NEW YORK — Mel Brooks has made audiences laugh for more than a half century, but it was his wife, the late Anne Bancroft, who made him smile.
It's been nearly five years since the actress passed away, but not a day goes by that Brooks doesn't think about her.
"I had 45 of the greatest years of my life," Brooks says.
During a recent interview, the 83-year old Brooks recalled their first meeting in 1961. It was on the set of "The Perry Como Show" in New York, where Bancroft was performing a song called "Married, I Could Always Get." After she finished, she was greeted by Brooks who proclaimed, "I'm Mel Brooks and I'm going to marry you."
Bancroft responded: "Hey, I have your record." She was referring to the classic comedy album Brooks did with Carl Reiner, "The Two-Thousand Year Old Man."
"The album came out in 1960, and this was Feb. 5, 1961," Brooks recalls. "From that day, until her death on June 5, 2005, we were glued together."
The Brooklyn-born Brooks began his career as a writer for Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows." Alumni from that classic TV program included Reiner, Larry Gelbart, Neil Simon and Woody Allen.
After the success of his comedy record, Brooks established a long career as a writer, director and actor. His first feature film, 1968's "The Producers," won an Academy Award for best screenplay. It became a Broadway hit in 2001.
"Anne was responsible," Brooks says of turning his Oscar script into a Tony-winning musical.
Brooks says he was approached by David Geffen to do the musical version of the film, but was reluctant at first. Tensions increased when Geffen suggested bringing in Jerry Herman to write the remainder of the songs. It was then that Bancroft intervened.
"I won't let you do this, if they don't let you do the score," she told him. "That's the only reason to do it, the score."
Brooks went back to Geffen, and told him: "It's me or no musical." And the rest is history as "The Producers" won a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards.
Brooks says Bancroft always had his best interests at heart right until the end. One of the last things she did was help him structure "Young Frankenstein" as a musical.
"She suggested where and when to sing, and what to save (from the film version)," Brooks said. "She was wonderful."
Bancroft did not live to see the show's Broadway opening in late 2007.
"I had to open it without her," Brooks says, choking up. "It was hard. It's still hard."