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B Entries
  Barbara Bain
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  Mel Brooks
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(Melvin James Kaminsky 1926– ). American writer, director, actor, and producer.

Wrote, directed, and acted in: Blazing Saddles (co-wrote with Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, Norman Steinberg, and Alan Uger) (1974); Young Frankenstein (co-wrote with Gene Wilder; voice only) (1974).

Wrote, directed, produced, and acted in: High Anxiety (co-wrote with Ron Clark, Rudy De Luca, and Barry Levinson) (1977); Spaceballs (co-wrote with Ronny Graham and Thomas Meehan) (1987); Dracula: Dead and Loving It (co-wrote with Rudy De Luca and Steve Haberman).

Produced: The Doctor and the Devils (Freddie FRANCIS 1985); Solarbabies (Alan Johnson 1986); The Vagrant (Chris Walas 1992); Spaceballs: The Animated Series (2008-2009).

Created: Get Smart (with Buck Henry) (tv series) (1965-1970); Spaceballs: The Animated Series (2008-2009).

Wrote: "Archy and Mehitabel" (1960), episode of Play of the Week; The 2000 Year Old Man (with Carl Reiner) (animated tv movie) (Leo Salkin 1975).

Acted in: The Muppet Movie (James Frawley 1979).

Provided voice: The Electric Company (tv series) (1971-1977); Look Who's Talking Too (Amy Heckerling 1990); The Prince of Egypt (animated film) (Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, and Simon Wells 1998); It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (tv movie) (Kirk R. Thatcher 2002); "Holly Jolly Jimmy" (2003), episode of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius; Jakers!: The Adventures of Piggley Winks (animated series) (2003-2006); Robots (animated film) (Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha 2005); "A Very Martin Christmas" (2010), episode of Glenn Martin DDS; "On Old McDonald's Special Song/Snapfingers" (2011), episode of Special Agent Oso.

After honing his Jewish comedy skills entertaining guests at the Catskills, and spending years writing sketches for Sid Caesar's shows in the 1950s, Mel Brooks came to films with a dangerous misunderstanding of the nature of screen comedy. In vaudeville and on television variety shows, the rule was: anything for a laugh, even if it means breaking character or other incongruous lurches in a narrative; in films, laughter must also involve the audience's identification with the character and interest in the story, both of which are disrupted when actors stop acting and start doing their shticks. One of Brooks's television collaborators, Woody ALLEN, quickly figured this out and starting making genuine films; Brooks never did. So, whenever Brooks is restrained by some outside force—in the beginning, other producers; later, nervous investors—his films can be reasonably successful, but there are also items in his filmography that should be avoided at all costs.

Although Brooks had never evidenced any particular devotion to the genre, his first prominent appearances had a science-fictional premise: his "2000 Year Old Man" sketches on The Steve Allen Show, which featured Carl Reiner interviewing the very long-lived Brooks in dialogue that was purportedly improvised. As the story goes, Reiner and Brooks met at a party and, after Brooks said that gout surgery had made him feel like "a 2000 year old man," Reiner started asking him questions about living that long and Brooks came up with funny answers, leading to an invitation to do the same routine on television. Later immortalized in five record albums and a 1975 animated film, these dialogues were not outstandingly funny, though Brooks did bring to the part the irascible energy that he would later display in his own films.

After his screenplay for the outrageous The Producers (1968) won Brooks an Academy Award, he was able to start writing, directing, and starring in his own films, and all of these might be regarded as science fiction, since they invariably contort themselves in some surrealistic fashion to get that all-important laugh. This is particularly prominent in his first major success, Blazing Saddles, wherein the cowboys ultimately escape from their Hollywood set and ride out into contemporary Los Angeles. This remains his best film, unusually assured in its skewering of western clichés and hence not as annoying as some later efforts. His next film was much closer to the genre, Young Frankenstein, that affectionate tribute to James WHALE's Frankenstein movies that was not the classic that everybody wanted it to be, primarily because it was neither particularly amusing nor particularly poignant, and its generally subdued tone made the over-the-top antics of Cloris Leachman and others irksomely incongruous. Although Peter BOYLE's Frankenstein monster makes this the only Brooks film that includes a memorable performance, his later, failed effort to turn the film into a successful Broadway musical should have come as no surprise.

With two hit films in his résumé, Brooks proceeded to destroy his career with a series of increasingly awful films that, for the most part, thankfully do not demand the attention of this encyclopedia, although High Anxiety proved a stunningly superficial parody of Alfred HITCHCOCK that never really addressed any of the qualities that made that director's films uniquely memorable. Further weakening these films was Brooks's increasing tendency to cast himself in leading roles, inspiring him to work much too hard to be funny and demonstrating that he was not an enormously talented comic actor.

In the 1980s, struggling to get audiences back in the theatres to watch his films again, Brooks resolved to parody George LUCAS's very popular Star Wars films, and in some respects did so unexpectedly well: the opening scene of the enormous spaceship that never ends, for example, perfectly punctuated Lucas's efforts to imbue his films with a kitsch sense of awe. Also, despite the relentless silliness, the film also strived to respect its own story, and by dropping his stock company of irritating overachievers and again retreating to the background, Brooks also enjoyed the advantage of an unusually strong cast. Achieving its own sort of dorky charm, Spaceballs is, if not a movie one admires, a movie one surrenders to. Unfortunately, this was not the harbinger of triumphs to come, since Brooks then came up with the misconceived Life Stinks (1991) and two more dreary parodies, Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) and Dracula: Dead and Loving It; the latter film, with Leslie NIELSEN as Dracula, actually begins pretty well but sinks very fast.

Retiring as a film director as he reached the age of seventy, Brooks has since kept himself busy in two areas. First, as a Broadway producer, he reaped tremendous rewards from a musical version of The Producers that later became a film (though predictably, there are no similar plans for his second musical, Young Frankenstein). Second, he has been regularly employed as a voice for animated films, no doubt asked to participate by young admirers of his work, since it is hard to imagine that he really needs the money. If he will never achieve the age of 2000 years, he can at least be celebrated as an active contributor to science fiction films at the age of eighty-seven, now doing a voice for the upcoming Mr. Peabody and Sherman film, and still a genuine creative force who might surprise his critics one more time, for better or worse.

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