11 Facts About Blazing Saddles

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

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’s 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. On the 45th anniversary of the movie's release, 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; like so many other great ideas, it came to the writer/director while he was 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 John Wayne to read the script. Although the Duke apparently 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 in traditional westerns generally subsisted on a diet of canned beans, Brooks argued that, “you can only eat so many beans without some noise happening there.” (He had a point.) 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’s former boss, comedian Sid Caesar, who supposedly knocked one unconscious in real life.) Karras would later begin acting on the small screen and is perhaps best known for playing George Papadapolis in the 1980s sitcom Webster.

5. Slim Pickens slept outside with a Winchester rifle to get a feel for his character.

To get into the mind of Taggart, his cowboy character, Slim Pickens chose to spend most nights sleeping outdoors, with his rifle in hand. If you want to see Taggart’s noggin meet the business end of a shovel, check out the hilarious—and definitely NSFW—clip below:

6. Gene Wilder was far From Brooks’s first choice to play “The Waco Kid.”

“He was magnificent!” Brooks said of Wilder in the 2004 Blazing Saddles 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 struggled with alcohol in real life. During the first day of shooting, the actor—who was reportedly going through alcohol withdrawals—became violently ill and had to be rushed to a nearby hospital.

"We draped Gig Young’s legs over and hung him upside down. And he started to talk and he started shaking," Brooks recalled of shooting the scene. "I said, 'This guy’s giving me a lot. He is giving plenty. He’s giving me the old alky shake. Great.' And then it got serious, because the shaking never stopped, and green stuff started spewing out of his mouth and nose, and he started screaming. And, I said, 'That’s the last time I’ll ever cast anybody who really is that person.' If you want an alcoholic, don’t cast an alcoholic ... Anyway, poor Gig Young, it was the first shot on Friday, nine in the morning, and an ambulance came and took him away. I had no movie."

Fortunately, Wilder knew most of “the Kid’s” lines and was able to take over the part almost immediately.

7. Gene Wilder pitched the premise of Young Frankenstein to Brooks on the set one day.

Young Frankenstein, the movie that would become Brooks’s next directorial project, began with an idea Wilder approached him about while filming Saddles. “His idea was very simple,” Brooks said. “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.'" Young Frankenstein was released in December of 1974, less than a year after Blazing Saddles arrived in theaters.

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), Madeline Kahn took the part of a saloon singer in Blazing Saddles and earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for the role. The film marked the first of several collaborations with Brooks (including Young Frankenstein).

9. Mel’s Son was Born During the Movie’s Lengthy Writing Process.

Max Brooks—the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft—was born while his dad was busy writing the film. Max has gone on to have an impressive writing career of his own, focusing largely on zombie stories like World War Z. (You can check out his official site here.)

10. It almost spawned a tv series.

The pilot for a spinoff TV series called Black Bart was filmed in 1975. Unfortunately, it never got picked up.

11. It's considered one of the greatest American comedies of all-time.

In 2000, the American Film Institute ranked Blazing Saddles number six on its list of the 100 Funniest Movies of All Time. 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, describing it as “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?”

This article originally ran in 2015.

Josh Trank Wouldn't Mind Erasing Fantastic Four From Film History

Ben Rothstein, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Ben Rothstein, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

It’s not every day that you hear a director talking about wanting to completely erase one of their projects from film history. But when the topic of the 2015 box office bomb Fantastic Four comes up, director Josh Trank isn't mincing words. The director tweeted that he would “gladly” donate to a GoFundMe page to have his failed adaptation erased from the cinematic history books.

It's no secret that Fantastic Four is a sore subject for Trank. The production was plagued with rumors that there was a bit of friction on set, particularly between the director and star Miles Teller. Even once the film had wrapped, reports about the troubled production plagued Trank, and eventually led to him parting ways with Disney, for whom he was supposedly developing a standalone Boba Fett movie. (It didn't help that Fantastic Four tanked at the box office and even won a Razzie for Worst Picture).

The topic of starting a GoFundMe page for the film started after Trank responded to fans rallying for a page to get the rat at the end of Martin Scorsese's The Departed digitally erased. When asked if he would support a page to get rid of Fantastic Four, Trank seemed to oblige (though he has since deleted the tweet).


It’s no secret the previous Fantastic Four movies have had little success, but now that Disney and Fox are joining forces, the series could be entering into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Maybe now these superheroes will finally get the movie they deserve.

Hollywood's Brief Love Affair With Young Einstein Star Yahoo Serious

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The theater owners and exhibitors attending the ShoWest convention in February 1989 had a lot to look forward to. In an attempt to stir their interest in upcoming studio releases, major distributors were showing off stars and footage: Paramount led with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Columbia had Ghostbusters II. But it was Warner Bros. that caused the biggest stir.

In addition to Lethal Weapon 2, the studio had Tim Burton’s Batman, a straight-faced adaptation of the comic, and Michael Keaton—who slipped into a screening of some early footage—was no longer being derided as a poor casting choice. Then, in the midst of all this star power, the studio brought out a 35-year-old actor-writer-director with a shock of orange hair and an Australian accent.

The man had never appeared in a feature film before, much less starred in one, but Warner was gambling that his forthcoming comedy about a Tasmanian Albert Einstein who invents rock music and runs into Thomas Edison would be a hit. It had already become the sixth highest-grossing film in Australia's history, besting both E.T. and Rambo: First Blood Part II.

The man’s real name was Greg Pead, but Warner Bros. introduced him as Yahoo Serious, Hollywood’s next big comedy attraction.

 

To understand Warner’s appetite for an unproven commodity like Yahoo Serious, it helps to recall the peculiar preoccupation American popular culture had with Australians in the 1980s. Energizer had created a hit ad campaign with Mark “Jacko” Jackson, a pro football player who aggressively promoted their batteries in a series of ads; meanwhile, Paul Hogan parlayed his fish-out-of-water comedy, Crocodile Dundee, into the second highest-grossing film of 1986. (Serious would later bristle at comparisons to Hogan, whom he referred to as a “marketing guy” who sold cigarettes on Australian television.)

Born in Cardiff, Australia on July 27, 1953, Serious grew up in rural bush country and mounted car tires at a garage in order to pay his way through the National Art School. When he was expelled for illustrating the school's facade with satirical jokes that the faculty didn’t find particularly funny, Serious moved on to direct Coaltown, a documentary about the coal mining industry, and pursued painting.

Serious would later recall that the desire for a larger audience led him away from art and into feature filmmaking. ''It hit me like a ton of bricks one day,” Serious told The New York Times in 1989. “I remember having a cup of coffee and I went, 'Well, look, there is a giant canvas in every little town everywhere around the world. And on this giant canvas there are 24 frames of image on that screen every second and it's the most wonderful living art form.'” It was around this same time, in 1980, that Serious changed his name.

To get a feel for the language of film, Serious sat through repeated viewings of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove; he aspired to have the kind of total autonomy over his movies that directors like Woody Allen and Charlie Chaplin enjoyed.

In 1983, Serious was traveling along the Amazon River when he spotted someone wearing a T-shirt depicting Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out. The image is now pervasive, appearing on posters and other merchandise, but it seemed unique to the performer, who was struck by the idea that Einstein was once young and never took himself too seriously. And the concept for Young Einstein was born.

 

Serious's idea, which transplanted Einstein to Tasmania and imagined encounters with Sigmund Freud, Thomas Edison, and the atomic bomb, took years to assemble. He borrowed camera equipment and sold his car to help finance the film; he shot an eight-minute trailer that convinced investors he was capable of making a feature. His mother even cooked meals for the crew on set.

In order to maintain creative control, Serious gave up profit participation in Young Einstein, which he starred in, co-produced, co-wrote, and directed. When the film was released in Australia in 1988, it made an impressive $1.6 million at the box office and drew the attention of Warner Bros., which likely had visions of a Crocodile Dundee-esque hit. American press had a field day with Serious, who appeared on the cover of TIME and was given airtime on MTV.

Critics and audiences weren’t quite as enamored. The Orlando Sentinel suggested that "Tedious Oddball" would be a more appropriate name for the film's creator. In his one-star review, Roger Ebert wrote that, "Young Einstein is a one-joke movie, and I didn't laugh much the first time." In the U.S., Young Einstein grossed just over $11 million, a fairly weak showing for a summer comedy. It was bested in its opening weekend by both Ron Howard’s Parenthood and the Sylvester Stallone action-grunter Lock Up.

 

Although American distributors quickly cooled on Serious, Australia's enthusiasm for the filmmaker didn’t dampen. When Serious released 1993’s Reckless Kelly, a fictionalized account of outlaw Ned Kelly, it made $5.4 million in Australia—three times as much as Young Einstein. Serious took a seven-year sabbatical, then returned with 2000’s Mr. Accident, a slapstick comedy about an injury-prone man who tries to thwart a scheme to inject nicotine into eggs. Meeting a tepid critical and financial reception, it would be his third and (likely) final film.

At roughly the same time Mr. Accident was released, Serious took issue with upstart search engine Yahoo!, alleging the site was piggybacking on his popularity. He filed a lawsuit, which was quickly dropped when he failed to prove the URL had damaged him in any way.

Yahoo Serious attends an event
Paul McConnell, Getty Images

The amused headlines stemming from that incident were the last examples of Serious capturing attention in America. Having completed just three films, no other projects have come to fruition; Serious launched a website detailing some of his background and to air some of his Yahoo!-related grievances.

Now 65, Serious currently serves as founding director of the Kokoda Track Foundation, an Australian aid organization dedicated to improving the living conditions of Papua New Guineans. The board’s website lists him as Yahoo Serious, which is the name he claims that all of his family and friends have called him since he changed it in 1980.

“You can choose every aspect of your life,” Serious once said. “Why not your name?”

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