Brooks reaps praise in New York

GOOD MORNING AFTER the most fun I’ve ever had at the theater. You, of course, know I’m talking about the premiere of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” at the St. James Theater on West 44th Street where the lines extend around the block — despite the raise in ticket prices to $100. After the cast took their beaming bows, Brooks, co-writer Thomas Meehan and director-choreographer Susan Stroman came onstage to even more thunderous applause — and it seemed the euphoric audience was now holding its breath for some more priceless words from Brooks. But he refrained from taking any space from the rest of the company and merely bowed and bowed and bowed. Later, at the party, he was hugged by everyone. He had already been told the Daily Variety and New York Times rave reviews and admitted he couldn’t believe the plethora of praise. Daily Variety had predicted the New York success in our out-of-town review, namely Chicago — which I thought was the best I’d ever read on any show up to then. Then came Thursday’s “official” B’way bow and the rockets went off from all reviewers. Next morning I again spoke with Mel. He was wearing his producer’s hat — you know, the slouched fedora, soft-brimmed, tilted over one eye. No, he wasn’t wearing the cape which he first introduced in his duets with Carl Reiner when he played the 2,000-year-old man. That costume was donned by Nathan Lane as the Brooks-inspired Max Bialystock. Mel told how getting together with his show’s ad department to choose the (super) quotes about the cast — and show. It would not be a difficult job. Everyone received the plaudits they deserved — from every critic. Shifting into his own comedic Max Bialystock mode, Brooks said to me “Not any of the producers knows what they own! We raised 1,000%.” Turning serious for a moment, Brooks admitted the success of “The Producers” “is the pinnacle of my career.” He had one regret about the night, he quickly volunteered: “Too bad Carl wasn’t here.” Carl, of course, is Reiner, his lifelong friend. “He’s being a movie star,” Brooks said of Reiner’s current job, as co-star of “Ocean’s Eleven.” Mel will give him a personal report next week when Brooks returns to L.A. and to his offices at Brooksfilm, where he once again turns his talents to moviemaking. He told me of his concerns about the potential strike and his thoughts on the (deserved) rights for writers-actors. “I’ve been a victim of piracy too long myself. I’ll make it up now on this one (the legiter).” And he laughingly noted, “If I can’t go back to work on the movies, I’ll now be able to go down to the Bahamas for a year and do nothing. I’ll just take a year off.” … The L.A. contingent on hand to salute Brooks Included his one-time boss at 20th Century Fox, Alan Ladd Jr., there with wife Cindra. “We made four films together,” Mel said. “Those were the ‘Camelot’ days on the lot. A year ago in London, Laddie told me ‘You’ll come to the opening (of “The Producers”) on Broadway’ — so here we are.” When I asked Ladd about his plans for a TV series, he said the German funding didn’t happen … Another of Brooks’ friends — and a co-writer on many projects — Ron Clark, had flown in to applaud him.

HARVEY WEINSTEIN, WHO with brother Bob is one of the show’s backers, laughed “I offered Mel ($100,000 for 75% of the show).” Weinstein said the show would go on forever — and in many forms, such as with a black cast, like the black “Hello, Dolly!”. Further, Harvey told me he’d like to make a movie of the musicalized “The Producers” that originated as a straight comedy movie. When I told Brooks of Harvey’s ideas, he said “If anybody can beat the drum, Harvey can!” … Among others from L.A. on hand for the opening was Quincy Jones, who said he felt like the luckiest man in the St. James Theater. “I just got my tickets three minutes before the curtain,” he explained. Quincy has been in hefty preparations with Leslie Bricusse on the musical bio of Sammy Davis Jr., “Sammy” for next year. Meanwhile, Quincy was happy about something else — he’d just completed his autobiography … Also cheering the success of “The Producers” was Marty Richards who, with David Brown and company is readying the musicalized “Sweet Smell of Success” starring John Lithgow for B’way in February with an out-of-town opening, a la “The Producers,” in Chicago.

AND VERY MUCH ON THE B’WAY scene were Carole and Bill Haber. His legit record is seven hits out of eight shows. He’s not one of the backers, however, of “The Producers.” But he is currently savoring another success — “Proof,” which won the Pulitzer last week. He continues to devote his love and effort to Save the Children and has his offices at its Westport, Conn., headquarters. He now also has offices in New York where he’s president and CEO of Barry Diller’s cable network Trio, which also gets first choice of the legiters that Haber jointly owns. Haber is as enthusiastic about this new TV venture as he was when he and his fellow young William Morris agents formed CAA. He already has 12 projects assigned to be produced for Trio and his ideas are varied, from Broadway to history to — you name it. He wings to L.A. this week for talks with KCET as well.

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