February 1st, 2012 11:44 EST
Personal Observations on the Set with Mel Brooks
ON THE SET WITH MEL BROOKS! by Tony Piazza
In the summer of 1977 I got a call from the casting agency. They were telling me to report to the Hyatt Regency on Market Street the next morning. It was for the film High Anxiety starring and directed by MEL BROOKS.
It was a great thrill for me because as most of the country at that time, I was a Mel Brook`s fan. I even had a copy of his script for Black Bart (eventually re-titled Blazing Saddles) on my bookshelf. It was given to me by an assistant director on the film who knew I was a big Brooks` fan.
Whenever I was about to meet a personality in real life that I`m a fan of, I usually prepared myself mentally not to be disappointed if he/she didn`t meet up to expectations. I found one comedian I met to be very bland in person, and another an absolute grouch. MEL BROOKS to my relief was very much the MEL BROOKS you`d expect- creative, intelligent, and funny VERY funny. In fact I had never worked on a set that had such a high level of hysteria. In between shooting RON CAREY (Brophy) was working the crowds gathered to watch the filming in the lobby. He was a one-man comedy act that continued non-stop for two days; "I`ve got it...I don`t got it!" Then there was the actual filming. Mel the director had a television monitor hooked up on the Panavision film camera then Mel the actor would do his bit and then Mel the director would review the scene on the monitor in which he and the crew were allowed to watch and laugh out loud at his or the other actor`s antics- Pretty nifty set-up. Of course we were all constantly biting our lips so much comedic talent under one roof made it a real challenge!
I was part of the shocked crowd that witnessed Dr. Thorndyck (Brooks) shooting a colleague in the lobby of the hotel. Of course it wasn`t Thorndyck but Braces (RUDY DELUCA) wearing a mask of the doctor. What can I say, it is PURE MEL BROOKS and a great send up of the films of Hitchcock (I have also been on his set- FAMILY PLOT- but that is another story) especially Vertigo! I got to talk to Brooks briefly a real thrill and was personally directed by him for a classic Hitchcockian shot of running feet yes, my shoes got a close-up as well! Glad I polished them and, no, my feet do not give autographs just foot prints (a little humor very little). You can see me in the film, a little blurred perhaps, but look for the man standing behind Brophy when he utters, "Why did you do it, doc!"
HARVEY KORMAN, MADELINE KAHN, and CLORIS LEACHMAN rounded out the Brooks` stock company and the end result I believe was another classic film!
So I can honestly say as Slim Pickens uttered in Blazing Saddles, I worked for Mel Brooks!
Tony Piazza is author of the 1930`s Hollywood murder mystery novel, Anything Short of Murder, which had its roots on the TCM fan website. His next novel, The Curse of the Crimson Dragon is due out early 2012. He was an actor/extra during the 1970`s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden.