In a TCM Fest curtain talk with UCLA costume historian Deborah Nadoolman-Landis (she's married to film director John Landis) prior to a screening of Cecil B. DeMille's Cleopatra (1934), designer Bob Mackie (pictured at right) described an early influence. It was Travis Banton's amazing costumes for Claudette Colbert in the at-turns-camp, at-turns-sumptuous Roman romp.
Asked by Brown what spurred his ribald take-off of the James Whale horror flick, Brooks recalled:
"In 1931, I was five years old, I was already born. I was deep into poverty."
"They were playing Frankenstein at the Commodore Theater in Williamsburg [Brooklyn]. My mother took me."
"Now, we called the monster "Frankenstein." You know, the big guy who scared the shit out of us?"
"He [not the scientist] was Frankenstein."
"That night, I told my mother to close the window. She said to me, 'We're on the fifth floor of a tenement. It's hot. And air conditioning hasn't been invented yet.'
"I said to her, 'Frankenstein is gonna come and bite me and kill me.'
"My mother said, 'In order for Frankenstein to come up the fire escape, he has to take a train from Transylvania to the port and then he has to take a boat across the ocean and then he has to take the BMT to Brooklyn and then he'll get the people on the first floor before he would climb five stories up our fire escape.'"
"So I let her open the window."
Brooks went on to recount how his good pal, Gene Wilder, had the initial idea for the flick, and how together they developed it, and how Alan Ladd Jr. at Twentieth Century Fox backed the film's two million dollar budget.
Young Frankenstein rocked the walls of the Egyptian tonight. Of all the bit players in the film -- a dream cast, and they are all so hilarious -- Marty Feldman ("Damn your eyes!" "Too late!") gets my vote as the funniest.
Photo courtesy Turner Classic Movies, by Bauer Griffin
Debra Levine is a Los Angeles-based arts journalist blogging about dance, film, music and urban culture on arts•meme.