Early life
Born Melvin Kaminsky in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., to Polish-Jewish parents Maximillian Kaminsky and Kate "Kittie" Brookman. Brooks' grandfather, Abraham Kaminsky, was a herring dealer who immigrated in 1893. He and his wife Bertha raised their ten children on Henry Street on the Lower East Side of New York City.
His father died of kidney disease at age 34. A year later, in 1930, Kittie Kaminsky and her sons Irving, Leonard, Bernard and Melvin were living at 365 S. 3rd St. in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY.
As a child, Mel was a small and sickly boy. He was bullied and picked on by his peers. By taking on the comically aggressive job of Tummler in various Catskills resorts, he overcame his childhood of bullying and name calling.
He went to school in New York. For elementary, he went to Public School 19 (Williamsburg). For middle school, he went to Francis Scott Key, Jr. High (Williamsburg). Brooks graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School (New York).
In June 1944, Brooks enlisted in the Army. He had basic training at Virginia Military Institute and finished up at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. He was shipped off to war in February of 1945 where he initially served as forward observer for the artillery. Shortly thereafter, Brooks was reassigned to the 1104th Combat Engineers Group. Several months later, Germany had surrendered and Brooks was promoted to corporal. He continued to serve in Germany for another four months in charge of Special Services (entertainment). Brooks completed his service at Fort Dix in New Jersey.
He started out in show business as a stand-up comic, telling jokes and doing movie-star impressions. He found more rewarding work behind the scenes, becoming a comedy writer for television. He joined the hit comedy series Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar and Carl Reiner.
In 1960, an attack of gout (and the aftermath of the surgery done to relieve it) left him allegedly feeling like a 2000-year-old man. This became the persona of The 2000 Year Old Man, the focus of ad-libbed comedy routines and comedy records, with Carl Reiner as his straight man.
Mel Brooks later moved into film, working as an actor, director, writer, and producer. Brooks' first film was The Critic (1963), an animated satire of arty, esoteric cinema, conceived by Brooks and directed by Ernest Pintoff. Brooks supplied running commentary as the baffled moviegoer trying to make sense of the obscure visuals. The short film won an Academy Award.
With Buck Henry, Brooks created the successful TV series Get Smart, starring Don Adams as a bumbling secret agent. This series added to Brooks' reputation as a clever satirist.
Brooks' first feature film, The Producers, was a black comedy about two theatrical partners who deliberately contrive the worst possible Broadway show. The film was so brazen in its satire (its big production number was "Springtime for Hitler") that the major studios wouldn't touch it, nor would many exhibitors. Brooks finally found an independent distributor, which released it like an art film, as a specialized attraction. Despite horrible reviews ("thoroughly vile and inept") and disappointing boxoffice returns, the film received an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The film became a smash underground hit, first on the nationwide college circuit, then in revivals and on home video. Brooks later turned it into a musical, which became one of the most popular Broadway shows.
His two most financially successful films were released in 1974: Blazing Saddles (co-written with Richard Pryor, Andrew Bergman, Norman Steinberg and Alan Uger), and Young Frankenstein (co-written with Gene Wilder). He followed these up with an audacious idea: the first feature-length silent comedy in four decades. Silent Movie (1976) featured Brooks in his first leading role, with Dom DeLuise and Marty Feldman as his sidekicks. The...