By Mel Brooks

Ballantine Books


462pp/$29.99/November 2021

All About Me!

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Mel Brooks has never been shy about talking about himself and his films, so it should come as no surprise that most of the stories he relates in his new memoirs, All About Me! My Remarkable Life in Show Business, have been told before in a variety of venues. Nevertheless, collecting all these stories, ostensibly at the urging of his son, Max, is a treat for anyone who has laughed their way through Brooks' films, television shows, or plays.

Although titled All About Me!, the subtitle, My Remarkable Life in Show Business may be the more appropriate part of the title. Although Brooks opens by discussing growing up in Brooklyn and his relationships with his mother and three older brothers, as well as his time in the army, the majority of the book is a look at his professional life. He does discuss Anne Bancroft and his children, but doesn't delve into his relationships with them too deeply, although it is clear that he and Bancroft had a close, loving, and supportive relationship.

Given how much of the book is an exploration of movies, it is appropriate that Brooks opens the book by talking about being taken to see the film Frankenstein by his brother Bernie in 1931. While it is well known that this film, which Brooks would spoof 43 years later in Young Frankenstein, made an impression on Brooks, in All About Me!, he reveals what his initial reaction to the film was. That important piece of information has been shared, along with the laugh that it offers the reader, sets the tone for the 450 pages that follow it.

The book is a chronological celebration of his life work, with most chapters relating to one of his films as well as chapters on Get Smart, three chapters about Brooksfilms, and a chapter on his role as a Broadway producer. The individual chapters often quote from the work Brooks is reminiscing over and it is all too easy to hear his familiar voice as he talks about working with Gene Wilder on The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein or remaking Jack Benny's classic film To Be or Not to Be as his only fully co-starring film with his wife.

While it is to be expected that Brooks will share stories about his major hits, he also discusses his less well received works, such as When Times Were Rotten and Life Stinks. He clearly still has affection and a belief in those projects despite their lack of critical or commercial success and wants to share his thoughts with the reader, perhaps to give them a chance to revisit them and reevalate his work. Brooks also focuses his spotlight on the films he produced as part of Brooksfilm like The Elephant Man, My Favorite Year, and Solarbabies.

All About Me! captures the way Brooks tells these stories on stage and in interviews, but the format of the book allows him to collect his standard stories, flesh out the details more than he can when speaking, and include all the stories from his repertoire that aren't usually told. This expansion means that even readers who are familiar with Brooks will read new details.

As a complete sidenote, while I was reading the chapter in which Brooks talks about the original film The Producers, I needed a bookmark. I reached into a desk drawer and grabbed the first scrap of paper I could find...which turned out to be a ticket stub to the musical The Producers dated February 17, 2001, during the show's pre-Broadway run in Chicago, which Brooks would eventually write about 15 chapters later.

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