Blazing Saddles, which just celebrated its 45th anniversary, is considered one of the most entertaining movies of all time. National Public Radio called it “the best interracial buddy comedy ever made.”
Mel Brooks’ subversive western-like satire was made to directly dismantle the absurdity of prejudice. It is, therefore, probably one of the most influential movies this movie giant has ever shot.
Even Brooks himself thinks of it as his best comedy and has shared his opinion with the Tampa Bay Times, “I get goose bumps if I see it on a big screen and there’s 2,000 people in the audience, laughing together. What I envisioned, what I dreamed of, would be a joke that worked or a moment that worked, or something touching that worked.”
There are some surprising details about the making of this iconic film.
John Wayne declined to take part in the movie
Once, while eating lunch at Warner Bros. commissary, Mel Brooks encountered the legendary duke. This is when he realized that John Wayne would be a perfect fit for either cameo or “The Waco Kid”. Unfortunately for fans of both the movie and the actor, he declined the offer after reading the script.
While he enjoyed the idea of it and had explained he would be the first one to watch it in the theater, he did not see it as fitting to his screen-image and career. The script was pretty controversial, after all.
Mel Brooks did not plan to call it by its name
The director’s initial idea was to call the movie Tex X: An Homage to Malcolm X to express his admiration towards him. However, the name did not fit so he moved on to reject two more ideas, Black Bart and the Purple Sage.
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Upon signing to direct the movie he had to come up with something catchy, and quickly. But his idea was not a product of concentrated effort — rather, he came up with the name in one of those “aha moments” while taking a shower.
Slim Pickens went a long way to construct his character
Slim Pickens managed to embody the old school, gritty feeling of the yesteryear in playing the archetypal cowboy Taggart. He was so motivated to make the character feel as authentic as possible that he lived as a proper cowboy. He would sleep outside, hugging his Winchester riffle to get into the mind of Taggart.
The idea of Young Frankenstein was born on the Blazing Saddles set
Gene Wilder, staring as “The Waco Kid” was the first one to have an idea for the next Mel Brooks movie that came to theaters just a year after Blazing Saddles was released. He got an idea while on set and pitched it to the director.
Brooks said to the Los Angeles Times, “His idea was very simple. 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.’” This is how one amazing piece of art inspired another one that many of us would come to love.
Gene Wilder was not Brooks’ first choice
Just as John Wayne declined the offer, so did many others that Mel Brooks approached with his deal, among them was Johnny Carson. Brooks needed someone who could pull off the role of a struggling alcoholic and he finally found a real one in Gig Young.
However, it seems that Young was maybe too authentic for his role as the filming was almost put to a halt after one of his withdrawal episodes on set. “I said, ‘This guy’s giving me a lot,’” Brooks recalled for The Mercury News, “He is giving plenty. He’s giving me the old alky shake. Great.”
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“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.”
This is when Gene Wilder, who knew every single line for “The Waco Kid” took over, and did great. It remained one of the most important roles of his career.