Due to sound issues in the June 10 enhanced version, we are providing the full script for AMC’s DVD_TV presentation of Young Frankenstein. (This is AMC’s script of DVD_TV information run during the film, as opposed to the film script itself.)
You can watch YF again this month and next – please follow the link below for schedule details.
Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder’s Young Frankenstein has proven to be timeless. Critics and movie audiences were unanimous in toasting its blazing success. The 1974 film was heralded by comedy and horror buffs as an instant classic. Young Frankenstein took Mary Shelley’s often-filmed tale out of the box for good, and decades later, the film remains a monster hit that refuses to stay buried.
Makeup FX pioneer William Tuttle used a blow torch to touch up ‘remains.’ Young Frankenstein’s craftsmen, cast and creators were all uniquely inspired. In fact, many people in the company contributed their career-best work. “Mel Brooks has splendid, demented gifts,” wrote critic F.X. Feeney in 1999, and all of them are working at full strength in Young Frankenstein.” Cult critic Danny Peary called it the one Mel Brooks film that everyone likes. “It’s one of my best directing jobs,” Brooks said. “Nothing to be ashamed of.”
Not everyone realizes that Young Frankenstein was a collaboration. Gene Wilder conceived of the project months before Brooks became involved. “One day, I wrote ‘Young Frankenstein’ at the top of a pad of paper,” said Wilder… “I wrote two pages of what might happen if I were heir to the Frankenstein estate.” Gene Wilder called his friend Mel Brooks that night to share his latest inspiration. Brooks’ disappointing reaction was, “Cute. That’s cute.”
At the time, Brooks was smarting from two box-office flops – The Twelve Chairs, and the original The Producers, starring Wilder and Zero Mostel. Liam Dunn also played the panicky ‘Reverend Johnson’ in Blazing Saddles. A former casting agent, Dunn’s own acting career didn’t take off until his 50s. In 1957, he’d given Warren Beatty his first acting job – in a religious TV show. He’s also been credited with discovering Steve McQueen and George C. Scott. Liam Dunn’s breakout part was the scene-stealing judge in What’s Up, Doc? Mel Brooks cast Dunn again in 1976’s Silent Movie – just before he died, at 59. “I try to give actors I’ve worked with small speaking parts,” said director Brooks, “…so that they can make some union wages.” For instance, John Dennis knew Mel Brooks from summer stock in the ’60s.
Young Frankenstein was filled with members of Brooks’ own stock company. The only ‘regulars’ absent from this cast are Dom DeLuise and Harvey Korman. Danny Goldman made the rounds in some landmark films from the ’70s, with minor roles in classics like Robert Altman’s MASH and The Long Goodbye. These days, Danny Goldman is a casting director when he’s not acting on TV. “Danny was just brilliant at badgering and annoying Gene,” Brooks said.
The first scene filmed for Young Frankenstein was shot in a lecture hall at the University of Southern California. Even at this early stage of filming, Wilder had trouble keeping a straight face. Previously, Richard Haydn shared the screen with Brando, Fonda and Stanwyck. He’s best remembered as the concert impresario in The Sound of Music.
The train station send-off was filmed on the historic MGM Studios backlot. The set consisted of a platform, a train and less than 50 feet of railroad track.
‘Elizabeth’ was Madeline Kahn’s second bombshell part in a Mel Brooks film. Her first was a raunchy send-up of Marlene Dietrich in Blazing Saddles. “Mel treats me like an uncle,” Kahn told Newsweek. “A dirty uncle… He’s an earthy man and very moral underneath. He has traditional values.”
TV’s ‘Chef Boy-Ar-Dee,’ Rolfe Sedan, has a brief cameo as the conductor. This scene was ‘blocked’ spontaneously on set during filming. Brooks claims he never interfered with Madeline Kahn’s comic instincts. In this instance, he was too busy biting his handkerchief to give her direction. “She made me craaaazy,” he said. “It was difficult not to laugh.” Kahn also improvised her farewell cough.
‘Transylvania Station’ was one of the first scenes Gene Wilder wrote, and the earliest to define the tone of his intended Frankenstein parody.
In 1972, Wilder’s agent also represented Peter Boyle and Marty Feldman. One day, he asked Wilder if he had any ideas that could feature all 3 of his clients. Wilder thought his Young Frankenstein concept might fit the bill. “That night, I wrote this scene almost verbatim the way it was filmed,” he said, “I was inspired by having just seen The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine on TV.” Marty Feldman was funny behind the camera for years, writing BBC specials. He didn’t try acting until the Monty Python troupe invited him to perform. “Schizophrenia is a natural state for a writer-actor,” Feldman remarked… “Jekyll’s the writer, Hyde the actor. He has all the fun, while Jekyll does all the work.”
“Walk this way” was a joke too cheap to keep, Brooks feared. Assistant editor Stanford Allen begged him to leave it in. In 1975, Aerosmith took a late-night break from recording to see Young Frankenstein. Stephen Tyler wrote their mega-hit “Walk This Way” the next morning.
“Young Frankenstein is the movie that put me on the map,” Teri Garr declared. At just 26, Teri Garr was the babe in the cast – and already a pro. “I was one of the girls who danced in Elvis movies,” she explained, “and I’d been buried in the sand for an Annette Funicello movie.” Garr beat out Farrah Fawcett and hundreds of other ingénues for this part.
Mel Brooks himself provided the werewolf’s howl and other animal sounds. He also recorded snorts, grunts, groans, sighs and guffaws for the final mix.
Dale Hennesy designed the atmospheric movie-castle sets. At a cost of $400,000, they accounted for 13% of the film’s modest budget.
Garr stuffed her bra with “socks, tissue, canned hams – whatever was handy.”
Cloris Leachman, will be forever known as the infamous ‘Frau Blücher.’ Leachman had just snagged an Oscar® for the dramatic The Last Picture Show. “Frau Blücher was a good part, a crazy lady,” said co-writer Gene Wilder, “but when Cloris brought the reality to it, she was tooty-fruity.”
The castle interior boasted 15-foot-tall doors and walls rising to 35 feet. Constructed on Stage 5 at Fox Studios, the castle covered 15,000 square feet. It was the most imposing set built at Fox since The Poseidon Adventure.
‘Frau Blücher’ was modeled after the spookiest lady Gene Wilder could think of. “In my youth, Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca scared me a lot,” he said. Mel Brooks still appreciates the nuances of Cloris Leachman’s performance. “I watch this movie once a year, and I always see something new,” said Brooks. “Last year, I discovered Cloris’ little reactions.” Once, for instance, she reacts to Wilder’s raised voice as if he’d slapped her.
When Wilder created ‘Frau Blücher,’ he got her name from a book about Freud. After the film came out, a fan told him that “blücher” means “glue” in German. “Those horses must have known something I didn’t,” Wilder quipped. Unfortunately, the “glue” rumor doesn’t stick – it’s just an urban legend.
Gene Wilder wrote Young Frankenstein because he felt his skills were underused. He’d won hearts as ‘Willy Wonka’ and was Oscar®-nominated for The Producers. Yet Wilder believed he was at his best playing sad romantics with funny quirks. He wanted more gigs like Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex, where he got to play a man who falls obsessively in love with a sheep.
Teri Garr had been trying to rise above one-line roles in musicals and sitcoms. “My credits were so small, I called them debits,” she joked. Garr found out about the Frankenstein auditions from her mother, Phyllis, who’d already been hired as one of the film’s wardrobe mistresses. Teri Garr originally read for ‘Elizabeth’ – and came in second to Madeline Kahn. Director Mel Brooks asked Garr to return the next day with a German accent. At the time, she was a regular on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, so she spent the next morning chatting up Cher’s German wig stylist. In no time, she could say, “Mein Gott! Zis vig veighs forty pounds.” “The first time I met Teri was when she read for Inga,” Gene Wilder recalled, “Her accent was so funny, and her acting was sensational.” Garr revealed, “After the accent, there were two things I needed for Inga, so I wore a fuzzy pink sweater and a bra padded with socks to the reading.” When the auditions for ‘Inga’ ended, it was “no contest,” said Wilder. Teri Garr and her mom didn’t reveal their relation until a week into filming. “You must be so proud,” the director congratulated Mrs. Garr.
Gene Wilder’s candle was rigged with a small light that he had to keep hidden.
‘Inga’ was recycled from ‘Ulla,’ the buxom secretary in The Producers. There was no stacked, sexy lab assistant in the original Frankenstein.
Real skulls were obtained for props, except one, which was made out of wax, false teeth and monkey hair.
British funnyman Marty Feldman was famous for his bulging, roaming eyes. He had a hyperthyroid condition called Graves Disease, brought on by overwork. “I look at the world obliquely,” Feldman once mused, “not back in anger, but sideways in suspicion.” To learn more about Marty Feldman’s distinctive looks, go to www.amc.com.
Mel Brooks saved money by not licensing dialogue from the original Frankenstein. Instead, he recorded this voice-over himself.
In 1972, Marty Feldman had just been signed by Wilder’s agent, Mike Medavoy, the future studio head who is the uncredited godfather of this film. At Medavoy’s urging, Wilder submitted a four-page sample of Young Frankenstein. “He called back two days later and said, ‘I think I can sell this,’” Wilder recalled, “Then he added, ‘What do you think about Mel Brooks directing?’” Wilder assured Medavoy that Brooks wouldn’t direct a script he didn’t write. After all, Brooks hadn’t been intrigued when Wilder had pitched it to him earlier. However, Wilder miscalculated Brooks’ financial circumstances at the time. Wilder: “The next day, Mike called and said, ‘I made the deal. Mel said yes.’”
“Columbia offered Mel $250,000 to direct, and he said yes,” Wilder continued, “Then Mel called me and said, ‘What are you getting me into?’” Deal terms required Wilder to send the script to Brooks in 20-page installments. They held only two creative meetings before Wilder completed the first draft. Brooks concluded, “If Shakespeare’s triumph is Hamlet, then Gene Wilder’s triumph is certainly Young Frankenstein.” While editing Blazing Saddles, Brooks revised the first draft with Wilder. They met evenings, alternately in the editing room or at Wilder’s hotel, where they’d go over his latest pages and discuss new scenes. Significantly, Brooks contributed plot structure and an earthy sense of humor. Though “schwanstucker” is a made-up word, it means just what you think it does.
Garr had to say “enormous personality” when Young Frankenstein first aired on TV.
“When writing, I don’t worry about plot as much as I do about people,” Brooks said, “I get to know the characters – what they need, what they want, what they should do.” Brooks and Wilder would hang out every night until 1:00 am, brainstorming. Brooks recalled, “We worked very hard, and the rewrite took about 3 months. We really had fun together. We were like a couple of kids.” Once it was finished, they showed it to Marty Feldman – who jumped on board. Wilder doubted Brooks would’ve made the film if he hadn’t needed the cash. “Lucky me!” Wilder wrote in his 2005 autobiography. “Lucky Mel!”
The cemetery was an existing set on MGM’s Lot 2. Greer Garson got married in this same churchyard in 1942’s Mrs. Miniver. Ten years later, Gene Kelly was dancing and singing in the rain just blocks away. In the ‘30s, during Louis B. Mayer’s reign, MGM’s backlot sprawled across 180 acres. The studio had a payroll of 5,000, and they released 50 films a year. MGM had its own police and fire departments, as well as a post office. “We were lucky that MGM hadn’t sold off their backlot yet,” Mel Brooks said. Sadly, Lot 2 was leveled for commercial development shortly after filming. Young Frankenstein was the last time these sets were displayed to the public. Today, a residential community called Studio Estates stands here, and these streets are now Astaire Ave., Garland Dr., and Coogan Circle.
For horror movie fans, Young Frankenstein is more than a spoof. It’s a loving send-up of the world immortalized in Universal’s horror series. Marty Feldman’s ‘hump’ was a costume pregnancy pad. “It’s optional,” he kidded a set visitor. “I only wear it in the evening.”
Frankenstein’s director, James Whale, had a sense of humor like Mel Brooks’. His sequel, Bride of Frankenstein, is even more tongue-in-cheek than the first film.
The handwriting on these jars was provided by Mel Brooks.
The filmmakers managed to get the actual lab equipment used in Frankenstein. Kenneth Strickfaden, the original designer, still had all the pieces in his garage. “Back then, I’d put something together and then marvel at it,” said Strickfaden, “The styling depended on what kind of junk I had at hand.” 78-year-old FX guru Kenneth Strickfaden was a welcome presence on the set. He even invented new gizmos just for Young Frankenstein. The last time he’d hauled out his toys was for 1973’s Blackenstein. Strickfaden’s lab props were harmless, except for one mysterious gadget. “I don’t know what it does,” Marty Feldman reported, “but I don’t touch it.”
In Mary Shelley’s classic source novel, the doctor’s methods are never revealed. Lightning and electrical jolts were merely Hollywood’s favorite interpretation.
Before James Whale’s Frankenstein, there had been stage plays and 3 silent films. Openly gay in the ‘30s, Whale intended the film’s ‘mutant outsider’ as a gay metaphor. 1998’s Gods and Monsters fictionalized the last weeks of James Whale’s life.
Designer Dale Hennesy based the gothic lab on Charles D. Hall’s original set. The clanking platform was so loud, there was no need to add sound effects later. It rose to an ‘exterior’ roof set, surrounded by a stormy sky backdrop. This was a real 500,000 volt discharge – but this ‘Creature’ was just a dummy. Wilder was safe as long as the electricity had something closer to jump to. Smoke machines under the table made the electrical sizzle more convincing.
In one shot, the ‘Creature’s’ head was a fiberglass cast. A light was placed inside, connected to a dimmer switch that made it pulse. “The best production designers can bring a script to life,” said Gene Wilder, “but Dale Hennesy made it better with his concepts of how it should look.” Hennesy’s most popular work contained elements of fantasy and imagination. Nominated for Logan’s Run and Annie, he won an Oscar® for Fantastic Voyage.
A protective box prevented Peter Boyle from taking an actual beating.
As children, Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks were both terrified by Frankenstein. “It gave me nightmares,” said Brooks. “I’d wake up screaming, ‘Frankensteiiiiin!’” For Brooks, part of this film’s appeal was the chance to exorcise his early fears. Wilder, too, was compelled to re-live the monster movie trauma of his youth. “I wanted to change the endings, make them come out the way I wanted,” he said.
Young Frankenstein spoofed the 1931 original right down to its Cockney accents. Though Frankenstein was made in America and set in Germany, the cast was British. “I tried to get everybody to talk with a British accent,” said director Mel Brooks. Arthur Malet was ‘Mr. Dawes Jr.,’ the banker’s son, in Mary Poppins. After Young Frankenstein, he played a graveyard keeper in Halloween.
One of Kenneth Mars’ specialties is impenetrable accents. In Brooks’ The Producers, Mars played crazed Nazi playwright ‘Franz Liebkind.’ He was the orthodontically-challenged ‘W.D. “Bud” Prize’ on Fernwood 2Nite, and he impersonated Serbian film critic John Simon in What’s Up, Doc? “Ken Mars brought an insanity to the part of Inspector Kemp,” said Gene Wilder, “He had to be adjusted to, as far as the script was concerned.” Recently, Mars played dude rancher ‘Otto Mannkusser’ on Malcolm in the Middle.
The castle halls were lit to suggest firelight, rather than electricity. Torches and fireplaces ran on propane to avoid smoking up the soundstage. The cinematography of the original Frankenstein was consulted for ideas. Young Frankenstein’s cinematographer intended “not to copy, but to satirize.” Backlighting was overemphasized, which was typical of cinematography in the ’30s.
Teri Garr is wearing one of Julie Andrews’ dresses from Star! – backwards. Costumer Dorothy Jeakins started out on biblical epics like The 10 Commandments. Later, she dressed up musicals like South Pacific and The Sound of Music. Jeakins won Oscars® for Joan of Arc, Samson & Delilah and Night of the Iguana.
Peter Boyle’s ‘Creature’ makeup was a departure from Hollywood tradition, since the iconic flat-head design is licensed to Universal until the year 2026. Makeup wiz William Tuttle still honored Jack Pierce’s original 1931 concept. The ‘Creature’s’ prominent forehead and unusual footwear are obvious holdovers. In Frankenstein, Boris Karloff wore asphalt-spreader’s boots for extra height. Peter Boyle’s platform boots extended his 6’2” height by 5 inches, and padded clothing added 125 pounds to his existing weight. Once he was in his monster makeup, Boyle’s complexion was mint green. The green makeup photographed as dead skin in black-and-white.
16 takes had been filmed of Wilder’s strangling, but only in this wide shot. “Kids love this scene,” Brooks noted. “It takes the fear out of the monster. They laugh because they’re relieved that it’s a funny scene, not a deadly one.” The grown-ups on the set found this to be a funny scene, too. As with other moments in the film, Gene Wilder simply couldn’t hold it together. Editor John Howard had no choice but to use footage of Wilder visibly laughing. Fortunately, there were better ‘cutaways’ of Teri Garr to work with here.
Film critic Pauline Kael wrote that hysteria is Gene Wilder’s “dazzling specialty.” “It seems perfectly natural for him,” she said. “His fits are lucid and total. They take him into a different dimension – he delivers what Harpo Marx promised.” Gene Wilder wasn’t the only pro on the set who gave in to the madness. Teri Garr recalled, “Every night when I went home, my laugh muscles were tired.” Mel Brooks was reportedly doubled over on the floor on some occasions. After ruining several takes by cracking up, the producer was asked to leave the set, and the camera operator got in trouble for jiggling the camera while laughing.
Young Frankenstein lampooned highlights from all the old Frankenstein movies. Kenneth Mars was spoofing ‘Inspector Krohl’ from Son of Frankenstein (1939). The inspector, played by Lionel Atwill, got his arm torn off by the monster, and still challenged the son of ‘Doctor Frankenstein’ to a game of darts. Co-writer Gene Wilder also got ideas from Return of and Ghost of Frankenstein. Kenneth Mars brought shades of Dr. Strangelove to the game, as well.
Mel Brooks is also responsible for the sounds imitating a cat… “As a boy, I could make the greatest cat-in-pain sounds in the world,” he boasted.
Wilder didn’t fashion his own performance after Frankenstein’s Colin Clive. Instead, he mimicked refined English actors Robert Donat and Leslie Howard. His acting, loungewear and eye-liner all evoke the style of a ’30s matinee idol.
After World War II, moviegoers were ready to poke fun at the Frankenstein saga. They got their wish with 1948’s slapstick Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.
Cloris Leachman designed ‘Frau Blücher’s’ unlovely makeup herself. At her request, makeup man Bill Tuttle gave her dark brown lips and a chin wart. According to Brooks, the wart once fell into her tuna salad – and she ate it. ‘Frau Blücher’ had no predecessor in the original Frankenstein movies. Una O’Connor came closest, as Bride of Frankenstein’s dithering maid ‘Minnie.’
“Peter Boyle is so innocent,” said Wilder. “It was his idea to ‘catch’ butterflies.” In the original Frankenstein, Boris Karloff also tried to ‘catch’ musical notes.
Leachman was 1946’s Miss Chicago, and a runner-up in the Miss America pageant. “Every time Cloris works, she’s good,” said Brooks. “She’s never bad. Cloris never plays comedy for comedy – she plays from her heart.” Mel Brooks would take Leachman to ‘Fuglytown’ twice more, as High Anxiety’s ‘Nurse Diesel’ and ‘Madame DeFarge’ in History of the World.
One climactic scene was Brooks’ tribute to Yiddish theater on NYC’s 2nd Avenue. Brooks: “They always used to end Act Two with the line ‘What have I done?’”
Actor Michael Fox was best known as the coroner on TV’s Perry Mason. He’s the reason Michael J. Fox had to add the ‘J.’ to his name.
A year before Young Frankenstein, the monster visited another girl – in Spain. Spirit of the Beehive’s heroine conjured him up while living under fascist rule. Victor Erice’s highly-regarded 1973 film was an influence on Pan’s Labyrinth.
Anne Beesley ‘flew’ on a camouflaged cable – long before digital retouching.
A scene from Bride of Frankenstein was the basis for one famous cameo. “Until I recognized his voice,” said The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael, “I thought there was a famous comic hidden under the beard.” The next time this actor wore so much makeup, he was in The Birdcage (1996). Bill Tuttle’s makeup was so effective, many didn’t recognize Gene Hackman. Tuttle won an Oscar® for transforming Tony Randall in The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. Just 44, Gene Hackman was a recent Oscar® winner for The French Connection. Peter Boyle had actually turned down Hackman’s part in that film because it was too similar to the blue-collar racist he’d portrayed in Joe (1970). Gene Hackman wasn’t among strangers on the Young Frankenstein set. He’d just finished Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation with Teri Garr, and would co-star next with Kenneth Mars in 1975’s Night Moves.
Peter Boyle wore a rubber apron to protect his enormous schwanstucker.
Gene Hackman and Gene Wilder had co-starred in 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde. They were tennis buddies when Young Frankenstein started pre-production. Wilder recalled, “Gene asked me if there was some little part he could play. He meant a walk-on, but Mel and I agreed there was only one part – the blind man.” That same year, Hackman declined Jaws and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Reportedly, it took 4 days to find just the right degree of lunacy for this scene. “Gene Hackman played the scene for all it was worth,” Brooks approved, “He was absolutely magnificent. I never had to give him any direction at all.”
Boyle wore a fake thumb that had been dipped in alcohol.
Mel Brooks hired frequent collaborator John Morris to score Young Frankenstein. “Outside of The Elephant Man, this is probably his finest score,” said Brooks. “He went back to Transylvanian folk music and came up with this gypsy song.” Session artist Jerry Vinci played all the violin solos.
Teri Garr is costumed like Olympic skater/movie star Sonja Henie in Thin Ice. Garr was code-named “the long-legged beauty” by Brooks and Gene Wilder.
In the rebellious ’70s, filmmakers indulged in genre spoofing. From monsters to airplanes to Hitchcock, no Hollywood institution was sacred. Earlier in 1974, Brooks had reduced the western to a fart joke in Blazing Saddles. Wilder came to Brooks’ rescue on that film by stepping in for one of its stars. Gig Young, an infamously heavy drinker, had collapsed on the set from the DTs. Wilder flew to L.A. on a day’s notice and took over the part of an aging gunslinger. Unpredictably, Blazing Saddles was a smash hit – a first for Brooks and Wilder. “Blazing Saddles was, perhaps, the first surrealistic western,” said Wilder. Mel Brooks called Young Frankenstein his “valentine to the horror movie.” The L.A. Times review said, “There are jokes older than Mary Shelley herself, but, ultimately, it really is a film born in admiration and done with affection.”
Young Frankenstein was a lucky consolation prize for Peter Boyle. He’d been top choice for Paul Newman’s role in The Sting – until Newman took it. “In high school, I wanted to be a leading man,” Boyle confessed, “But then, God saw fit to take the hair off my head at age 24.” Boyle might have chalked it up to divine retribution – he’d just quit the monastery. “I felt the call for a while, then I felt the pull of the world and the flesh,” he said. Peter Boyle joined Chicago’s Second City troupe before moving to Broadway. He was inspired by the ’68 Democratic Convention to become a war protestor. Despite his liberal politics and flair for comedy, Boyle often played hatemongers. Besides Joe, he played a blowhard in Taxi Driver and a bigot in Monster’s Ball. “I’ve done the angry blue-collar guy so often, it’s easy for me,” he said in 2004.
Norbert Schiller played a doctor in the original The Thing, released in 1951. Many credit that film – and anti-communist fears – for the ‘50s monster-movie craze. He also appeared in Frankenstein 1970 – a movie released in 1958.
In 1974, Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks were reportedly the closest of friends. They shared an office at 20th Century-Fox while making Young Frankenstein, and were so in tune, they could finish each other’s sentences.
While polishing the script, Brooks and Wilder took turns acting out the ‘Creature.’ “The Creature was great on paper,” Wilder declared, “but we didn’t know if it would work until Peter came in.” The part was written for Boyle, who was yet another client of Gene Wilder’s agent. “The monster I play is big and scary, but he’s a baby,” Boyle described, “He’s just been born, and to him, the whole world is an alien environment.” Variety praised Boyle’s “excellent blend of malice, pity and comedy” in this role. Wilder fed Boyle an M&M® – a mystery recently solved by Larry King.
This surreal detour sparked the only creative clash between the creators. “I’m ashamed to say I didn’t think it would work,” said Brooks. “It was too crazy.” Wilder: “I argued why it was valid until I was purple. I was close to rage and tears.” Then, after 25 heated minutes, Brooks backed down and said, “OK, it stays.” Brooks wanted to make sure Wilder had the courage of his convictions.
Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” was first used in a 1930 film of the same name. It was a hit for Fred Astaire in ’46 and again in ’82 for one-hit-wonder Taco. As it turned out, this song-and-dance was Young Frankenstein’s showstopper. Time raved, “It’s some sort of deranged high point in contemporary film comedy.” Choreographer Alan Johnson had worked for Mel Brooks on The Producers. He later directed Brooks’ zany antics for “The Inquisition” in History of the World. “Everybody gave me credit for the bizarre insanity of this scene,” said Brooks, “but it was basically Gene’s idea. My directing helped make it work.” This scene almost broke the film’s budget over music rights and union extras.
Even the extras in Young Frankenstein were dedicated, like one ‘Angry Villager.’ Extra Clement von Franckenstein – his real name – begged for a part in the film.
Teri Garr was “a shiksa dream” to Mel Brooks, since she dated Jewish men. She said Brooks labeled her “Jewish by injection” when her mother wasn’t around. “Teri was sensationally innocent and naïve,” said Brooks, “We could play our dirty jokes with her because her intentions were so pure.”
Young Frankenstein began as a Columbia project, but the studio choked on the cost. Presented with a $2,300,000 budget, they refused to spend over $1,750,000. 20th Century-Fox read the script and, in a matter of days, offered $3 million. “I hate to think what might’ve happened if we’d made it at Columbia,” said Wilder. Photography began on February 26, 1974 – two weeks after Blazing Saddles opened.
Cloris Leachman complained that Wilder ruined many of her best takes by laughing. In fact, one scene became legend among crew members for that reason. “We must have shot this 30 times because we kept laughing,” said Mel Brooks, “Since we couldn’t even film it, I thought we were going to have to throw it out.” Wilder recalled that the scene was playing flat in rehearsal and needed a jolt. Dialogue improvisation was generally avoided, but Brooks was open to anything. Madeline Kahn attested, “Sometimes Mel shoots a take and says, ‘Do another, but this time, go bananas.’” Eventually, Brooks was inspired by the spirit of Groucho Marx, which resulted in a new line and some funny business for Marty Feldman. Wilder kept losing it due to Feldman’s zany improvisations with the fox fur.
Oscar Beregi was a veteran of Mel Brooks’ TV spy spoof, Get Smart! He played the ‘Beastmaster’ on multiple episodes.
Producer Richard Roth (Julia) was the first person who urged Gene Wilder to write. Wilder showed his gratitude by getting Roth cast as the inspector’s assistant.
Young Frankenstein shot for 54 days – or nights, more often. Cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld hunted for his old black-and-white filters until he realized there were no exterior daytime shots in the film. Even the cinematographer favored shooting in color, at first. Filming in black-and-white was a battle Mel Brooks was prepared to fight. The studio argued that black-and-white movies couldn’t be sold to Europe, but Brooks was adamant about recreating the look of 1931’s Frankenstein. “If they were going to do it in color, Mel wasn’t going to direct it,” said Hirschfeld. Brooks’ only hesitation had to do with Gene Wilder’s and Madeline Kahn’s hair. Black-and-white failed to capture the radiance of their blond-on-auburn locks. Wilder’s hair was once compared to dandelion fluff. “Gene was rather handsome, in this picture especially,” said Mel Brooks, “He looked beautiful in black-and-white.”
Before Young Frankenstein, Madeline Kahn belted one out in Blazing Saddles. Trained in opera, Kahn earned money for college singing in a German beer hall.
Young Frankenstein’s ‘atmosphere’ was created with a ton and a half of dry ice. “In the horror movies I loved, there was always fog for no reason,” said Brooks.
Surprisingly, Madeline Kahn turned down the larger role of ‘Inga’ in this film. Gene Wilder wrote if for her after he saw her as ‘Lili von Shtupp’ in Blazing Saddles. “Madeline wanted to play the fiancée, and I thought she must be nuts,” he said. Once he saw her in character, he realized she could turn any role into a diva. New Yorker: “Kahn has an extra dimension of sexiness, almost like Mae West had. She’s so lascivious that she convinces you she really digs the monster.”
Goof: ‘Inspector Kemp’s’ wooden arm changed sides for one shot.
Kahn’s white streaks were a nod to Elsa Lanchester in Bride of Frankenstein. In 1973, a young Jane Seymour was the monster’s bride in a lavish mini-series. In fact, Frankenstein remakes were practically everywhere in the mid-’70s. There was also Andy Warhol’s 3-D gore-porn version, Flesh for Frankenstein, and in 1975, Fox unveiled the cult phenom The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Strangest of all was Sevimli Frankestayn from Turkey, also made in 1975. It’s a shot-for-shot remake of Young Frankenstein – in badly translated Turkish.
Marty Feldman and Mel Brooks both started their careers as jazz musicians. Jazz and comedy rely equally on rhythm and variations, Feldman explained. “For me,” said Wilder, “Marty is the heart and soul of Young Frankenstein.” A dedicated horn player, Feldman wanted to be reincarnated as Miles Davis.
Unlike today’s movie scores, Young Frankenstein’s theme repeats frequently. “A theme that connects to the emotion of a film is inexhaustible,” Brooks argued.
This was the first movie to display its artwork on the side of a tall building. Grafting it onto the Playboy Building on L.A.’s Sunset Strip took 800 man-hours. Graphic designer Anthony Goldschmidt oversaw the 82-foot-high installation, which proved so successful, it became a long-running tradition. On the poster, Gene Wilder’s writing credit had mysteriously disappeared. In a landmark decision, the Writers’ Guild fined the studio and restored the credit.
‘Dr. Frankenstein’ had no lab assistants in Mary Shelley’s classic 1818 novel. In 1931’s Frankenstein, Dwight Frye played the sadistic assistant ‘Fritz.’ ‘Ygor,’ originated by Bela Lugosi, first appeared in 1939’s Son of Frankenstein.
Mary Shelley’s book was initially panned as “a horrible and disgusting absurdity.” Today, it remains a cautionary tale about the dangers of arrogance and technology. “Mary Shelley was the first person to discover womb envy,” Brooks suggested, “The monster is born out of the scientist’s rage at not being able to give birth.”
Wilder believed Frankenstein is essentially about the outsider’s yearning for love. “Even though we did a comedy, that classic theme is still there,” he insisted. Peter Boyle found love as the crotchety dad on Everybody Loves Raymond. That show’s creator said, “At the audition he scared me, so I gave him the part.” Surprisingly, Boyle’s only Emmy was for a guest spot on The X-Files. When Peter Boyle died in 2006, “Puttin’ on the Ritz” was revived in his memory.
Marty Feldman died young in 1982, and Madeline Kahn passed on in 1999. Though some of its participants are gone, Young Frankenstein refuses to die. Mel Brooks has adapted it into a stage musical, due for Broadway in 2007.
For Young Frankenstein’s stars, romance lingered after the film wrapped. “Gene Wilder was absolutely crazy about Teri Garr,” said director Mel Brooks, “They liked each other a lot – that’s all I’ll say.” Wilder was admittedly smitten and said they eventually became lovers.
‘Dr. Frankenstein’ got thrown off a cliff at the end in Wilder’s first draft. Happily, he rethought the finale – which helped the film earn $87 million. Adjusted for inflation, that’s over $300 million today.
Peter Boyle met his future wife, a Rolling Stone reporter, on the set of this film. He asked her out while still wearing his monster makeup. John Lennon was best man at their wedding in 1977.
Arguably, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder made their best movies together. Though still friends, they never again collaborated after Young Frankenstein. Wilder’s later films were never as crazy, and Brooks’ never had so much heart. Wilder said, “Making Young Frankenstein was the happiest I’d ever been on a film.” One day, as filming wound down, Brooks found Wilder staring at the fake fireplace. “What’s the matter?” Brooks asked. “Why so sad?” Wilder replied, “I’ve been so happy here. I don’t want to leave Transylvania.”Read More