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Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks worked on Young Frankenstein while filming Blazing Saddles.
“Gene wrote everything in pencil on his yellow legal pads, which my secretary typed up the next day. It was really a fierce, fierce collaboration, and we were devoted to our script,” Brooks said.
“We knew Young Frankenstein had to be in black-and-white if we were going to salute those great Universal Pictures movies of the 1930s.” Brooks said. However, the studio didn’t like the idea because they feared it would hurt ticket sales. So they offered a compromise – film in color, but it’ll be shown in black-and-white.
Brooks didn't trust this approach though. After all, they could easily change their minds. Thankfully, they found a producer (Alan Ladd Jr.) who agreed with their vision and offered the money they needed to film exclusively in black-and-white.
Cloris’ character was inspired by Mrs. Danvers (as played by Judith Anderson) from Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca. She had never done a German accent before this film, but Mel Brook’s mother, who was on set, actually helped her hone it to perfection.
Teri Garr was originally going to read for Elizabeth, but Mel Brooks told her Madeline Kahn would most likely get the part, especially after working with her in Blazing Saddles. But after he told her about Inga, she quickly practiced a German accent and got some help from a German stylist on the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. The practice paid off, and she got the part.
It was Madeline Kahn’s idea to sing “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life” because it began with “Ah!” Originally, she was supposed to sing “Cheek to Cheek” by Irving Berlin.
Brooks always felt like Wilder knew the part of Frankenstein instinctively and had to give him very little instruction. Speaking about his direction, Wilder said, “He gives me the most insane things to do, and I carry them out realistically… My job was to make him more subtle. His job was to make me more broad. I would say, ‘I don’t want this to be Blazing Frankenstein,’ and he’d answer, ‘I don’t want an art film that only fourteen people see.”
Marty Feldman remembered, “Gene’s timing was like Olivier Hardy. It forced me to be Stan Laurel. I was very nervous… Mel has a great instinct for comedy. There’s a Yiddish phrase, tummler. He talks comedy. He can demonstrate it. His instincts are right.”
Everyone in the cast got along. Mel Brooks said, “With Young Frankenstein, I loved everybody who worked on that set, so I used to make sure we all had lunch together in the commissary at Fox. When we finished shooting, it was hard to let it go.”
In 2014, in honor of the 40th anniversary, Fox had a giant mural of the cast and Brooks painted on the wall of Stage 5, where most of the film was shot. They also named the street nearby “Mel Brooks Boulevard."
Brooks quipped, “I guess that gives the studio execs an opportunity to walk all over me every day. But still, it’s flattering.”