Mel Brooks gets emotional talking about Gene Wilder in 'Young Frankenstein'

LOS ANGELES — Mel Brooks introduced one of the funniest movies ever made, Young Frankenstein, on Wednesday night. But the director couldn't hold back tears.

Brooks paid homage to Gene Wilder, the star and co-writer of the 1974 classic comedy, before showing Young Frankenstein on the 20th Century Fox lot.

The live event was beamed to theaters around the country and turned into a tribute to Wilder, who died Aug. 29 at age 83.

"I get just a little overcome," said Brooks, 90, from the stage, dabbing his eyes as he discussed Wilder. "I've had a few great memories in my life. But, honestly, I think making Young Frankenstein is my best year."

Afterward, Brooks spoke to USA TODAY about his friend and frequent collaborator. 

Wilder sparked the genesis of Young Frankenstein while the two were shooting the Old West comedy Blazing Saddles. Brooks noticed his star writing ideas on a yellow legal pad during a set lunch break.

This became the story of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein — the respected American descendant to the infamous Dr. Victor Frankenstein — who begins to recreate his grandfather's experiments to bring a monster to life.

"It was a lucky accident that I saw him scribbling on that pad in his cowboy outfit," said Brooks, who was immediately floored by the concept.  "This idea he had just overtook me. I was so excited about this, I couldn't sleep at night."

The film stars Peter Boyle (as The Monster), Marty FeldmanMadeline KahnCloris Leachman and Teri GarrGene Hackman, who played tennis with Wilder, insisted on taking a part for scale wages. "So he lent his prestige," said Brooks.

"I never directed a moment in that movie, but I cast it impeccably," he said.

Brooks and Wilder had "one fight" shooting Young Frankenstein. The disagreement arose when Wilder insisted on a scene in which his Frederick Frankenstein sang and danced to Puttin' on the Ritz with his tuxedo-wearing monster.

Brooks didn't think the scene worked and would "ruin" the film. The two compromised, shooting the scene with the option to leave it out.

"We filmed it and I said, 'Gene, it's the best thing in the movie,' " Brooks recalled, laughing. "I had been so wrong. And I cannot even tell him that now. Of course, I've told him that before. But I'd love to tell him all over again."

The live event included Brooks showing a camera crew around the famed Fox lot and Stage 5, where Young Frankenstein was shot. The stage now features a mural depicting the stars and Brooks standing over an operating table with The Monster.

Brooks was remarkably spry bounding up stairs during the camera tour,  rapidly telling old stories and even remembering to plug his upcoming book on the movie, Young Frankenstein: The Story of the Making of the Film (out Oct. 18). "It's a coffee-table book, but be careful not to spill coffee on it," he joked.

But he was overwhelmed with emotion.

"This movie has been saluted with such love. It's an honor. And the audience is loving it," said Brooks, adding that he tried to keep his composure onstage. "I was overcome for a minute, but I recovered. I would love to tell Gene all about this night."


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