By Clark Collis
March 21, 2019 at 05:40 PM EDT

Funny Man


Mel Brooks doesn’t much care for critics, or “crickets,” as he calls them. “They chirp and make noise,” said the director of The Producers and Blazing Saddles, according to Patrick McGilligan’s biography of the comedy legend, Funny Man. “But they should be ignored.”

Brooks, 92, may want people to ignore Funny Man, too. McGilligan paints the filmmaker as a credit hog who’d rather harm a relationship than fully acknowledge a collaborator’s contribution. He claims Brooks was rampantly unfaithful to his first wife, Florence, and a “deadbeat dad” to their children. On the set of 1983’s To Be or Not to Be, McGilligan writes, Brooks was professionally and personally awful, stopping a scene to berate his second wife, Anne Bancroft, and Charles Durning for their performances. Bancroft allegedly responded, “Mel Brooks is telling Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning how to act?” before laughing and storming off set.

McGilligan brings expertise: The professor and journalist has written biographies of Brooks’ fellow onscreen legends Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson, as well as of directors Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang. In this book he claims he had never been faced with so many potential interviewees who declined to cooperate, or did so on the condition of anonymity. The author posits that this was, in part, because people “feared Brooks’ temper or litigiousness.” That might explain McGilligan’s attitude toward his subject, but it makes plain why this book is longer on dry facts than flavorful reminiscences. The result is a gold mine for those in the market for dirt on Brooks, but may be greeted by fans with, well, crickets. B

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