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15 Things You Might Not Know About Young Frankenstein

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1. Studio Executives tried Tricking Director Mel Brooks into Shooting the Film in Color

By the mid-‘70s, black and white cinema was an endangered species. Nevertheless, Brooks felt strongly about replicating the feel of Universal’s classic Frankenstein films by going colorless. However, not everybody shared his vision. Columbia Studios’ brass thought the style was unmarketable and, as Brooks explains in this delightful interview (skip to 47:40), used some slippery tactics in an attempt to get their way:

“They said ‘Okay, we’ll make it in black and white, but on color stock so that we can show it in Peru, which just got color. And I said ‘No. No because you’ll screw me. You will say this and then, in order to save the company, you will risk a lawsuit and you will print everything in color. It’s gotta be on… black & white thick film.”

Thankfully, Brooks prevailed, though 20th Century Fox wound up taking charge of the project.

2. Star and Co-Writer Gene Wilder Convinced Brooks to Forgo his Usual Cameo Appearance

Like Alfred Hitchcock, Brooks usually gave himself a part in his own films, from Blazing Saddles’ loopy governor to the wine-selling Rabbi of Robin Hood: Men in Tights. These characters regularly broke the fourth wall and “winked” at the audience, something Wilder felt would clash with Young Frankenstein’s tone. So, as a condition of his taking on the lead role, Wilder made Brooks agree to remain off-camera.

However, the director did provide some howling:

As Frederick Frankenstein (Wilder) takes his first ride to the family castle, the distant wolf cry which startles him is a sound Brooks actually vocalized himself.

3. Early On, We Hear the Exact Same Conversation Repeated in Both English and German

En route to Romania, our protagonist catches a train to New York, whereupon he hears an American couple bickering. In the very next scene, Frederick (now on a Transylvania-bound locomotive) witnesses a European pair having an identical, word-for-word exchange in German

4. One of Igor’s Best Moments Inspired a Hit Aerosmith Song

“Walk this way!” Marty Feldman’s Igor instructs his master, who proceeds to copy the hunchback’s shuffling gait. Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler found this line hilarious and repurposed it as the title of a track about high school lovers.

5. Hans Delbrück Was a Real Person

As Frederick readies his monster, he sends Igor to fetch a very special brain which rests in a jar labeled “Hans Delbruck: Scientist and Saint”. The actual Hans Delbrück (1848-1929) was an accomplished military historian whose son, Max, won a Nobel Prize for his work with viruses.

6. Several Props Had Previously Appeared in the Masterful 1931 Frankenstein Film

Taking his feature-length tribute to the next level, Brooks included much of the faux lab equipment used in that earlier picture.

7. Teri Garr Based Her Character’s Voice on Cher’s Hairdresser

Garr made several appearances on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour and used Cher's German wig-stylist as a model for ditzy lab assistant Inga’s heavy accent.

8. Brooks Hired Kenneth Mars After the Actor Signed Off on an Odd Costuming Choice

The two had already collaborated in 1968’s The Producers, and while casting Young Frankenstein, Brooks offered Mars the role of grumpy Inspector Kemp, but not before pitching an eccentric wardrobe gimmick that ultimately wound up on-screen.

“He [said],” Mars later reminisced, “‘Let me ask you this… if you’re wearing an eye patch and you’ve got a monocle on top of the eye patch, is that too much?’ I said ‘Of course not.’ He said ‘Good, you’re hired!’”

9. Gene Hackman Specifically Asked Wilder for a Part in Young Frankenstein Because he “Wanted to Try Comedy”

According to the movie’s Blu-Ray commentary, Hackman—who’d been thrice nominated for an Academy Award (and won one in 1971)—learned about Young Frankenstein through his frequent tennis partner Wilder and requested a role. Ultimately, ‘Harold’—the lonely blind character he briefly portrayed—sparked one of the most memorable sequences in comedic history.

10. Peter Boyle Had to Wear a Special Pad Over His Crotch to Avoid Getting Scalded During the Famous Blind Man Scene

During their hysterical encounter, sightless Harold winds up accidentally dumping a bowlful of hot soup onto the poor creature’s lap. Fortunately, Boyle’s protective gear kept him from having to method act his way through the ordeal.

11. A Huge Percentage of the Movie Had to Be Deleted

“For every joke that worked, there were three that fell flat,” says Brooks, who whittled Young Frankenstein down to its current runtime after observing several mixed reactions from test audiences. This cut material included a clip in which Frederick’s relatives listen to a recorded will left by his great grandfather Beauvort von Frankenstein whose message starts skipping and nonchalantly repeats the phrase “Up Yours!”

In addition, the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” number was nearly axed as well. Brooks reportedly felt that having Dr. Frankenstein and his monster tap dance to an old Irving Berlin song seemed “too crazy.” Hearing this, Wilder—who though it brilliant—snapped and came “close to rage and tears” before Brooks unexpectedly changed his tune. “I wanted to see how hard you'd fight for it,” said the director, “And I knew if you fought hard enough, it was right...You did, so it's in.”

12. Wilder was Constantly Cracking Up During Takes

According to Cloris Leachman, “He killed every take [with his laughter] and nothing was done about it!” Shots would frequently have to be repeated as many as fifteen times before Wilder could finally summon a straight face.

But, to be fair, he certainly wasn’t the only one who couldn't always keep it together.

Young Frankenstein sees Marty Feldman’s comic genius on full display, which was often more than his castmates could handle. For example, the scene where Frederick’s fiancée Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn) greets him at the castle generated a lengthy gag reel because Feldman—whose character starts ravenously gnawing on her mink scarf—kept everyone in stitches with his manic over-acting.

13. Brooks’ Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein were the 1st and 3rd highest-grossing films of 1974, respectively

“It’s good to be the king!” Before this pivotal year, the funnyman’s earlier efforts—The Producers and The Twelve Chairs (1970)—netted mixed reviews and had lackluster box office performances. But after turning out these back-to-back hits at breakneck speed, Brooks’ reputation as one of Hollywood’s greatest comedic directors was secured.

14. Leachman Was Asked to Reprise Her Role for the 'Young Frankenstein' Musical

After getting eliminated from ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, Brooks offered the 82-year-old actress a chance to take a second stab at playing Frau Blücher for his on-stage Young Frankenstein musical, but the show’s run ended before her schedule freed up.

15. Throughout the Shoot, Brooks Offered Wilder Directing Advice

Knowing his star dreamed of one day sitting in the director’s chair, Brooks made a point to give him as many pointers as possible before shooting concluded. Wilder reminisced, “Mel would say, ‘Do you know the trouble I’m in because I didn’t shoot that close-up? Don’t do that.’ I would say, ‘To whom are you talking?’ ‘You, when you’re directing.’”

Though both headed various productions after Young Frankenstein, they’d never collaborate on another flick. Nevertheless, the pair’s shared legacy is unimpeachable. All three of Brooks’ movies in which Wilder appeared—The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein—have been selected for preservation by the National Film Registry and included on the American Film Institute’s “100 Funniest Movies of All Time” list.

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10 Witty Facts About The Marx Brothers
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Talented as individuals and magnificent as a team, the Marx Brothers conquered every medium from the vaudeville stage to the silver screen. Today, we’re tipping our hats (and tooting our horns) to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo—on the 50th anniversary of Groucho's passing.

1. A RUNAWAY MULE INSPIRED THEM TO TAKE A STAB AT COMEDY.

Julius, Milton, and Arthur Marx originally aspired to be professional singers. In 1907, the boys joined a group called “The Three Nightingales.” Managed by their mother, Minnie, the ensemble performed covers of popular songs in theaters all over the country. As Nightingales, the brothers enjoyed some moderate success, but they might never have found their true calling if it weren’t for an unruly equid. During a 1907 gig at the Nacogdoches Opera House in East Texas, someone interrupted the performance by barging in and shouting “Mule’s loose!” Immediately, the crowd raced out to watch the newly-liberated animal. Back inside, Julius seethed. Furious at having lost the spotlight, he skewered his audience upon their return. “The jackass is the finest flower of Tex-ass!” he shouted, among many other ad-libbed jabs. Rather than boo, the patrons roared with laughter. Word of his wit soon spread and demand for these Marx brothers grew.

2. THEY RECEIVED THEIR STAGE NAMES DURING A POKER GAME.

In May of 1914, the five Marxes were playing cards with standup comedian Art Fisher. Inspired by a popular comic strip character known as “Sherlocko the Monk,” he decided that the boys could use some new nicknames. Leonard’s was a no-brainer. Given his girl-crazy, “chick-chasing” lifestyle, Fisher dubbed him “Chicko” (later, this was shortened to “Chico”). Arthur loved playing the harp and thus became “Harpo.” An affinity for soft gumshoes earned Milton the alias “Gummo.” Finally, Julius was both cynical and often seen wearing a “grouch bag”—wherein he’d store small objects like marbles and candy—around his neck. Thus, “Groucho” was born. For the record, nobody knows how Herbert Marx came to be known as “Zeppo.”

3. GROUCHO WORE HIS TRADEMARK GREASEPAINT MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE HATED MORE REALISTIC MODELS.

Michael Ochs Archives/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Phony, glue-on facial hair can be a pain to remove and reapply, so Groucho would simply paint a ‘stache and some exaggerated eyebrows onto his face. However, the mustache he later rocked as the host of his famous quiz show You Bet Your Life was 100 percent real.

4. HARPO WAS A SELF-TAUGHT HARPIST.

Without any formal training (or the ability to read sheet music), the second-oldest Marx brother developed a unique style that he never stopped improving upon. “Dad really loved playing the harp, and he did it constantly,” his son, Bill Marx, wrote. “Maybe the first multi-tasker ever, he even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play when he sat on the toilet!”

5. THE VERY FIRST MARX BROTHERS MOVIE WAS NEVER RELEASED.

Financed by Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and a handful of other investors, Humor Risk was filmed in 1921. Accounts differ, but most scholars agree that the silent picture—which would have served as the family’s cinematic debut—never saw completion. Despite this, an early screening of the work-in-progress was reportedly held in the Bronx. When Humor Risk failed to impress there, production halted. By Marx Brothers standards, it would’ve been an unusual flick, with Harpo playing a heroic detective opposite a villainous Groucho character.

6. GUMMO AND ZEPPO BECAME TALENT AGENTS.

World War I forced Gummo to quit the stage. Following his return, the veteran decided that performing was no longer for him and instead started a raincoat business. Zeppo—the youngest brother—then assumed Gummo’s role as the troupe’s straight-talking foil. A brilliant businessman, Zeppo eventually break away to found the talent agency Zeppo Marx Inc., which grew into Hollywood’s third-largest, representing superstars like Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and—of course—the other three Marx Brothers. Gummo, who joined the company in 1935, was charged with handling Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s needs.

7. CHICO ONCE LAUNCHED A BIG BAND GROUP.

Chico took advantage of an extended break between Marx brothers movies to realize a lifelong dream. A few months before The Big Store hit cinemas in 1941, he co-founded the Chico Marx Orchestra: a swinging jazz band that lasted until July of 1943. Short-lived as the group was, however, it still managed to recruit some amazing talent—including singer/composer Mel Tormé, who would go on to help write the “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” in 1945.

8. THEY TESTED OUT NEW MATERIAL FOR A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN FRONT OF LIVE AUDIENCES.

With the script still being drafted, MGM made the inspired choice to let the brothers perform key scenes in such places as Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Once a given joke was made, the Marxes meticulously timed the ensuing laughter, which let them know exactly how much silence to leave after repeating the gag on film. According to Harpo, this had the added benefit of shortening A Night at the Opera’s production period. “We didn’t have to rehearse,” he explained. “[We just] got onto the set and let the cameras roll.”

9. GROUCHO TEMPORARILY HOSTED THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Jack Paar bid the job farewell on March 29, 1962. Months before their star’s departure, NBC offered Paar’s Tonight Show seat to Groucho, who had established himself as a razor-sharp, well-liked host during You Bet Your Life’s 14-year run. Though Marx turned the network down, he later served as a guest host for two weeks while Johnny Carson prepared to take over the gig. When Carson finally made his Tonight Show debut on October 1, it was Groucho who introduced him.

10. SPY MAGAZINE USED A MARX BROTHERS MOVIE TO PRANK U.S. CONGRESSMEN.

Duck Soup takes place in Freedonia, a fictional country over which the eccentric Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) presides. In 1993, 60 years after the movie’s release, this imaginary nation made headlines by embarrassing some real-life politicians. Staffers from Spy got in touch with around 20 freshmen in the House of Representatives, asking some variation on the question “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?” A few lawmakers took the bait. Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida) professed to approve of America’s presence in Freedonia, saying “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.” Across the aisle, Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) concurred. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s a different situation than the Middle East.”

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The Night the Brat Pack Was Born
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If Emilio Estevez had opted to pay for his movie ticket, the Brat Pack might never have been born. It was spring 1985, and Estevez—then the 23-year-old co-star of St. Elmo’s Fire—was being profiled in New York Magazine. The angle was that Estevez had just signed a deal to write, direct, and star in his own feature, That Was Then... This is Now, an opportunity that was rarely afforded to young Hollywood talent. Estevez was two years younger than Orson Welles was when he performed similar duties for 1941’s Citizen Kane.

That youthful exuberance was on display as New York writer David Blum followed Estevez in and around Los Angeles for several days gathering material for the story. With Blum in tow, Estevez decided that he wanted to catch a screening of Ladyhawke, a fantasy film starring Matthew Broderick. For reasons not made entirely clear, he preferred not to have to pay for a ticket. According to Blum, Estevez called the theater and politely asked for free admission before entering an 8 p.m. screening.

It's likely Estevez was just having a little fun with his celebrity. But to Blum, it was indicative of a mischievous, slightly grating sense of entitlement. Blum’s assessment was that Estevez was acting “bratty,” an impression he felt was reinforced when he witnessed a gathering of other young actors at LA’s Hard Rock Cafe for the same story.

What was supposed to be a modest profile of Estevez turned into a cover story declaration: Hollywood’s “Brat Pack” was here, and they had decided to forego the earnest acting study preferred by their predecessors to spend their nights partying instead.

The day the story hit newsstands, Blum received a call from Estevez. “You’ve ruined my life,” he said.

The June 1985 cover of New York magazine
New York, Google Books

Blum’s label had its roots in the Rat Pack of the 1960s, so named for the carousing boys' club led by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. Whether it was accurate or not, the performers developed reputations for squeezing every last drink, perk, and joke they could out of their celebrity well into middle age.

That dynamic was on Blum’s mind when New York dispatched him to cover Estevez. After he arrived in California, Blum took note of the fact that a tight cluster of actors seemed to have formed a group, both on- and off-screen. Estevez was close friends with Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise, and all of them appeared in 1983’s The Outsiders; Lowe and Estevez were co-starring in St. Elmo’s Fire, a coming-of-age drama that also featured Andrew McCarthy and Judd Nelson; Estevez and Nelson gained a lot of attention for 1984’s The Breakfast Club.

To Blum, Estevez was more than just a multi-hyphenate; he appeared to be the nucleus of a group that spent a lot of time working and playing together. And in fairness to Blum, Estevez didn’t dissuade the writer from that take: Fearing he was coming off as too serious in the profile, Estevez asked Lowe and Nelson to hang out with him at Los Angeles’s Hard Rock Cafe so Blum could see the actor's lighter side.

Nelson would later recall that he felt uneasy around Blum. “Why is this guy having dinner with us?” he asked Estevez. Lowe, meanwhile, was busy flirting with women approaching their table. The group later went to a "punk rock" club, with a Playboy Playmate tagging along.

As celebrity hedonism goes, it was a tame evening. But Blum walked away with the idea that Estevez was the unofficial president of an exclusive club—attractive actors who were soaking up success while idling late into the night.

Blum returned to New York with a different angle for his editors. He wanted to capture this “Brat Pack,” a “roving band” of performers “on the prowl” for good times. Although the magazine had just run a cover story about a teenage gang dubbed “the wolf pack” and feared repetition, they agreed.

As far as Estevez and the others were concerned, Blum was busy executing a piece on Estevez’s ambitions as a writer and director. When Estevez, Nelson, and Lowe appeared on the cover—taken from a publicity still for St. Elmo’s Fire—with his newly-coined phrase, they were horrified.

Blum began getting calls from angry publicists from each of the actors mentioned in the article—and there had been a lot of them. In addition to Estevez, the de facto leader, and lieutenants Lowe and Nelson, Blum had dubbed go-to John Hughes geek Anthony Michael Hall the “mascot”; Timothy Hutton was said to be on the verge of excommunication for his film “bombs”; Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, and Matt Dillon were also mentioned.

To the actors, the effect was devastating. Independent of how they spent their free time, all of them were pursuing serious careers as performers, with producers, directors, and casting agents mindful of their portrayal in the media. Being a Brat Packer was synonymous with being listless, or not taking their craft seriously.

Nelson recalled the blowback was immediate: Managers told him to stop socializing with his friends for fear he’d be stigmatized as unreliable. “These were people I worked with, who I really liked as people, funny, smart, committed to the work,” he said in 2013. “I mean, no one was professionally irresponsible. And after that article, not only [were] we strongly encouraged not to work with each other again, and for the most part we haven’t, but it was insinuated we might not want to be hanging out with these people.”

Universal Pictures

Some of the actors went on The Phil Donahue Show to criticize the profile, asserting that their remarks to Blum had been off-the-record. (Blum denied this.) Lowe told the media that Blum had “burned bridges” and that he was “no Hunter S. Thompson.” Andrew McCarthy called Blum a “lazy … journalist” and found the idea of an actor “tribe” absurd—he had never even met Anthony Michael Hall.

Unfortunately, the name stuck. “Brat Pack” was infectious—a catch-all for the kind of young performer emerging in the ‘80s who could be seen in multiple ensemble movies. While Blum would later express regret over the label, it’s never quite left the public consciousness. In 2005, Universal released a DVD boxed set—The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Sixteen Candles—as The Brat Pack Collection.

Nelson, Estevez, and Lowe never again appeared in a movie together. “Personally, the biggest disappointment about it is that ‘Brat Pack’ will somehow figure in my obituary at [the] hands of every lazy and unoriginal journalist,” Estevez told a reporter in 2011. “Warning: My ghost will come back and haunt them.”

Nelson was slightly less forgiving. In a 2013 podcast, he chastised Blum for his mischaracterization of the group of young actors. “I would have been better served following my gut feeling and knocking him unconscious.”

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