Focusing on the rise of a black sheriff in the American west of 1874, Blazing Saddles is widely regarded as the most audacious comedy of Mel Brooks’ directorial career. A subversive, fearless satire bent on tackling the ever-present absurdity of prejudice, it has maintained an impressive and growing fan-base more than four decades later. Here are some remarkable tidbits about one of the greatest spoofs ever made.
1. The Movie Was Originally Going to be Entitled Tex X: An Homage to Malcolm X
Other rejected titles include Black Bart and The Purple Sage. Brooks struggled to find a better name after he signed on to direct. Eventually, he came up with Blazing Saddles while taking a shower.
2. John Wayne Politely Declined to Appear in the Movie
Hoping to include the Western genre’s most recognizable star, Brooks asked Wayne to read the script. Although the Duke found it hilarious, he chose not to join the cast, fearing for his career. However, Wayne did declare, “I’ll be the first one in line to see it!”
3. Blazing Saddles was the First Movie to Incorporate Audible Flatulence
“Blazing Saddles, for me, was a film that truly broke ground. It also broke wind … and maybe that’s why it broke ground,” Brooks once said. Having noticed that that cowboys generally subsisted on a diet of canned beans in traditional westerns, he argued, “you can only eat so many beans without some noise happening there.” The resulting “fart scene,” in which a gang of thugs pass gas around a campfire, made movie history. Brooks knew this gag would get a big reaction, so he deliberately “made the farts louder” to prevent the audience’s laughter from drowning them out. However, despite his foresight, the offending noises were muted in the Blazing Saddles TV release.
4. The Hulking Henchman “Mongo” was Portrayed by a Former NFL Player
Alex Karras was a defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions who began appearing in films during the early 1960s. (The scene in which Mongo punches out a horse was inspired by Brooks’ former boss, comedian Sid Caesar, who supposedly knocked one unconscious in real life.)
5. Actor Slim Pickens (Taggart) voluntarily slept outside with a Winchester rifle during most of the shoot to get a feel for his character.
See Taggart’s noggin meeting the business end of a shovel in this hilarious (and NSFW) clip:
6. Gene Wilder Was Far From Brooks’ First Choice to Play “The Waco Kid”
“He was magnificent!” Brooks said of Wilder in the 2004 DVD documentary Back in the Saddle. Multiple actors—including Johnny Carson—turned down the part before screen veteran Gig Young was hired for the role. At first Young seemed perfect for the boozy character … until it became painfully clear that he was an actual alcoholic. The performer began violently throwing up all over the set before being rushed to a nearby hospital. Luckily, Wilder knew most of “the Kid’s” lines and took over the part almost immediately.
7. Gene Wilder pitched the premise ofYoung Frankenstein to Brooks on the set one day.
The movie that would become Brooks’ next directorial project began with an idea Wilder approached him about while filming Saddles. “His [premise] was very simple,” Brooks recalls. “What if the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein wanted nothing to do with the family whatsoever? He was ashamed of those wackos. I said, ‘That’s funny.’”
8. Madeline Kahn Earned An Oscar Nomination for Her Portrayal of Saloon Singer Lili von Shtupp.
After being fired from the cast of Mame (1974), she took the part, the first of several she’d be given by Brooks. Kahn also starred in his later films Young Frankenstein (1974) and High Anxiety (1977).
9. World War Z Author Max Brooks (Mel’s Son) was Born During the Movie’s Lengthy Writing Process
Check out Max’s official site here.
10. A Pilot For an Unmade Spinoff TV Series Called Black Bart Was Filmed in 1975.
The episode has been uploaded in full to YouTube. (WARNING: NSFW!)
11. The American Film Institute Called Blazing Saddles the 6th-Greatest American Comedy in 2000.
It was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected for preservation by the National Film Registry six years later. Additionally, former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg cited Blazing Saddles as his all-time favorite film, and the late Roger Ebert gave it a perfect four-star rating, calling it “a crazed grabbag of a movie that does everything to keep us laughing except hit us over the head with a rubber chicken … It’s an audience picture; it doesn’t have a lot of classy polish and its structure is a total mess. But of course! What does that matter when Alex Karras is knocking a horse cold with a right sock to the jaw?”