Mel Brooks is baffled that he has outlived all his friends, says Michael Schulman in The New Yorker. The 95-year-old director and comedian was hit by a car when he was eight, while skidding around on rollerskates in Depression-era Brooklyn: Luckily it was a lightweight vehicle that “bounced over my belly”. He barely ever exercised, and is still stuffing down white-meat turkey sandwiches with Thousand Island dressing. He can’t account for his longevity, but recalls a sketch he wrote in the 1960s about a 2,000-year-old man who is asked the secret of a long life. “Don’t die,” he replies.
He does know the secret of his success: “simply say yes” when someone asks you to do something you don’t want to do, then ignore them after they’ve left the room. He was told to sack Gene Wilder from The Producers – “Fire the curly-haired guy” – and ditch the scenes in Blazing Saddles where the cowboys break wind round the campfire and one punches a horse. “You’ll never see it again,” he promised each time.
Brooks received and threw away so many orders from above on Blazing Saddles that Warner Bros hands referred to his wastepaper basket as his filing cabinet. But the best time of his life was from “four or five”, when he became aware of the world around him, to nine years old. What happened after that? “Homework.”
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