."

TCM: I read that Peter Sellers had taken out an ad in the New York papers to promote THE PRODUCERS because he was such a fan of it. But I had actually read somewhere that when they were first casting THE PRODUCERS that Mel Brooks or maybe it was Glazier wanted Peter Sellers...to play the Gene Wilder part. I thought that was fascinating but was never able to verify it from any sources.

SK::Yes, that's fascinating but no, I'd never heard that. Although I've always loved the story that was told to me about how Peter Sellers saw the film really by accident. He was in L.A. - I think Paul Mazursky told me this - He was making I LOVE YOU, ALICE B. TOKLAS....and they had a kind of movie club with dinner so Mazursky's wife would make dinner and they would watch movies. So they wanted to see a Fellini film and they couldn't get a hold of the print so they got a hold of THE PRODUCERS and he just ate it up. And he called Joseph E. Levine because Levine was just ready to put the film in a suitcase and stick it in his attic...and he [Sellers] called him in like the middle of the night and said "It's a masterpiece." And it was only a couple of days later that he took out this big ad in Variety..something like "Last Night I saw the ultimate film." And then when the movie opened, he took out another ad in The New York Times. So it was really because of the Mazursky dinner-movie club - and it was the substitute film, they wanted to see I VITELLONI or something like that. So they're stuck with THE PRODUCERS and it sort of changes everybody's life. That's what's so wonderful about some of these "making of" stories, the kind of serendipitious nature of it, you know what I mean? It's the accidents that sort of make the history. And it's a good life lesson of the great and awful things that come unbidden to us. And if you're just in the swim of it, anything can happen. So, in a way, it's about more than the movies too - it's about letting life happen to you but becoming engaged in it. That's why those stories are wonderful and exhilarating - it's not just because of the movie.

TCM: And that one is so interesting because it took so long for it to find its audience and become the huge cult film it is today.

SK::Well put. You couldn't have had more terrible reviews. I still actually remember just from the research - I never forgot it - Renata Adler, I think she was writing for The New York Times...and Mel Brooks, I think, has memorized the entire review, it was so terrible. You know, he can't get it out of his head despite all of his success. I think she said something like "Well, I suppose next we'll have cancer and Hiroshima as comedies." And Pauline Kael, I think, hated it as well. But, you know, he's like a lot of geniuses, he's ahead of his audience and ahead of the curve.

TCM: He's got the last laugh on this one. I read an interesting tidbit somewhere that said when it came out it was banned in Germany because of its negative portrayal of Germans which I thought had to be a joke...but apparently it was true....a couple of questions about some of your books. I love A TALENT FOR GENIUS which you co-wrote with Nancy Schoenberger. I read it when it came out and wondered if it was difficult even then to find a publisher for a book about Oscar Levant. Because even in 1994 he wasn't exactly a household name anymore.

SK::We just got incredibly lucky with that book in that the first person we showed it to at a division of Random House was old enough to know Oscar and to have that kind of mordant sense of humor and she kind of took it on. A very nice woman named Diane Reverand who was running an imprint of Random House at the time. And our agent for that book was the wife of the man who had published The Memoirs of an Amnesiac [by Oscar Levant]. And that also was a kind of coincidence. And you know Ben Stiller bought our book and had a screenplay adapted from it by Jerry Stahl, who did PERMANENT MIDNIGHT. So he adapted the book but I think Ben is having a harder time getting the Oscar Levant movie made...than we had getting the book in print. Which is a shame because it's a terrific screenplay. We read it last year and he'd be a wonderful Oscar Levant, I think.... I think it's be like that movie SHINE but with laughs...June Levant really made the book possible and we wouldn't have been able to do it without her and she's gone now too. So Oscar's world has really disappeared. When you look at the people we spoke to, it's like a necrology now. There's almost nobody around.

TCM: I was just watching him on TCM the other day in THE BAND WAGON in a scene with Nanette Fabrey...and just realizing how difficult he was in that movie for her...she's so animated and happy in the movie but you know [from your book] what was really going on.

SK::Oh, I know. He was apparently a horror and a misery. Have you ever seen any of the kinescopes from his local KCOP television show [in L.A.]?

TCM: No, and I was going to ask you about what you had seen or hear him perform to inspire you to write a book about him. I had only seen him on television in his later years or films made after his concert career was behind him.

SK::You know, I was in high school when he died. He wasn't really known to me except as a kind of scary weirdo on TV..on The Jack Paar Show.....Fred Astaire's agent filmed on kinescope Fred Astaire on THE OSCAR LEVANT SHOW and it's an amazing performance. Oscar is incredible and completely lunatic and Fred Astaire is wonderful and it's an hour of Oscar playing piano and Fred Astaire just sitting on a stool, a stool that came from Oscar's bar in his house. That's how makeshift the studio was.

TCM: One last question about one of your books, HOLLYWOOD KRYTONITE. When the film came out as HOLLYWOODLAND, did you and your co-writer receive a screen credit?

SK::Yes, we did. It was mentioned that it was based on our book but not in the opening credits. The screenwriter kind of fought - they bought our book - but he felt there was enough original material there - that second storyline about the [Adrien] Brody character, the detective that was made up - was enough to treat it as an original screenplay....and our work as the source material so we agreed to that. So we're in the credits - somewhere between Best Boy and I think the caterer's mother.

TCM: I had also read that someone was interested in opting your Sammy Davis Jr./Kim Novak Vanity Fair article.

SK::Yes, that's just been subjected to - you know, it's the same old story - endless rewriters. Andre Benjamin from Outkast was going to play Sammy Davis and he and the director have written about thirty versions of this movie...I mean to the point where I think Sammy Davis is now a white guy and Kim Novak is black. You know, I usually never lose my cool but I said, why don't you guys just make this a cartoon? It's gone through so many permutations and changes so..we'll see what happens.

TCM: With all these great articles and books you've written, when are you gonna get a chance to adapt your own screenplay?

SK::Well, wouldn't that be great?

TCM: I just don't understand that process in Hollywood. The people who can actually write and have created these great books or articles don't get a chance to adapt their own work.

SK::It's a mystery to me too. You know, we've done a couple...we've got this book coming out about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton's marriage so maybe they'll just us do that.

TCM: I would hope so. That, of course, would be an incredible film but you'd have to devote half of it to CLEOPATRA.

Interview conducted by Jeff Stafford

Author Sam Kashner on The Graduate, The Producers & Other Films Being Featured at the TCM Film Festival in April

Sam Kashner is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair who will be hosting three movies at the TCM Film Festival this April – The Graduate, Sweet Smell of Success, The Producers. Sam (pictured, photo by Henry Diltz) is also the the author of Sinatraland: A Novel (Overlook, 1999) and When I Was Cool (HarperCollins, 2004). He is also the co-author, with Nancy Schoenberger, of Hollywood Kryptonite (St. Martin's Press, 1996), which was the basis for the 2006 film Hollywoodland, and A Talent for Genius: The Life and Times of Oscar Levant (Silman-James, 1998), which is slated to be made into a film, with Ben Stiller as the great hypochondriac pianist. He was kind enough to answer questions about the above films and his books in a recent interview. TCM: I'd like to start off with questions about the Vanity Fair Tales of Hollywood articles you have written starting with THE GRADUATE. I read in your piece that Ava Gardner was considered for awhile as Mrs. Robinson but I guess I had always heard that Doris Day had been the first choice. I didn't know if you had come across any other information that she had actually gotten the script or commented on it. Sam Kashner: No, I mean there were people who thought it was tasteless...Mike Nichols and Larry Turman had met with Brian Keith, for example, to play the role of Mrs. Robinson's husband and he just thought that the book was tasteless. And so Mike Nichols essentially said, "Well, in that case we just won't do it"...but I did get Mike to talk about going to see Ava Gardner and how theatrical and over-the-top she was. She made all of her men friends - her all-male entourage - scatter and said to them in a theatrical way, "You know, I'm going to meet with my director now." And I think he knew at that point that it was probably impossible...Marty Melcher actually hated the book so much - I think he refused to even turn it over to Doris Day to read, you know...I think he said it was "dirty." TCM: And what about Gene Hackman being fired?...Did you get any other indication of what might have been the reasons for him being fired? SK::No, I think that Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman were not just friends but had roomed together. And on paper, these things sometimes seem like a great idea...but I think it just came down to a question of chemistry and also, believe it or not, size...because there's a scene in which...Mr. Robinson sort of jumps over the bed and crouches in fear from Ben..and whatever you want to say about Gene Hackman he's tall..and a big guy..and the idea - if he could even get himself over the bed and that he'd be cowering in front of Dustin Hoffman is kind of a joke on the face of it. So I think it was things like that that made them feel that...it wasn't a good fit TCM: I've never read the novel myself. Have you ever read the Charles Webb novel? SK::I have. It's a really good book. I mean, you can see instantly why Mr. Turman was determined to get the book and to try to make a movie out of it...When I looked at the old cast list - Turman had made a list on the back of his dentist's memo pad - and it had some amazing names in it like Deborah Kerr and Susan Hayward and Patricia Neal and Eva Marie Saint...I mean some of these people seem very unlikely but he did cast a kind of wide net at least on paper and then he got more realistic about it. TCM: Was the actual novel intended as a satire? SK::I actually thought that the novel was, in a way, kind of dark actually...and it was very good about placing...eh, describing the kind of limbo that kids are in when they get out of school...it was very good at anticipating the kind of angst and sort of lost generation quality that you'd see a lot of in the 60s and 70s. TCM: So I guess that explains why they first chose Calder Willingham to do the screenplay since he had worked on such dark dramas as THE STRANGE ONE and PATHS OF GLORY. SK::Yes, although they weren't crazy about the job he had done because he really turned it into...I AM CURIOUS, YELLOW or something..because he really was turning it into a real sex film and they just felt it was impossible to make that kind of movie. And it lacked that sort of droll, comical quality that, of course, Buck Henry instantly brought to it...Oh, I do want to tell you when we were talking earlier about casting that Mike did go to Robert Redford who was kind of a new friend of his...he had been in PLAZA SUITE and...he discussed the role with Redford, who really wanted the part actually as Benjamin...and Mike Nichols said, "Well, you can't really play this part because this guy is really kind of a loser." And he said, "What do you mean? Of course I can play a loser," and so Mike said, "Tell me, have you ever struck out with a girl?" and he said, "Whatdaya mean, striking out?" He didn't know what he was talking about and he wasn't joking. So he [Nichols] said, "I rest my case"..... I think right from the start...they were thinking tall and blonde...it was really Southern California and that's why Candice Bergen and Charles Grodin auditioned together at one point. But then Mike had this kind of revelation, actually based on reading a story by Henry James called "The Beast in the Jungle" which kind of transfigured his perception of the movie and the characters and...that led him in a way to Dustin Hoffman and in to making it very different. TCM: The one thing that's really interesting about all the behind-the-scenes stories on THE GRADUATE is Charles Webb, the author of the novel. I didn't realize what a strange life he's had. SK::Yeah, I think he is...he actually inherited - Charles Webb did - a not insignificant amount of money from his dad. They [Webb & his wife] turned that down and they lived as kind of vagabonds, you know on campgrounds and trailer parks..very, very strange...and fairly recently he kind of came out of hiding when he was about to be evicted I think..and that's when a lot of this became known...you know he wrote a sequel that sort of takes Benjamin through the seventies... TCM: Home School [The name of the sequel to THE GRADUATE.] SK::The thing I love about the Charlie Webb story is that...one of his children, I think his son became a performance artist and one of his performances pieces was to eat his father's novel in front of an audience. TCM: The strangeness continues... SK::Yes...it might be my favorite story after ten years of covering "the making of" movies..that might be my best kind of coda story...that the son of one of the makers actually ate the product. TCM: Maybe somebody will do a book about Charles Webb because he would make a great topic... SK::Or a documentary. You know, The Marriage of a Stockbroker and Hope Springs are both based on his novels. So, he's done all right by the movies. And the movies would have done all right by him but he seems he's just one of these people who is determined to be poor. TCM: One thing that I think was interesting was that Dustin Hoffman didn't rush into another major motion picture which seems to be the obvious reaction these days with anybody that becomes successful right away. And it was almost two years before he was in another film which was Midnight Cowboy. Did you come across any research about that decision? SK::First of all, I think the success of the movie and the fact that he instantly became an almost iconic symbol of that new lost generation..I think...he would be a little entitled to be a little freaked out by it and his career has always been characterized by kind of agonizing decision-making obou what his next role would be. And don't forget, he came out of the theatre. And there's the age old thing about... the movies you know. That was still an issue..in the mid 1960s, this idea of the theatre vs. the movies. And I don't think it was a coincidence that he went....back to the theatre for awhile and also I think just adjusting to his fame. TCM: Just out of curiosity, did you ever see the Broadway play with Kathleen Turner and Jason Biggs of THE GRADUATE. SK::No, I didn't. TCM: Let's talk about SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS...when you first started doing your research on SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, did you have any idea of what a troubled behind-the-scenes, stressful production it was? SK:: I had no idea. It was only when meeting Ernest Lehman, Ernie Lehman and getting to know him a little bit that you realize he was still carrying the scars of working for [Harold] Hecht and [Burt] Lancaster's company. It was only then that I realized....that fifty years later he's still carrying around the effects of that relationship. TCM: It's a very sympathetic portrayal of him and of course I have huge admiration for him as a screenwriter...I always knew or read that Burt Lancaster was a very powerful and volatile personality but I don't think I ever realized - at least until I read this article - what a mean-spirited, SOB he could be. SK::Oh yeah. Well, I think he was kind of a troubled guy....to some degree he was kind of a deeply closeted bisexual man...they did everything kind of to excess and he was kind of a bully and a brute. I remember someone said...I don't know if it was Kirk Douglas who told me this...but they said there was only one person in Hollywood they were afraid of, physically afraid of, and that was Burt Lancaster. And it was someone who was formidably male too....and Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, you know he kind of loomed over that group of men. TCM: Ernie [Lehman] was actually lucky to have gotten out of it although he had an ulcer by the time he left. SK::You know, Confidential Magazine had kind of outted Lancaster as an abuser of women...very screwed up guy. Unhealthy, as I was taught to say in therapy. TCM: It's interesting that the stuff that was going on in the office behind the scenes with these three guys was also happening on the screen with..the Tony Curtis character procuring women for clients and stuff... SK::That's true....it was a very strange place to work. Harold Hecht had a very, kind of periphetic career. I think he started out as a dancer or a tap dancer. He wound up as a literary agent. He liked to have his afternoon "snoot." And yet he was an incredible snitch during the Hollywood blacklist...I think someone described him as one of the chief informers. I mean he was just a nasty piece of work...but you know it was kind of an amazing place. They had this beautiful North Canon Drive office which used to belong to the William Morris Agency and it was kind of a great place..And they also maintained an apartment, I think, on Wiltshire Blvd where they could all meet women other than their wives. So it was like THE APARTMENT...It was apparently a kind of showplace...you know, great art on the wall like Utrillos and gold plated faucets...it was really a place for them to get laid. TCM: I guess a lot of that was going on in Hollywood then...still is. SK::But for them to actually have a production company with its own apartment for trysts..I mean that's gotta be somewhat unique. TCM: In terms of Burt Lancaster's performance in the film, do you think it's one of his best? SK:: I think so. I'm partial to this film because he's...far from a hero and he's playing much closer to his maleovent self. And those eyeglasses are like a terrifying weapon. You know, I'm partial to his very early and very late work. I'm no expert but that film where he plays the Swede - THE KILLERS - and then his autumnal work like in ATLANTIC CITY, the Louis Malle film. He's kind of wonderful in that. And, of course, TRAPEZE, is kind of stunning, all by itself for a lot of reasons. And on the other hand he's so energetic. Oh, and I don't want to forget...talk about a great autumnal work - his work in THE LEOPARD. That's very powerful. But I'm partial to SWEET SMELL just because that performance tells you just about everything you need to know about Burt Lancaster. TCM: Now that you know the behind the scenes story, he becomes the character - he IS the character. SK::I remember watching that film with my mother when I was working on it. And even she didn't know any of the background thought that his relationship with his sister was incredibly creepy...Susan Harrison's character. It's a remarkable performance and I think that what happens in films like that is that it sort of elevates everyone's performance. Tony Curtis just takes your breath away in that part. TCM: The one weak link for me and it's partly because of the character as written but it's the Susan Harrison character. There's not a lot there, even from a performance standpoint. You don't really know anything about this person. She's almost an enigma. And I was curious of how they came to cast her. SK::It's curious, isn't it? You know, she re-emerged very soon after the piece came out on an early reality show where her daughter was involved in some controversy. It wasn't THE BACHELOR but it was something like that. And when her daughter either held a press conference or was starting to be stalked by the press - I wish I could remember what the show was - People Magazine, for example, showed a photograph of this young woman accompanied by this little old lady and it said "Former actress Susan Harrison" and it was her. So she was an eighteen year old actress, very pretty, from the Bronx. She didn't have any real experience as an actress. I think she was kind of a beatnik chick. She worked at the Limelight which was a Greenwich Village coffee house. But she had - I think we say in the piece - she had the look of a startled deer which sort of appealed to them. And I did meet a man - he recently passed away - who was a photographer who took pictures of a lot of ingenues in both Europe and Hollywood in that period. And he had an astonishing number - I think he must of kinda been in love with Susan Harrison - of photographs of her as a young woman. But to think of this young, inexperienced, somewhat frightened, psychologically delicate person in the clutches of Hecht and Lancaster - that's scary enough. And Tony [Curtis] and other people thought that she wasn't gonna make it, that somehow she wasn't going to survive the shoot without having a breakdown. So I think that kind of bewilderment and fragility that you see on screen - I don't think that was an act. TCM: And nothing much happened after that. She sort of vanished...and nobody knew where she was for a long time. SK::Well, I think it kind of traumatized her, sort of permanently. There was one anecdote - it was sort of this climatic scene and "Sandy" MacKendrick, the director, asked her...he said, "Look, this is where you gonna lock yourself in the room...and whatdaya think you'd want to do before you committed suicide?"..And she actually admitted that her way of killing herself would be to throw herself off a high building. And I think what no one knew was...that before she was actually going to be in the film ...she fell. A photographer was shooting her in a house behind the Chateau Marmont and she fell like ten feet off a kind of platform - so he told me that story and it was kind of shocking. So she had a kind of death wish in a way but she survived because she lived to appear in People Magazine as a little old lady....she was a lot stronger than people gave her credit for, I think. TCM: One thing I always thought was very curious [about SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS] was the selection of British director Alexander Mackendrick because when you look at what he had done before - WHISKEY GALORE, THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT, THE LADYKILLERS - you wonder why the Hecht-Hill-Lancaster company had selected him as director because he didn't seem like the kind of person who would have been an obvious choice. SK:: Right, that's true. But he was very well thought of..and he and his wife liked Hollywood and he turned down a lot of big studio offers because he sort of liked what Lancaster-Hill-Hecht were saying to him which was that he could direct - he was, you know, a Shavian, he loved Bernard Shaw - so he wanted to make a film of THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE - and they said he could do that. And you know that old expression about Hollywood, it's the only place where you could die of encouragement. So he kind of fell for them. They made him a lot of promises. But it was clear to everyone that he was kind of a brilliant guy. The funny thing is, he used to actually tell people that he was conceived in California. Yeah, he was born in Boston but he was most likely conceived in California. So he used to tell people that his mistrust of Hollywood was prenatal. TCM: Unfortunately after working for Lancaster, it sounded like Lancaster had him blackballed from working on other films in Hollywood for years. It must have been true since he didn't make another movie for a long time - DON'T MAKE WAVES was made so much later. I was always curious why he didn't go back to England where he'd had a successful career....But maybe he wanted to sta in California where he liked the climate better. SK::Yeah, I think he did and also he was starting a family. And the other thing that was going on - he did return to England and made a couple of films - but he came back at the end of the sixties. The poor guy, he spent like ten years, developing a movie about Mary, Queen of Scots and he was just about to make it and Universal cancelled on it. And so sadly and weirdly when he made DON'T MAKE WAVES - I mean, Tony Curtis was in it - and Sharon Tate, strangely enough - and he became very disenchanted. He used to say that "the deal" is the real product in Hollywood but that the movie is the by-product of the deal. So when the California Institute of the Arts came along and make him an offer to head up its film program, he took it, like a lot of talented directors for [whom] there just isn't enough work...I meant to say when I mentioned THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE that he had started working on that picture for Hecht-Hill-Lancaster but they fired him. So, in a way, he was almost say...that SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS was a consolation prize for Mackendrick from Hecht-Hill-Lancaster. Turned out to be his masterpiece, I think. TCM: It will be great to see it on the big screen again at the TCM film festival. SK::Oh, that's so exiting...and you know, the one thing that we haven't talked about is the great Clifford Odets dialogue. I mean he was typing this stuff up in the back of a truck in the middle of filming it. TCM:...in the freezing cold, outside in this truck on a New York street in the middle of the night. SK::It's amazing. He's a great hero of mine. TCM: I think you mentioned in your article that David Brown had wanted to make SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS as a Broadway musical and I don't think that ever happened - or did it? SK::Oh, IT DID! TCM: Really? SK::Yes, with John Lithgow as Hunsecker. TCM: How did I miss that? Was it in the past decade? SK::Yes, it was just a couple of years ago. You missed it because it was a tremendous flop. And it played for like a week on Broadway. And it was just a huge bust. TCM: Did you happen to see it? SK::I did, yes. And it was...terrible. It was one of the worst things I'd ever seen. It would have been better as an opera. And John Lithgow's such a wonderful actor and he couldn't breathe any life into it. That, and maybe the musical of SUNSET BLVD. are the two most memorably bad things ever seen on stage. TCM: Years ago, I had read a pre-production gossip item about a possible remake of SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS with two female actresses. And they mentioned Faye Dunaway as Hunsecker and Bette Midler in the Tony Curtis role. SK::God, that would have been funny. If nothing else, it would have been one of the great camp classics. TCM: Let me move on to THE PRODUCERS. There's that intesting connection that I never realized before between THE GRADUATE and THE PRODUCERS with Dustin Hoffman - where he has actually being considered for the Kenneth Mars role at the time he got the call to go to Los Angeles to interview for THE GRADUATE. SK::That's right. And one factors into the other, doesn't it? You know, he wanted to play Franz Liebkind and Sidney Glazier, the producer, liked Dustin a lot. But, of course, Dustin was the only person who wanted to play that part but Mel and all these other people didn't think that was such a great idea. And I think it was Mel Brooks who told me that someone was throwing rocks at his window and it was Dustin Hoffman...who was standing there saying, you know, I can't read, I can't do the audition...for Franz. I'm going to L.A. to audition for Mike Nichols to be in a movie with your wife. And Mel Brooks, he always had a rejoiner, said "Don't worry, you've gonna be back. They're going to get a better looking guy for the part. This part will still be waiting for you." TCM: I read that Peter Sellers had taken out an ad in the New York papers to promote THE PRODUCERS because he was such a fan of it. But I had actually read somewhere that when they were first casting THE PRODUCERS that Mel Brooks or maybe it was Glazier wanted Peter Sellers...to play the Gene Wilder part. I thought that was fascinating but was never able to verify it from any sources. SK::Yes, that's fascinating but no, I'd never heard that. Although I've always loved the story that was told to me about how Peter Sellers saw the film really by accident. He was in L.A. - I think Paul Mazursky told me this - He was making I LOVE YOU, ALICE B. TOKLAS....and they had a kind of movie club with dinner so Mazursky's wife would make dinner and they would watch movies. So they wanted to see a Fellini film and they couldn't get a hold of the print so they got a hold of THE PRODUCERS and he just ate it up. And he called Joseph E. Levine because Levine was just ready to put the film in a suitcase and stick it in his attic...and he [Sellers] called him in like the middle of the night and said "It's a masterpiece." And it was only a couple of days later that he took out this big ad in Variety..something like "Last Night I saw the ultimate film." And then when the movie opened, he took out another ad in The New York Times. So it was really because of the Mazursky dinner-movie club - and it was the substitute film, they wanted to see I VITELLONI or something like that. So they're stuck with THE PRODUCERS and it sort of changes everybody's life. That's what's so wonderful about some of these "making of" stories, the kind of serendipitious nature of it, you know what I mean? It's the accidents that sort of make the history. And it's a good life lesson of the great and awful things that come unbidden to us. And if you're just in the swim of it, anything can happen. So, in a way, it's about more than the movies too - it's about letting life happen to you but becoming engaged in it. That's why those stories are wonderful and exhilarating - it's not just because of the movie. TCM: And that one is so interesting because it took so long for it to find its audience and become the huge cult film it is today. SK::Well put. You couldn't have had more terrible reviews. I still actually remember just from the research - I never forgot it - Renata Adler, I think she was writing for The New York Times...and Mel Brooks, I think, has memorized the entire review, it was so terrible. You know, he can't get it out of his head despite all of his success. I think she said something like "Well, I suppose next we'll have cancer and Hiroshima as comedies." And Pauline Kael, I think, hated it as well. But, you know, he's like a lot of geniuses, he's ahead of his audience and ahead of the curve. TCM: He's got the last laugh on this one. I read an interesting tidbit somewhere that said when it came out it was banned in Germany because of its negative portrayal of Germans which I thought had to be a joke...but apparently it was true....a couple of questions about some of your books. I love A TALENT FOR GENIUS which you co-wrote with Nancy Schoenberger. I read it when it came out and wondered if it was difficult even then to find a publisher for a book about Oscar Levant. Because even in 1994 he wasn't exactly a household name anymore. SK::We just got incredibly lucky with that book in that the first person we showed it to at a division of Random House was old enough to know Oscar and to have that kind of mordant sense of humor and she kind of took it on. A very nice woman named Diane Reverand who was running an imprint of Random House at the time. And our agent for that book was the wife of the man who had published The Memoirs of an Amnesiac [by Oscar Levant]. And that also was a kind of coincidence. And you know Ben Stiller bought our book and had a screenplay adapted from it by Jerry Stahl, who did PERMANENT MIDNIGHT. So he adapted the book but I think Ben is having a harder time getting the Oscar Levant movie made...than we had getting the book in print. Which is a shame because it's a terrific screenplay. We read it last year and he'd be a wonderful Oscar Levant, I think.... I think it's be like that movie SHINE but with laughs...June Levant really made the book possible and we wouldn't have been able to do it without her and she's gone now too. So Oscar's world has really disappeared. When you look at the people we spoke to, it's like a necrology now. There's almost nobody around. TCM: I was just watching him on TCM the other day in THE BAND WAGON in a scene with Nanette Fabrey...and just realizing how difficult he was in that movie for her...she's so animated and happy in the movie but you know [from your book] what was really going on. SK::Oh, I know. He was apparently a horror and a misery. Have you ever seen any of the kinescopes from his local KCOP television show [in L.A.]? TCM: No, and I was going to ask you about what you had seen or hear him perform to inspire you to write a book about him. I had only seen him on television in his later years or films made after his concert career was behind him. SK::You know, I was in high school when he died. He wasn't really known to me except as a kind of scary weirdo on TV..on The Jack Paar Show.....Fred Astaire's agent filmed on kinescope Fred Astaire on THE OSCAR LEVANT SHOW and it's an amazing performance. Oscar is incredible and completely lunatic and Fred Astaire is wonderful and it's an hour of Oscar playing piano and Fred Astaire just sitting on a stool, a stool that came from Oscar's bar in his house. That's how makeshift the studio was. TCM: One last question about one of your books, HOLLYWOOD KRYTONITE. When the film came out as HOLLYWOODLAND, did you and your co-writer receive a screen credit? SK::Yes, we did. It was mentioned that it was based on our book but not in the opening credits. The screenwriter kind of fought - they bought our book - but he felt there was enough original material there - that second storyline about the [Adrien] Brody character, the detective that was made up - was enough to treat it as an original screenplay....and our work as the source material so we agreed to that. So we're in the credits - somewhere between Best Boy and I think the caterer's mother. TCM: I had also read that someone was interested in opting your Sammy Davis Jr./Kim Novak Vanity Fair article. SK::Yes, that's just been subjected to - you know, it's the same old story - endless rewriters. Andre Benjamin from Outkast was going to play Sammy Davis and he and the director have written about thirty versions of this movie...I mean to the point where I think Sammy Davis is now a white guy and Kim Novak is black. You know, I usually never lose my cool but I said, why don't you guys just make this a cartoon? It's gone through so many permutations and changes so..we'll see what happens. TCM: With all these great articles and books you've written, when are you gonna get a chance to adapt your own screenplay? SK::Well, wouldn't that be great? TCM: I just don't understand that process in Hollywood. The people who can actually write and have created these great books or articles don't get a chance to adapt their own work. SK::It's a mystery to me too. You know, we've done a couple...we've got this book coming out about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton's marriage so maybe they'll just us do that. TCM: I would hope so. That, of course, would be an incredible film but you'd have to devote half of it to CLEOPATRA. Interview conducted by Jeff Stafford

The Producers - Special Edition on DVD


We hold these truths to be self-evident: that special edition DVDs should not go out of print and be replaced by movie-only discs, and that two-disc DVDs should contain more bonuses than their one-disc predecessors.

Alas, both of these truths have been violated in the three DVDs to be released of Mel Brooks’s 1968 comedy, The Producers. The first, 2002's perfectly fine "special edition" disc, was mysteriously succeeded by a 2003 movie-only disc. Now, to coincide with the theatrical run of the movie-musical remake, comes the two-disc "deluxe edition" that is essentially just the two-sided 2002 disc spread to two discs. In other words, it's pretty pointless, even more of a rehash than the movie musical in which, as unscrupulous title characters Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, respectively, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick do little more than imitate original stars Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.

The features carried over from the 2002 disc are still outstanding. There's an in-depth, 64-minute documentary about the genesis, filming and release of the 1968 movie that interviews Brooks, such cast members as Wilder, Kenneth Mars and Lee Meredith and behind-the-scenes personnel including composer John Morris and choreographer Alan Johnson. Few hour-long DVD-bonus documentaries are as good. There's also one deleted scene featuring the drunk played by William Hickey (later of Prizzi's Honor and a gallery of production designer Charles Rosen's set drawings, among other extras.

If you don't have the 2002 DVD, by all means grab this. It still contains a true comedy classic, with ethically-challenged Bialystock (Mostel) and Bloom (Wilder) coming up with a "can't-lose" way to illegally turn a flop into a moneymaker: overfinance a bad play and then run off with the excess money after it quickly closes. American movie comedy had rarely been as flat-out aggressive as The Producers in the 35 years since the dreaded Production Code had straitjacketed the wild impulses fueling such early-1930s comedies as Duck Soup, Red Dust and Call Her Savage, and made the genre safe again for men, women and children. Brooks's debut as writer-director unabashedly tramples on convention and decency, as Bialystock and Bloom find a Hitler-praising script written by unreformed Nazi Franz Liebkind (Mars) and proceed to put this musical on Broadway. (The 1968 contains a musical-within-a-movie and three songs; the new movie musical contains over a dozen songs.)

Brooks's movie is as funny as ever, but by reformatting the 2002 DVD to two discs, giving it new packaging and the "deluxe edition" moniker, the implication is that the new disc enhances the old version. It doesn’t. The only addition is a trailer for the remake, which the "deluxe edition" gives the highfalutin name A Look at the New Theatrical Release: The Producers, probably the most excessive name ever given to a commercial. The new 2-disc set actually removes the hidden "Easter eggs" on the previous disc, which were only chintzy little audio-outtake sound bites from the dialogue dubbing sessions. But it probably would have required less effort to just leave them there.

It's hard to fathom why home-video labels release discs like the extremely flimsy two-disc re-release of The Deer Hunter that came out last fall or The Producers "deluxe edition." Obviously, if everyone had left well enough alone and kept the 2002 The Producers DVD in print, such dubious marketing could have been easily avoided. But if brewing consumer dissatisfaction and distrust is the plan, these companies are certainly succeeding.

For more information about The Producers, visit MGM. To order The Producers, go to TCM Shopping.

by Paul Sherman

The Producers - Special Edition on DVD

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that special edition DVDs should not go out of print and be replaced by movie-only discs, and that two-disc DVDs should contain more bonuses than their one-disc predecessors. Alas, both of these truths have been violated in the three DVDs to be released of Mel Brooks’s 1968 comedy, The Producers. The first, 2002's perfectly fine "special edition" disc, was mysteriously succeeded by a 2003 movie-only disc. Now, to coincide with the theatrical run of the movie-musical remake, comes the two-disc "deluxe edition" that is essentially just the two-sided 2002 disc spread to two discs. In other words, it's pretty pointless, even more of a rehash than the movie musical in which, as unscrupulous title characters Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, respectively, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick do little more than imitate original stars Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. The features carried over from the 2002 disc are still outstanding. There's an in-depth, 64-minute documentary about the genesis, filming and release of the 1968 movie that interviews Brooks, such cast members as Wilder, Kenneth Mars and Lee Meredith and behind-the-scenes personnel including composer John Morris and choreographer Alan Johnson. Few hour-long DVD-bonus documentaries are as good. There's also one deleted scene featuring the drunk played by William Hickey (later of Prizzi's Honor and a gallery of production designer Charles Rosen's set drawings, among other extras. If you don't have the 2002 DVD, by all means grab this. It still contains a true comedy classic, with ethically-challenged Bialystock (Mostel) and Bloom (Wilder) coming up with a "can't-lose" way to illegally turn a flop into a moneymaker: overfinance a bad play and then run off with the excess money after it quickly closes. American movie comedy had rarely been as flat-out aggressive as The Producers in the 35 years since the dreaded Production Code had straitjacketed the wild impulses fueling such early-1930s comedies as Duck Soup, Red Dust and Call Her Savage, and made the genre safe again for men, women and children. Brooks's debut as writer-director unabashedly tramples on convention and decency, as Bialystock and Bloom find a Hitler-praising script written by unreformed Nazi Franz Liebkind (Mars) and proceed to put this musical on Broadway. (The 1968 contains a musical-within-a-movie and three songs; the new movie musical contains over a dozen songs.) Brooks's movie is as funny as ever, but by reformatting the 2002 DVD to two discs, giving it new packaging and the "deluxe edition" moniker, the implication is that the new disc enhances the old version. It doesn’t. The only addition is a trailer for the remake, which the "deluxe edition" gives the highfalutin name A Look at the New Theatrical Release: The Producers, probably the most excessive name ever given to a commercial. The new 2-disc set actually removes the hidden "Easter eggs" on the previous disc, which were only chintzy little audio-outtake sound bites from the dialogue dubbing sessions. But it probably would have required less effort to just leave them there. It's hard to fathom why home-video labels release discs like the extremely flimsy two-disc re-release of The Deer Hunter that came out last fall or The Producers "deluxe edition." Obviously, if everyone had left well enough alone and kept the 2002 The Producers DVD in print, such dubious marketing could have been easily avoided. But if brewing consumer dissatisfaction and distrust is the plan, these companies are certainly succeeding. For more information about The Producers, visit MGM. To order The Producers, go to TCM Shopping. by Paul Sherman

Restorations - The Producers


THE GREATEST COMEDY TEAM SINCE LAUREL AND HARDY?

The Producers is considered by many to be one of the top comedies of all time; this 1968 film ranked at number eleven on the American Film Institute's list of the top one hundred comedies. The film, which has grown to cult status, is noteworthy for a number of reasons: first, it marked Mel Brooks' directorial film debut. Brooks had begun his career in stand-up comedy, then moved into writing for the television comedies You Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour. After winning an Oscar in 1963 for his animated short The Critic, Brooks received financial backing from Joseph E. Levine to direct his hilarious original screenplay The Producers. Beginning June 7th, the Film Forum in New York City will present a brand new 35mm print of The Producers, courtesy of Railto Pictures, along with Brooks' short subject, The Critic. Hopefully, the newly restored print of The Producers will be played in other theatres across the United States.

For his debut feature, Brooks cast three-time Tony Award winner Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock, a failing Broadway producer who has been reduced to wearing a cardboard belt and taking money from elderly women in exchange for fulfilling their sexual fantasies. Mostel had taken a break from the silver screen somewhat unwillingly, as a result of being blacklisted during the McCarthy era Communist hunt. He had continued to act on stage, then made his return to movies in 1966 with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The Producers cemented Mostel's reputation as a zany comedian, and did much to restore his popularity with film audiences.

The Producers plays like a demented parody of the Hollywood musical, particularly the ones where Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney decide to "put on a show in the old barn." It¿s also a blistering assault on the dubious ethics at work in the business side of the Hollywood movie industry as well as Broadway. Filled with some of the funniest dialogue in contemporary screen comedy, The Producers reconnected audiences with a tradition of American film humor that had not been seen since the heyday of W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers. Furthermore, it encouraged other comedy writers like Woody Allen to take up directing in order to express their own comic vision. The film's freewheeling style and unique mixture of sight and sound gags, vaudeville routines, and blackout sketches pushed the envelope with potentially tasteless jokes and humor. But critics and audiences of the late sixties obviously relished the irreverent humor and The Producers quickly developed a cult following. Its success also allowed Mel Brooks to continue making comedies which expanded on this "anything goes" formula like Blazing Saddles (1974) and inspired future filmmakers like John Landis (The Kentucky Fried Movie, 1977) and Jim Abrahams, Jerry and David Zucker (Airplane!, 1980).

For more information about The Producers , visit the FILM FORUM.

By Sarah Heiman & Scott McGee

Restorations - The Producers

THE GREATEST COMEDY TEAM SINCE LAUREL AND HARDY? The Producers is considered by many to be one of the top comedies of all time; this 1968 film ranked at number eleven on the American Film Institute's list of the top one hundred comedies. The film, which has grown to cult status, is noteworthy for a number of reasons: first, it marked Mel Brooks' directorial film debut. Brooks had begun his career in stand-up comedy, then moved into writing for the television comedies You Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour. After winning an Oscar in 1963 for his animated short The Critic, Brooks received financial backing from Joseph E. Levine to direct his hilarious original screenplay The Producers. Beginning June 7th, the Film Forum in New York City will present a brand new 35mm print of The Producers, courtesy of Railto Pictures, along with Brooks' short subject, The Critic. Hopefully, the newly restored print of The Producers will be played in other theatres across the United States. For his debut feature, Brooks cast three-time Tony Award winner Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock, a failing Broadway producer who has been reduced to wearing a cardboard belt and taking money from elderly women in exchange for fulfilling their sexual fantasies. Mostel had taken a break from the silver screen somewhat unwillingly, as a result of being blacklisted during the McCarthy era Communist hunt. He had continued to act on stage, then made his return to movies in 1966 with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The Producers cemented Mostel's reputation as a zany comedian, and did much to restore his popularity with film audiences. The Producers plays like a demented parody of the Hollywood musical, particularly the ones where Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney decide to "put on a show in the old barn." It¿s also a blistering assault on the dubious ethics at work in the business side of the Hollywood movie industry as well as Broadway. Filled with some of the funniest dialogue in contemporary screen comedy, The Producers reconnected audiences with a tradition of American film humor that had not been seen since the heyday of W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers. Furthermore, it encouraged other comedy writers like Woody Allen to take up directing in order to express their own comic vision. The film's freewheeling style and unique mixture of sight and sound gags, vaudeville routines, and blackout sketches pushed the envelope with potentially tasteless jokes and humor. But critics and audiences of the late sixties obviously relished the irreverent humor and The Producers quickly developed a cult following. Its success also allowed Mel Brooks to continue making comedies which expanded on this "anything goes" formula like Blazing Saddles (1974) and inspired future filmmakers like John Landis (The Kentucky Fried Movie, 1977) and Jim Abrahams, Jerry and David Zucker (Airplane!, 1980). For more information about The Producers , visit the FILM FORUM. By Sarah Heiman & Scott McGee

Quotes

What's the matter with you?
- Max Bialystock
I'm hysterical! I'm having hysterics! I'm hysterical! I can't stop when I get like this. I can't stop. I'm hysterical. Oh my god. Ah-la-la-la.
- Leo Bloom
... I'm wet! I'm wet! I'm hysterical and I'm wet!
- Leo Bloom
...I'm in pain! I'm in pain, and I'm wet!... and I'm still hysterical!
- Leo Bloom
No, no, no don't hit, don't hit. It doesn't help. It only increases my sense of danger.
- Leo Bloom
Ah, Bialystock and Bloom, I presume! Heh heh, forgive the pun!
- Roger De Bris
What pun?
- Leo Bloom
Shut up, he thinks he's witty.
- Max Bialystock
Gut da, por day!
- Ulla
Uh, I beg your pardon?
- Leo Bloom
Gut da, por day!
- Ulla
Ah, gut da! Max, have you gone mad? A receptionist who can't speak English? What will people say?
- Leo Bloom
They'll say, "A wuma wa wa wa wa!"
- Max Bialystock
That's it, baby, when you've got it, flaunt it, flaunt it!
- Max Bialystock
"Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to discover that he had been transformed into a giant cockroach." Nah, it's too good.
- Max Bialystock

Trivia

'Brooks, Mel' ' voice is dubbed in for a singer in "Springtime for Hitler".

The "Springtime for Hitler" sequences were filmed at Broadway's Playhouse Theater (torn down in 1969), whose marquee can be glimpsed momentarily. However, in the scene where the theater blows up, we see the marquee of the Cort Theater, which stood (and still stands) across 48th Street from the Playhouse.

The character played by Gene Wilder is named Leo Bloom. His co-star Zero Mostel became famous for his portrayal of James Joyce's character Leopold Bloom in an off-broadway production of Ulysses In Nighttown.

Because of the "Springtime For Hitler" musical number, the film was banned in Germany. It wasn't shown in that country until it was included in a film festival featuring the works of Jewish filmmakers.

'Brooks, Mel' wrote the libretto of a real-life Broadway musical flop, "All American", which starred Ray Bolger and ran for 80 performances in 1962.

Notes

Location scenes filmed in New York City. Writer-director Mel Brooks reworked The Producers as a theatrical musical, which opened on Broadway on April 19, 2001. The hit show featured music and lyrics by Brooks, with the book by Brooks and Thomas Meehan. In 2005, Universal released a film version of the musical play, also entitled The Producers. Directed by Susan Stroman, the 2005 film featured Nathan Lane as "Max Bialystock" and Matthew Broderick as "Leo Bloom," the roles they played in the original Broadway run.

Miscellaneous Notes

1968 Writers Guild of America Award for Best-Written Original Screenplay.

Released in United States Winter December 1967

Re-released in United States June 7, 2002

Re-released in United States on Video June 2, 1993

Released in United States 1982

Originally released by Nelson Entertainment (video-USA)

Released in USA on video.

Released in United States Winter December 1967

Re-released in United States June 7, 2002 (Film Forum; New York City)

Re-released in United States on Video June 2, 1993

Released in United States 1982 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition ("Marathon of Mirth": Comedy Marathon) March 16 - April 1, 1982.)