The fourth and last child of Max and Kitty Kaminsky, Mel Brooks was born on his family’s kitchen table in Brooklyn, New York, in 1926, and was not quite three-years-old when his father died of tuberculosis. Growing up in a household too poor to own a radio, Mel was short and homely, a mischievous child whose birth role was to make the family laugh.
Beyond boyhood, after transforming himself into Mel Brooks, the laughs that came easily inside the Kaminsky family proved more elusive. His lifelong crusade to transform himself into a brand name of popular humor is at the center of master biographer Patrick McGilligan’s Funny Man. In this exhaustively researched and wonderfully novelistic look at Brooks’ personal and professional life, McGilligan lays bare the strengths and drawbacks that shaped Brooks’ psychology, his willpower, his persona, and his comedy.
McGilligan insightfully navigates the epic ride that has been the famous funnyman’s life story, from Brooks’s childhood in Williamsburg tenements and breakthrough in early television—working alongside Sid Caesar and Carl Reiner—to Hollywood and Broadway peaks (and valleys). His book offers a meditation on the Jewish immigrant culture that influenced Brooks, snapshots of the golden age of comedy, behind the scenes revelations about the celebrated shows and films, and a telling look at the four-decade romantic partnership with actress Anne Bancroft that superseded Brooks’ troubled first marriage. Engrossing, nuanced and ultimately poignant, Funny Man delivers a great man’s unforgettable life story and an anatomy of the American dream of success.
Funny Man includes a 16-page black-and-white photo insert.
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About the Author
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 1926: Little World 1
Chapter 2 1944: Big World 34
Chapter 3 1949: Funny Is Money 61
Chapter 4 1952: Dreams and Nightmares 93
Chapter 5 1955: Club Caesar 124
Chapter 6 1957: The Genius Awakes 155
Chapter 7 1962: The Warm and Fuzzy Mel 193
Chapter 8 1965: Springtime for Mel 229
Chapter 9 1967: Auteur, Auteur! 264
Chapter 10 1971: Blazing Mel 301
Chapter 11 1974: Tops in Taps 334
Chapter 12 1975: Club Brooks 359
Chapter 13 1980: Uneasy Lies the Head 394
Chapter 14 1983: Why So Angry? 435
Chapter 15 1986: Frolics and Detours 472
Chapter 16 1995: He Who Laughs Last 504
Chapter 17 2001: Unstoppable 528
Sources and Acknowledgments 555
Chapter Notes 563