1974 was a stellar year for the world of comedy in film. Filmmaker Mel Brooks brought us not only one of his best but one the funniest movies ever made. ‘Blazing Saddles’ hit theaters and made huge waves, waves that still impact the movie industry today. But apart from what we’ve seen in the movie, which was cinema gold, there are the behind the scenes secrets that the film’s producers weren’t so keen on the public knowing at the time.
However, given the amount of time that’s passed, it’s now safe to reveal the things that we weren’t supposed to know back then! To give you an idea of what was concealed: intense scenes were cut out, actors were fired, and some were intoxicated on set. And did you know that the legend himself John Wayne rejected a part in the movie? But all’s fair in love and war in the film industry. At the end of the day, the movie is what we see and in this case, laugh our butts off at.
Mel Brooks Had a Secret
When Mel Brooks took on the project of making ‘Blazing Saddles,’ his son Max was born. Brooks was low on cash, so he really needed to make the movie work. The pressure was on.
Brooks wasn’t a fan of doing things just for the money, and though he didn’t want to seem like a sellout, he said how he felt like Charles Dickens for taking on a project for the money.
She Wanted to Get Fired
Actress Madeline Kahn was scheduled to be in the film adaptation of ‘Mame’ before ‘Blazing Saddles’ started filming. ‘Mame’ was being adapted from the original Broadway musical, which starred Lucille Ball and Bea Arthur.
But one day before her she started on the set of ‘Blazing Saddles,’ Madeline was fired from ‘Mame.’ Lucille Ball claimed that Kahn was hoping to get fired, giving a bad performance on purpose so she could focus on playing Lili von Shtupp.
Next – see what Mel Brooks was supposed to take out of the film but didn’t!
He Was Supposed to Take it All Out
The chief executive of Warner Brothers, Ted Ashley, was not happy after Brooks screened the film. Ashley confronted Brooks and firmly stated, “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 replied with, “Great! They’re all out,” but instead of doing as he was told, what he did was throw out all the notes, and he walked away.
Him and the Horse He Rode in On
Remember the scene where the ruthless Mongo parked his horse in a no parking zone? He was confronted by another horse rider, and Mongo calmly walked over and thumped the horse and knocked them both to the ground.
As it turns out, Brooks didn’t just make this up for the movie, but rather he was inspired by a real-life occurrence that he once heard from his former boss, Sid Caesar. He loved the story and used it in the film.
The scene caused real havoc among viewers…
In Poor Taste
Regardless of how funny Mongo’s knockout punch scene was considered to be, many viewers saw it as inappropriate. And there’s no surprise there. Animal rights activists were more than outraged with the way the horse was treated, despite the fact that in reality the horse wasn’t injured.
Nevertheless, it was argued that the scene was unnecessary and a less violent scene could have been made instead. The good news is that the filmmakers didn’t harm any horses to film that scene. They had the horses trained to fall on command.
Waco Kid Got Fired
At the beginning of the production, the Waco Kid was played by actor Gig Young. There’s an early scene when Waco Kid was hanging from his bunk, drunk, and telling off Bart. You might recall how Young is doing an amazing job at acting drunk.
But truth be told, he actually was drunk, even to the point that the production had to be stopped. Gig was fired, and Gene Wilder ended up replacing him. Years later, Young sued the studio for breach of contract.
See, next, how some actors took their roles really seriously…
Like a Real Cowboy
Despite being a comedy, some of the actors took their roles really seriously. One of those was Louis Burton Lindley Jr., better known as Slim Pickens, who wanted to portray Taggart as best he could. He was the bully gang leader who terrorized the Rock Ridge citizens in their town.
Slim decided that in order to get in the mindset of his character, he would need to sleep outside, like a real cowboy. And more so, he did it with his Winchester by his side, reminding him always that he’s supposed to be an outlaw.
The Title Dispute
One thing the writers struggled to agree on was the movie’s title. Originally, “Ten X” was the working title, in reference to Malcolm X. But that later changed to “Black Bart.” However, the writers still weren’t pleased with that name.
They even considered calling the film “The Purple Sage.” Then one day when Brooks was in the shower, he came up with the title “Blazing Saddles.” His wife loved it, and that was enough for him to make a decision.
See what Mel Brooks used as inspiration for a memorable scene!
If you remember, the character Sheriff Bart wasn’t the most popular figure. And in order to be let free by the villagers, he held a gun to his head to make his point. In fact, Brooks got the idea from something that happened in his childhood.
As a kid, he once tried to steal a water gun and a pack of gum from a store. When the sales clerk tried to stop him, the young Mel pointed the “gun” at him, threatening to pull the trigger!
Brooks Knew it Would Be a Hit
Warner Brothers knew Brooks was capable of recapturing the kind of magic he made in the movie ‘The Producers.’ In the early viewings of the film, however, the movie was poorly received, and the studio executives were worried the movie wouldn’t do well.
Yet, Brooks was sure the movie would do well – that they just needed to show it to the masses. Warner Brothers still agreed to release the movie, and they were eventually proven wrong based on audience reactions.
But Brooks had to do some convincing at first…
He Made His Case
Before the movie’s release, Brooks had to work hard to convince the studio of the movie’s potential. “It’s simply too vulgar for the American people,” the head of the studio said. “Let’s dump it and take a loss.”
The president of the company, John Calley, decided that the film should initially be released in specific cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. By the end of the summer, ‘Blazing Saddles’ was the studio’s biggest blockbuster.
In between writing ‘Blazing Saddles,’ Brooks was also in the middle of writing a TV show called ‘Your Show of Shows.’ He got the idea during his time in New York when watching comedian Richard Pryor perform one evening at the Vanguard nightclub.
After Brooks met the comedian, the two really hit it off, and Brooks even offered Pryor a role as a writer in the movie. Pryor was a main factor in the movie’s success. And he wrote most of Mongo’s dialogue.
Do you know which actor from the movie was a real NFL star?
An NFL All-Star
Alex Karras, who played the character of Mongo, was actually a successful football player in his day. Karras played in the NFL for 12 seasons.
Karras was part of the All-Pro team 9 times and even part of the NFL’s All-Decade team in the 1960s. Karras was a four-time Pro Bowler as well, but after leaving the Detroit Lions, he pursued a career in acting and joined the cast of ‘Webster.’
His Creative Process
Part of Mel Brooks’ creative genius was his method of doing things differently. This was seen when he wanted to use foreground music rather than the commonly used background music. He chose one of the best band leaders out there at the time: Count Basie.
He used Basie and his band to play the song “April in Paris” for the movie. Brooks also composed the movie’s theme song, which ended up being sung by Frankie Laine.
See which actress sued Mel Brooks for a character’s name in the movie, next!
A Legally Problematic Name
Mel Brooks created the character of Hedley Lamarr as the perfect antagonist for the story. But the character’s name bore a striking resemblance to well-known actress Hedy Lamarr, who had been on contract with MGM from the 1930s to the 1950s.
Hedy was not impressed by the similarity to her own name, which Harvey Korman joked around by saying it would cause a lawsuit. And it did, although the pair were able to settle out of court.
And the Award for Best Extra Goes To…
In the iconic scene closing scene of the movie, Sheriff Bart and the Waco Kid are chased after through the Warner Brothers backlot where the movie was shot. They ran through the gates, everyone turning right, except for a one person.
Funnily enough, that was some random pedestrian who’d found himself on set, and he didn’t understand the instructions for him to leave. Brooks let him sign off on the appearance and kept him in that final scene.
Brooks got an offer to take the movie to Broadway! See next…
After the Broadway production of ‘The Producers’ reached such popularity, Brooks was asked about putting ‘Blazing Saddles’ on The Great White Way. He had a vision of how to do it, but he worried that the lewd content wouldn’t work anymore.
He said, “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,” Brooks said.
No Modesty Needed
Mel Brooks has received a lot of praise for ‘Blazing Saddles.’ Allowing himself to not be modest for once, he couldn’t help but say that he also thinks it’s one of the funniest films of all time.
By comparing it to ‘Some Like It Hot,’ Brooks stated that “Billy Wilder’s film is extremely funny, 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.”
See what Mel Brooks asked to see during Madeline Kahn’s audition!
He Wanted Kahn From the Get-Go
Brooks envisioned actress Madeline Kahn when he created the role of Lili von Shtupp as he was fond of her comedic abilities. However, when she came to audition for the role, Brooks asked to see her legs.
Kahn joking remarked, “Oh, you’re that kind of guy.” But Brooks clarified that the character was supposed to be a spoof on Marlene Dietrich, who has nice legs. She understood, yet warned him, “No touching!”
From Pryor to Cleavon
Mel Brooks was hoping to cast comedian Richard Pryor as Sheriff Bart. Mel was truly impressed with the comedian, having said he was “the most blessed with talent.” But Pryor was a very controversial person at the time, as his material was very vulgar.
Pryor was also struggling with substance abuse issues. Despite all that, Brooks still wanted Pryor to play the part, but the studio suggested Cleavon Little instead. When Brooks then saw how perfectly Little said his lines, he regrettably gave Cleavon the part.
See what Cleavon Little told Burton Gilliam during a sensitive scene…
He Gave Him the Green Light to Say the N-Word
Actor Burton Gilliam played Lyle, who was one of the bad guys. One of his lines in the script was for Lyle to call Sherrif Bart a racial slur. Because the word (as you may guess) was so sensitive, Burton didn’t feel comfortable saying it. Understandably so.
However, Cleavon Little understood that it was all in the art of the business, and gave Gilliam the green light to say it. However, Little did say this: “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.”
A Risqué Scene
Mel Brooks tended to push boundaries when it came to comedy. This may have been fun for movie-goers, but it was a nightmare for the studio. They urged Brooks to cut some scenes, but Mel only ended up cutting the riskiest one.
It was a scene when Bart and Lili von Shtupp are together in her dressing room. As she attempts to seduce him, she blows out the candle and remarks, “Is it true what they say about you people?” and Bart says, “I hate to disillusion you, ma’am, but you’re sucking on my arm.”
John Wayne declined a role in the film… see why next!
A Nod to the Original
Most parodies make an effort to give the nod the original as a matter of respect. That’s why Brooks figured he should include the legendary Western actor John Wayne in the movie. And word has it that the two met by chance on the Warner Brothers lot.
John told Mel that he heard about his movie. So Mel wrote a short bit for Wayne, but John actually declined the part, saying “Naw, I can’t do a movie like that, but I’ll be first in line to see it!”
Gene Wilder Negotiated a Deal with Mel Brooks
The legendary comedic actor Gene Wilder started collaborating with Mel Brooks on the movie ‘The Producers.’ When Mel then asked Gene to be in ‘Blazing Saddles,’ Wilder negotiated a deal.
Gene said he would be in his film if he would look over a script he started writing which he hoped to make into a movie. Mel agreed. The script was for the eventual Oscar-nominated film ‘Young Frankenstein.’
See, next, how Brooks manages to insert slapstick comedy in his movies…
Some Classic Slapstick Comedy
Mel’s humor has many times come in the form of slapstick comedy. He would get people to bang their heads on windowsills, fall down, and generally getting hurt in the name of comedy. He was also a trendsetter in another recurring slapstick joke, which was putting flatulence sounds in ‘Blazing Saddles.’
The memorably funny scene was when the cowboys sat around a campfire eating baked beans and drinking coffee. Mel figured it would be inevitable that the cowboys’ stomachs would murmur, and he decided it would be just what the scene needed.
A Little White Lie
Mel Brooks had to do a little fibbing in order to get Frankie Laine, the composer of the score of ‘Blazing Saddles,’ to do the job. Laine was a singer and songwriter for more years than most people have lived – 75 years.
When Laine agreed to take on the project, he believed that the Western was a dramatic film, rather than a parody. Mel chose not to reveal to Laine that it was a comedy, for he was worried Laine would change the song completely if he knew it was meant to be funny.
You won’t believe what the guests of the premiere watched the movie on! See, next…
A Premiere for Cowboys
Movie premieres are generally known to be glamorous and filled with the most expensively-dressed movie stars. But when it came to be the premiere for ‘Blazing Saddles,’ guests arrived on horseback, to match the film’s theme.
Yes, we’re serious. The world premiere of the film took place on February 7, 1974, at the Pickwick Drive-In Theater in Burbank, California and there were 250 invited guests who watched the film on horseback.
Nothing is Coincidence
Mel Brooks was very particular when writing the script. Every word was had intent, whether it was meant to be funny or make you cry or to enhance the plot in some form.
For example, when Mongo rides into the town on his horse, you can hear a Mexican man say, “Mongo! Santa Maria!” The line was a reference to Mongo Santamaria, who was a famous Cuban jazz musician.
The Same Song from ‘The Producers’
There’s a scene where Hedley Lamarr and his men ride into the fake town set up by the Sheriff and Waco Kid near the end of the film, and there’s a short moment where the camera cuts away. The camera turns to Lilly von Schtupp and some German soldiers who are singing a drinking song.
That same song was what Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel sing with Kenneth Mars during ‘The Producers.’
Next – the movie’s product placement made a real dent!
A Gross of Raisinets
Products are placed in films for a reason as it can really impact a company’s sales. This is what happened after Harvey Korman stopped to buy a snack at the movie theater by the end of the film. During all the chaos, he stopped to buy a box of Raisinets.
Mel Brooks stated later that this led to a real increase in sales of the product. In 1975, he told ‘Playboy magazine,’ “We mentioned Raisinets in ‘Blazing Saddles,’ and now the company sends me a gross of them every month. A gross of Raisinets!”
Like a Drunken Fistfight
Writing the script wasn’t so simple because so many people were trying to get their inputs and creations implemented. Brooks joked, “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 a director to decide what was in or out.”
Johnny Carson Got Offered the Role
Having watched Gene Wilder play Waco Kid in the comedy, you can’t even imagine the role played by anyone else. But Brooks initially offered the role to other actors, including the one and only Johnny Carson.
The late-night TV host turned down the role, in which it was given to Gig Young. And you might remember when we mentioned how Young was fired from the project. Everyone’s glad Gene Wilder took the part, though.
The Franchise That Never Was
Andrew Bergman was one of the key writers, and the movie’s success can be attributed to him as well. After the movie became such a hit, he helped create a new TV series called ‘Black Bart.’ The pilot aired on April 4, 1975, which starred Louis Fosset Jr. as Bart.
Interestingly, the show was continuing to be filmed despite never being seen by the public. The reason was due to the fact that the show was being produced under the contract that it was an official sequel.
The Art of Flatulence
Brooks knew exactly what he was doing when he included more than one flatulence reference in the movie. Governor Le Petomane was named after a “flatulence artist,” Joseph Pujol, who would go by the stage name Le Petomane.
The French performer’s “talent” was to pass gas on cue due to his strong abdominal muscles. As for the name he chose: in French, ‘peter’ means fart, and a ‘mane’ suffix infers maniac. You do the math…
Not In the Script
The parody was iconic for all its witty lines, but there was one that stood out. After the townspeople showed their hate towards Bart, Waco Kid consoled him by saying: “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.”
That last part of the line, “you know… morons,” was ad-libbed by Wilder and the improvisation caused Little to genuinely crack up.