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Last Laugh

Mel Brooks Recalls a Funny Thing Happened …

The comedian shares a 'Young Frankenstein' scene that took 100 handkerchiefs to film

Mel Brooks

Add spellbinding storyteller to describe director, screenwriter, composer and actor Mel Brooks as he goes behind-the-scenes on two films. — Getty Images

We were shooting Young Frankenstein, the scene where Madeline Kahn arrives at the castle and Marty Feldman falls instantly and inexplicably in love with her. And there's this absolutely crazy shot where he starts trying to bite the head off of her fox fur.

Well, we couldn't get that shot because everybody kept cracking up. I mean, Marty was just so funny, with those hard-boiled-egg eyes. The actors were breaking up, the crew was breaking up. We did 30 takes, none good. Finally, I sent a guy out to Robinson's department store on Wilshire Boulevard to buy 100 white handkerchiefs. I don't know, it cost me something like 150 bucks. So he came back and I gave the white handkerchiefs to the crew and everybody else around — not the actors, of course, because that would have looked ridiculous.

And I made a speech: "Look, when Marty Feldman bites the head off the fox, stick this white handkerchief in your mouth, so you won't laugh and spoil the scene." On the 32nd take, the actors finally held it together, and I turned around, and I saw a sea of white handkerchiefs, and I knew I had a hit.

I produced The Elephant Man, which was, of course, a serious film. It took five hours to get poor John Hurt into that makeup and another five hours to get him out. But he had to have lunch, so one day we put that Elephant Man cloth over his head and took him to a little restaurant near the Shepperton Studios in England. He had this tiny side pocket in his mouth where we could slip in some little pieces of Dover sole.

We tried to hide him in a booth where no one could see, but then this one lady came by, peered in, screamed and fainted! So I started hissing with this desperate whisper, "Get the hood on him! Get the hood on him quick!" and I paid the bill and we all ran out.

It was just like the Elephant Man for real, only John didn't think to say "I am not an animal!"

as told to Bill Newcott

A 40th anniversary commemorative Blu-Ray Disc of Brooks' Young Frankenstein will be released Sept. 9.

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