News Release: February 03, 2003
Mel Brooks to Receive Screen Laurel Award
2003 Award Recipient
The exquisitely outrageous Mel Brooks, whose mayhem-filled movies like Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles and The Producers have kept audiences laughing for nearly 40 years, will be this year's recipient of the Screen Laurel Award presented by the Writers Guild of America, west at its annual awards show in March.
"The Board voted for Mel 100% on merit," said Victoria Riskin, President of the Writers Guild of America, west, "and they were smiling as they voted, no doubt thinking of what his acceptance speech on March 8 will be like. Brooks is an amazing talent, a one-of-a-kind, zany genius who writes with wild abandon and has brought audiences countless hours of pleasure and laughter. We're elated to honor a lifetime of nonconformity, exuberance and sublime comedy."
The Screen Laurel is given to "that member of the Guild who, in the opinion of the current Board of Directors, has advanced the literature of the motion picture through the years, and who has made outstanding contributions to the profession of the screenwriter." Past recipients include Billy Wilder, Horton Foote, Jean-Claude Carrière, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Sonya Levien, Ring Lardner Jr., Ben Hecht, Preston Sturges, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, John Huston, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and last year's recipient, Blake Edwards.
Mel Brooks is one of only seven people ever to earn all four major entertainment prizes-the Oscar, the Tony, the Emmy and the Grammy. He created such film characters as Max Bialystock, Hedley Lamarr, Lili von Schtupp, Frau Blucher, and just plain Yogurt, and wrote such memorable and often quoted phrases as, "When you got it, flaunt it," "It's good to be the king," "Walk this way," and "Don't be stupid, be a smarty. Come and join the Nazi party." He once claimed that his films "rise below vulgarity."
Born Melvin Kaminsky on June 28, 1926, in Brooklyn, New York, he took the name Brooks (a variation of his mother's maiden name of Brookman) as a stage name. As an army corporal in World War II, Brooks was a combat engineer and saw action in Germany. After the war, he began his career in show business working as a drummer and standup comedian in clubs in the Catskill Mountain resorts of New York, soon writing sketches for New Faces of 1952 and later on writing the books for the Broadway musicals Shinbone Alley and All-American.
He joined the formidable television writing staff of Sid Caesar in the 1950s; shortly after, he teamed up with Carl Reiner to write and perform the Grammy Award-winning "2000 Year Old Man" routines. Over the years his writing as part of Caesar's staff brought him three Emmy nominations and one win, in 1967, for The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special, which also netted him a Writers Guild Award. In 1963, Brooks wrote and narrated the animated short The Critic, a satire of avant-garde films, for which he received the Academy Award® that year. Two years later, he and Buck Henry created the television comedy Get Smart, which brought him another Emmy nomination in 1966.
The first feature film Brooks wrote was The Producers (1968), which won him an Oscar® and a Writers Guild Award for Best Original Screenplay. In an unusual situation, he was also nominated for the same film in the now-defunct Best Written American Comedy category. He was nominated again for a Writers Guild Award in 1971 for The Twelve Chairs. In 1974, he won a Writers Guild Award for co-writing Blazing Saddles and was nominated for co-writing Young Frankenstein, both of which also garnered Oscar® nominations. Two years later, he was nominated again for Silent Movie. Other credits for writing or co-writing feature films include High Anxiety, History of the World Part I, Spaceballs, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and Dracula: Dead and Loving It.
His film company, Brooksfilms Limited, founded in 1980, has produced a series of distinguished films. Among them are The Elephant Man (1980), Frances (1982), To Be or Not To Be (1983), The Fly (1986), and 84 Charing Cross Road (1987). In addition to his writing, producing and acting credits (which include three Emmy Award-winning performances as Uncle Phil on Mad About You), Brooks is also known as a songwriter, nominated for an Oscar® for co-writing Blazing Saddles in 1974.
Most recently, Brooks has become the toast of Broadway with his musical production of The Producers, which received a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards, including two, for Best Book (Musical), co-written with Thomas Meehan, and Best Original Score (Music & Lyrics), for Brooks himself.