Ask any studio executive who has ever worked with him: Mel Brooks is nothing if not tenacious in business.
The comedy legend, who turns 95 Monday, is known to be relentless in pursuit of the creative freedom and resources required to deliver his unique brand of humor. He’s also proven to be a tireless campaigner for recognition for projects that he believes in.
And Brooks truly did believe in “The Producers,” the 1968 Gene Wilder-Zero Mostel classic that established Brooks as a force in films. He’d already made his name in television writer for Sid Caesar on “Your Show of Shows” and other programs.
In late 1968 and early 1969, “The Producers” distributor Avco Embassy and producer Sidney Glazier campaigned hard in the pages of Variety with ads seeking Oscar nominations for Brooks for original screenplay, director and picture as well as acting bids for Wilder and Mostel.
Wilder landed a supporting actor nomination but lost to Jack Albertson in the World War II-era family tear-jerker “The Subject Was Roses.” Brooks wound up winning the trophy that year for original screenplay, beating even Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke for “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
The Brooklyn native made his first appearance in Variety nearly 70 years ago with a brief mention in the weekly edition from Jan. 9, 1952. Brooks was credited at the end of an item about a Broadway-bound musical revue dubbed “Curtain Going Up,” for which he wrote a few sketches.
Although Brooks had already been working for years with Caesar on national TV with NBC’s “Your Show of Shows” and other programs, this was an era when few writers were credited on screen for their work in TV.
“Curtain Going Up” was not destined to make it to the Great White Way, but Brooks’ sketches in the show’s Philadelphia tryout grabbed the attention of producers who connected Brooks to his first Broadway success, “New Faces of 1952.”
In 2014, Brooks told Variety he wouldn’t change anything about his heady early years in New York even if he could.
“Life was good. Writing comedy for skilled, important comedians in the ’50s and ’60s was heaven,” Brooks said.
In honor of Brooks’ 95th birthday on June 28, here’s a look back through the pages of Variety at awards campaign ads highlights and other career milestones of the beloved multi-hyphenate who has scored smash hits in film, was a bona fide pioneer in TV and a smash success on Broadway in the 1990s and 2000s.