The year was 1975, and Warner Brothers just released one of the funniest films to ever hit the silver screen. For some reason, even decades later, we still cannot get enough of Mel Brooks’ western-satire masterpiece – or the secrets this article is about to unveil.
At the premiere for Blazing Saddles, guests arrived in a rather odd way to the Pickwick Drive-In Theater in Burbank, California – instead of following the common tradition of arriving via limousines, all 250 guests arrived at the theater on horseback and watched the film from there.
Right In The Face
The film fanatics will remember the scene where the wild Mongo parks his horse in a no parking zone. Then another horse rider confronts him about it, which causes Mongo to walk toward him and hit his horse, knocking them both to the ground. It turns out, this twisted plot was not entirely made up but was based on a true to life incident where Brooks’ old boss, Sid Caesar, went riding on a trail with his wife, and their horse could not be controlled, so he struck it in its face.
Hold Your Horses
With comedy, one never quite knows how the audience is going to react. While most found Mongo’s knockout punch scene an absolute riot and considered it to be one of the funniest scenes in the film, that did not stop animal rights activists from claiming the scene encouraged abuse of animals. The film executives tried to explain that no horses were actually injured, they simply had two horses that were trained to fall on command on set, but that didn’t help much.
Gig’s Gig Comes To An End
Initially, it was Gig Young who was cast to play the Waco Kid, however, that didn’t go down too well. On the first day of shooting, Young was meant to drunkenly swing from his bunk and ask Bart if he’s black – but as it turns out, Young didn’t need to act drunk, as he was actually intoxicated. After this incident, production was shut down for a day – until Wilder came to the rescue and took over the part. Young later sued Warner Brothers for breach of contract.
Sleeping With The Stars
Slim Pickens took the task of being Taggart very sternly. He had appeared in several cowboy-related parts previously and desired to be certain that he fully turned into Taggart. In the movie, Taggart is the leader of a gang which is given the task of making citizens of Rock Ridge leave. That way, Hedley Lamarr would be able to build a railroad. It was Pickens who was chosen to get familiar with his Winchester rifle, preferring to sleep outdoors with his rifle by his side.
Reach For The Sky
Sheriff Bart was not beloved by the townsfolk. Therefore, in order to run away from a mob, the Sheriff pressed his gun to his own head, to fool the townees into releasing him. It was a childhood incident that sparked this idea into Brooks got the idea for this scene from a childhood incident, where a young Mel attempted to lift a water pistol and gum from a local store. The clerk tried to stop him, so Brooks pulled his water gun on the clerk, who let him walk away.
A Room Full Of Crickets
The Producers was a big hit, and Warner Brothers hoped Brooks would recreate another film similar to it. Yet when after the first viewing of the film, they were not very enthused. In fact, Warner Brothers executives despised the film so much that not a single soul as much as giggled during the screening. Still, Brooks believed in the project, which is why he set up a screening for the blue collar employees of Warner Brothers. The latter reacted delightfully, and so the studio agreed to move forward with the film.
Bringing In A Comedic Genius
Simultaneously to working on the script for Blazing Saddles, Brooks also ran a show called Your Show of Shows. One night, Brooks saw Richard Pryor perform at the Vanguard, a local club, so he approached him. They turned into buddies in no time, and so Brooks brought Pryor into the project. Pryor not only wrote most of the dialogue for Mongo, but there was no denying the amount of influence he had when tuning the comedic vibe of the film.
The Gridiron Gang
The actor who portrayed Mongo, Alex Karras, had plenty of success in his first career. As a matter of fact, Karras played 12 seasons in the National Football League with the Detroit Lions before he decided to make an abrupt professional turn toward acting. The four-time Pro Bowler was selected into the All-Pro team nine times overall and was elected to the NFL’s 1960’s All-Decade team. Karras gained success and was recognized as an actor as a main cast member on Webster.
The Franchise That Never Was
The producers wanted to continue riding the Blazing Saddles wave of profitability when they witnessed first hand how successful it was. The original screenplay written by Andrew Bregman became the foundation for a series titled Black Bart. The pilot episode aired once on April 4, 1975, and Louis Gossett Jr. was cast as Bart. Many years later, Gossett revealed that even though he knew it would never see airtime, he kept filming episodes of the show since a clause in Brooks’ contract tied Warner Brothers’ sequel rights to their continued production.
Music Musical Chairs
Brooks wanted to give something new a go when thinking about the type of music the film would feature. As a consequence, he came up with something that has never been done before: using foreground instead of background music. Brooks also insisted on having one of the most renowned band leaders perform, so he hired Count Basie and his band to play “April in Paris,” which took place in a scene in the desert. Brooks, alongside John Morris, also composed the title song for the film.
Your Name Is My Name
Hedley Lamarr was quite the scheming opponent in Blazing Saddles, which caused Brooks to find himself in the middle of a lawsuit over the character’s name. It all started when an actress called Hedy Lamarr was a star on the rise in MGM films in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Since she was not in favor of the similarities between Harvey Korman’s character and her name, she decided to sue. However, she and Brooks eventually managed to settle the matter out of court.
A Child Arrived Just The Other Day
Mel Brooks had only started writing the script when his wife gave birth to their son, Max. As though his financial status was not stressing him enough, Brooks now felt as though he had to take make this project and make it into the best piece of work he possibly could. Brooks often compared himself to Charles Dickens, saying that he too took a job due to a need for cash and that he hoped Blazing Saddles would be good enough so that people wouldn’t “think I’m selling out.”
The Uninvited Extra
Towards the end of the film, Sheriff Bart and the Waco Kid are chased throughout the Warner Brothers backlot by all people that they upset. As they famously spill out of the Warner Brother gate, they all turn right on the street – all, except for one man wearing a sweater that had wandered around set and didn’t pay attention to directions given to abandon the set. Brooks then had him sign a waiver and left him in the film since he had no idea what was happening.
Madeline Kahn was working on Mame before she joined the cast of Blazing Saddles. Mame was a film adaptation of a Broadway show by the same name, which starred Lucille Ball and Bea Arthur. However, Kahn was fired from Mame the day before she began shooting for Blazing Saddles. It was Lucille Ball who claimed it was very evident that Kahn did everything in her power to get fired, including displaying poor acting skills, all so she could accept the role of Lili von Shtupp.
There’s Magic In The Air On Broadway
Due to his success when adapting The Producers to the stage, Brooks was approached several times with requests that he would adapt Blazing Saddles for Broadway, too. Brooks replied that he has his hesitations: “It’s pretty dangerous stuff, using the N-word. I wouldn’t shy away from it, but I don’t know if I could get away with it. I got away with it then. I don’t know if I could get away with it today,” he said.
If I May Say So Myself
Blazing Saddles is seen as one of the greatest comedy films of all time – and Brooks could not be prouder about this fact. Brooks has even admitted that he thinks it is more amusing than Billy Wilder’s classic Some Like It Hot. “Billy Wilder’s film is extremely funny,” he said, “but scene for scene, there are more laughs in my movie. It’s not right for me to say so, but I really think this could be the funniest motion picture ever made.”
Legging It Out
Brooks explained that he had hoped to cast Madeline Kahn as Lili von Shtupp since he was familiar with her comedic skills from her off-Broadway work. However, when Kahn arrived at the audition, she picked up on a different vibe from Brooks, as he asked to see her legs. She replied, “Oh, you’re that kind of guy,” but then Brooks explained that the role was a parody of Marlene Dietrich, which meant she needed good legs. Kahn obliged with a condition: “no touching.”
The Choice Pryor To Cleavon
Once being cast as a member of Blazing Saddles, Gene Wilder began his most famous bromance years. Brooks hopelessly wanted comedian Richard Pryor to play Sheriff Bart, and even went as far as to refer to him as “the most blessed with talent” he had ever seen. The studio did not enjoy having the dubious Pryor in the movie and suggested Little. Luckily, Brooks loved the proposal because of the perfect way he delivered his lines and granted the part to Little.
I Can’t Say That, Can I?
Playing Lyle, one of Taggart’s henchman, Burton Gilliam was meant to call Sheriff Burt the N-word. However, since Gilliam genuinely liked Cleavon Little, he felt uncomfortable using such crude language that meant to offend him – even if it in the script. Little told him it was okay, and also added jokingly, “If I thought you would say those words to me in any other situation we’d go to fist city, but this is all fun. Don’t worry about it.”
On The Cutting Floor
Mel Brooks received a lot of criticism from the studio about this film, but despite all of their demands to cut inappropriate scenes, Brooks only ended up taking out one scene from its original cut. In the cut scene, Sheriff Bart is seen visiting Lili von Shtupp in her dressing room. Then, she flirtatiously blows out a candle and asks him, “Is it true what they say about you people?” to which Sheriff Bart responds, ” I hate to disillusion you, ma’am, but you’re sucking on my arm.”
Calling On The Duke
John Wayne was the most celebrated star in western films for three decades. For this reason, Brooks wanted to include the Duke in his film. The tale of how the two came about shares that Wayne and Brooks ran into each other over at the studios, then Wayne mentioned he had heard about Brooks’ western parody. Brooks was quick to offer him a part, but Wayne respectfully declined and said, “Naw, I can’t do a movie like that, but I’ll be first in line to see it!”
Quid Pro Quo
Gene Wilder will always be associated with the brilliant comedian that is Mel Brooks; however, without the great film that is Blazing Saddles, this never would have happened. Brooks cast Wilder in The Producers, which aided in his decision when hiring as he needed someone he knew he could count on. Wilder accepted the part of the Waco Kid – but only if Brooks was willing to consider another film that he had written. Brooks and Wilder eventually picked up an Oscar nomination for the “ultimatum film” – Young Frankenstein.
Who Passed Gas?
Blazing Saddles is the first film to ever include farting noises, according to its filmmakers. The infamous scene showed the gang of cowboys sitting around the fire and eating beans while passing gas. While researching for this film, Brooks noticed that in plenty of Western films, cowboys were seen sitting around a fire eating beans and drinking coffee, so he concluded that this combination would create an inescapable situation made of passing gas coming from the windy cowboys’ end.
As a man with an impressive 75-year career as a singer and songwriter to his name, Frankie Laine had several number one records and appeared to be a great choice to compose the theme song for Blazing Saddles. Laine originally thought the movie was going to be a dramatic Western film, so he composed the piece accordingly. Upon hearing the song, Brooks did not have the heart to tell Laine the movie was a parody, so he just let it go and let Laine do his thing.
Brooks had one rule when writing the film, and that was to make sure that every single word uttered in the script would be on purpose. The lines had to either advance the plot, make the viewer laugh or react in another way. When Mongo rides into town on his horse, for example, you can hear a Mexican yell out, “Mongo! Santa Maria!”, which may seem like a throwaway line, but it is a reference to Mongo Santamaria, who is a famous Cuban jazz musician.
A Mel Brooks Sing-A-Long
In the scene toward the end of the film where Hedley Lamarr and his men ride into a bogus town that was set up by the Sheriff and Waco Kid, they ride into the town, and then suddenly, the camera cuts away to a scene with Lilly Von Schtupp and a few German soldiers who are all singing a drinking song. Apparently, the bunch is singing the same song Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel sing with Kenneth Mars during The Producers.
A Chocolate Covered Treat For Life
At the end of the film, where there chaos and chase are shown, Harvey Korman stops to buy snacks at the movie theater, and so he is seen grabbing a box of Raisinets. Mel Brooks later told Playboy magazine that the mentioning of Raisinets led to a massive influx in the purchase of the product in 1975. “We mentioned Raisinets in Blazing Saddles, and now the company sends me a gross of them every month,” he said with great excitement, “A gross of Raisinets!”
Shout It Out Loud
The fight over power and who gets to make the big decisions was a tough one, especially when writing the script for Blazing Saddles. Brooks elaborated on the situation, saying: “Blazing Saddles was more or less written in the middle of a drunken fistfight. There were five of us all yelling loudly for our ideas to be put into the movie. Not only was I the loudest, but luckily I also had the right as director to decide what was in or out.”
The Waco (Casting) Disaster
The iconic Waco Kid character in the film was an unforgettable one played by Gene Wilder, but he was not the initial person who was intended for that role. Brooks offered the position to many actors before Wilder, including late-night TV idol Johnny Carson. Since Carson turned it down, and Gig Young played a too true to life drunk Waco Kid that spiked his major drinking problem, Young was replaced with Wilder, as Young’s performance on set was unmanageable.
Brooks’s own character, Governor Le Petomane, was given its name after a “flatulence artist,” Joseph Pujol. Pujol was a 19th-century French actor who went by the stage name of Le Petomane. Pujol had an ability like no other to pass gas, which he credited to his powerful abdominal muscles. In French, ‘peter’ translates into fart and a ‘mane’ suffix means lunatic, which basically mean he was referred to as a fart maniac. To put things simply, the man could blow out candles from two feet away.
Not In The Script
There are countless hilarious lines written and delivered in the film, but there is one in particular that always stood out – the one where the Waco Kid reassures Bart after the townspeople reveal their hatred toward him. He says, “You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.” Wilder improvised the line: “You know…morons,” which caused Cleavon Little to genuinely crack up once hearing the line he never saw coming.
Whatever You Say, Boss
The screening process of any film is a tough task to fulfill. That is why when chief executive Ted Ashley was not happy with the movie, he ambushed Brooks and necessitated that the following changed would be made: “You have to do the following: take out (the N-word), take out the bean scene, punching a horse, the Lili von Shtupp and the black sheriff ‘you’re sucking my arm,’ or something. You’ve got to take it all out.” Brooks smiled and agreed, but then threw the notes away.
What’s In A Name?
The film’s writers had a hard time finding a title that felt right for the film. The original working title they came up with was Tex X, referencing Malcolm X. However, this was rather hurriedly traded with the title Black Bart. Still, something didn’t fit. Then, The Purple Sage was suggested but didn’t take off. The way Brooks tells it, he was in the shower when he came up with Blazing Saddles and pitched the idea to his wife, who loved it.
Loved By Hitchcock
Believe it or not, but the “Master Of Suspense” himself, Alfred Hitchcock, was a huge fan of the movie. This was confirmed by Brooks who told the A.V. Club in 2011 that he was in close contact with the iconic filmmaker. An admirer of classics like Psycho and The Birds, Brooks revealed that Hitchcock recognized the differences in style between the two directors. Nevertheless, he believed that Brooks had achieved exactly what he had hoped to with the western lampoon.
Written By Many People
Movie trivia enthusiasts around the world will be frothing at the mouth when they find out exactly where Blazing Saddles was written – the 6th floor of 666 Fifth Avenue, New York City, to be precise. However, the only person who got paid for writing the movie was Mel Brooks himself, who took home $50,000 for his efforts. The reality was that many other writers had worked tirelessly around the clock in order to put the finishing touches on it.
The Academy Awards are normally given out to movies that have a dramatic punch and the most emotional performances. However, Blazing Saddles was a little different and was recognized for its slapstick, tongue-in-cheek humor. It took a lot of people by surprise when Madeline Kahn was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. It was after giving such a hilarious performance as Lili von Shtupp. Even being fired from 1964’s Mame could not stop her from going to the Oscars and being honored.
Taking It Way Back
No one who has seen this movie can forget the moment that Bart pointed the gun at his own face. It turns out though, that Mel Brooks actually used his own experiences to recreate this hilarious moment on screen. When little Mel was at a store one day, he decided to steal some gum and a water pistol. Even though he was caught, Brooks decided to point the pistol and threatened to pull the trigger if his demands weren’t met.
One Classic After Another
Not only was Blazing Saddles a classic in the works, but Young Frankenstein was also in its infancy while the former was being made. Gene Wilder actually came up with the original idea and it wouldn’t take long before Brooks fell in love with it. “His [premise] 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.'”
Gabby Hayes Inspired Gabby Johnson
Most diehard Western fans will recognize the name George “Gabby” Hayes. A classic actor of the genre, it turns out that a certain actor by the name of Jack Starret could do an incredible impersonation of the legendary actor. Also known as Claude Ennis Starret Jr., Jack was cast by Mel Brooks specifically for this reason. “I want you to do your Gabby Hayes in the movie,” he told Starret. He took the role, and the rest was history.
One of the people that has worked with Brooks the most in his career is John C. Howard. The editor practically collaborated with Brooks on everything up until High Anxiety. When it came to Blazing Saddles, Howard had the following advice for Brooks: “Get a close-up in every scene, I don’t care what it is…a rat, a smoking cigarette…anything. Just give it to me and I’ll edit it together.” Also, director of photography Joe Biroc recommended him to use two cameras at every opportunity.
A Stingy Studio
The head of distribution at Warner Brothers had a stern opinion about the film after seeing it for the first time. He argued that “It’s simply too vulgar for the American people,” which is why his stand was that the studio needs to “dump it and take a loss.” Providentially, it was John Calley, the studio president, who insisted that they give the movie a go by screening it in selected cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Shortly, the film became their biggest moneymaker.