Mel Brooks' Life in Photos

The legendary comedian has made his mark on TV, movies and Broadway, earning an EGOT in the process over decades of work — and being recognized by the United States for his contributions to culture. Look back at his life in photos, from his comedy career to his love story with Anne Bancroft and more

01 of 16

Mel Brooks' Early Years

Mel Brooks book photos
Penguin Random House

Born Melvin Kaminsky on June 28, 1926, Mel Brooks was the youngest of four boys born to Abraham and Kate Kaminsky. (He eventually adapted his mother's maiden name, Brookman, into his stage name.)

Abraham died when Brooks was only 2, leaving his brothers to help raise Mel and make ends meet in the household. (He's pictured here at age 8 with, from left, cousin Merril and brothers Lenny, Irving and Bernie.)

02 of 16

Mel Brooks' Time in the Army

Mel Brooks in the army

Brooks had started to make a name for himself entertaining guests at hotels in the Catskills. He writes in his autobiography <em>All About Me!</em> that in his job as a "pool tummeler," whose sole purpose it was to keep poolgoers amused, he would put on a derby hat, alpaca coat and carry two rock-filled suitcases, then fall into the pool for laughs.

But World War II put a pause on his burgeoning show business career, and he joined the Army Specialized Training Reserve program at the Virginia Military Institute before going to basic training at Fort Sill. He served overseas at the end of the war in various duties, but once again got a chance to work as a performer when he was asked to join a touring variety show to entertain the troops in the Army camps still stationed in Europe.

03 of 16

Mel Brooks' The 2,000 Year Old Man

Mel Brooks - THE NEW STEVE ALLEN SHOW
ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

Brooks got his start in comedy as a writer for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, after meeting Caesar when they both were comedians at "Borscht Belt" hotels in the Catskills. But he broke out as a star in his own right with his "2,000 Year Old Man" sketches, in which his best friend Carl Reiner (whom he met working on Caesar's show) interviewed him in character as, you guessed it, a 2,000-year-old man.

04 of 16

Mel Brooks on The Tonight Show

THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON

He became a household name for being a popular talk show guest — so in demand, in fact, that he appeared on the first-ever episode of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (seen here cracking up the host on the debut show in 1961).

05 of 16

Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft's Love Story

Mel Brooks and his future wife actress Anne Bancroft
Dan Farrell/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Also in 1961, Brooks met the love of his life, actress Anne Bancroft. After seeing her rehearsing for a Perry Como show, he recalls in his autobiography All About Me!, "When the song was over, I leapt to my feet, applauded madly, and shouted, 'Anne Bancroft! I love you!' " They dated for three years, but Brooks hadn't quite found his footing financially so he hesitated to propose.

When his first sitcom, Get Smart!, took off, he and Bancroft finally wed at City Hall, he wrote, using her hoop earring in the place of the ring he'd forgotten.

06 of 16

Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles

Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks, Cleavon Little, Harvey Korman
FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

After his success on TV, Brooks began writing and then directing comedies, including Blazing Saddles (seen here with Cleavon Little and Harvey Korman), which was a massive success — and an enduring one. In 2006, it was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and added to the National Film Registry for preservation.

07 of 16

Mel Brooks in A History of the World, Part I

HISTORY OF THE WORLD: PART I
Everett

He continued to write, direct, produce and star in comedies throughout the years, including 1981's A History of the World, Part I. (Seen here with Mary Margaret Humes.)

08 of 16

Mel Brooks with His Son and Grandson at the Walk of Fame

Mel Brooks Receives Star On The Hollywood Walk Of Fame
Michael Tran/FilmMagic

Brooks and Bancroft had one son together, Max, now a screenwriter himself. Max and his son Henry joined Brooks as he got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010.

Brooks also has three children from his first marriage to dancer Florence Baum: Stefanie, Nicky and Eddie, as well as a granddaughter, Samantha.

09 of 16

Mel Brooks' Broadway Career

Mel BrooksMel Brooks poses with some of his showgirls during a photocall to mark the opening of the new production of his musical 'The Producers'
Andy Butterton - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

After years of success in TV and film, Brooks decided to try his hand at writing a Broadway musical, adapting his film The Producers for the stage. It debuted on April 19, 2001, with Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane as stars, and went on to run for more than 2,500 performances and earn a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards. (Brooks is seen here with chorus girls from the show's London debut.) He followed it up with a musical version of his film Young Frankenstein.

10 of 16

Mel Brooks Is an EGOT

Mel Brooks
Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Brooks is one of the few entertainers to earn an EGOT (an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) — and in fact, he's won multiple of each.

11 of 16

Mel Brooks on Losing Anne Bancroft

Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft during Screening of "The Sure Thing"
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Before her death from uterine cancer in 2005, Brooks and Bancroft were known for having a great love story — she would tell people that when she heard his key in the door, she knew "the party's about to start."

Brooks opened up to PEOPLE about his loss. "Living this life without her is not easy," he said, adding that he cherishes their memories together: "There were a lot of great kisses and great spaghetti."

12 of 16

Mel Brooks Wins a Kennedy Center Honor

Mel Brooks
Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images

Brooks has also been given some of the highest honors the United States can bestow on its artists, including a Kennedy Center honor in 2009 alongside Robert De Niro, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Brubeck and Grace Bumbrynd.

13 of 16

Mel Brooks Wins the National Medal of Arts

US President Barack Obama shakes hands with comedian Mel Brooks
SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Brooks the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor given to artists by the U.S. government. Despite it being a major occasion. Brooks couldn't resist making light of the moment.

14 of 16

Mel Brooks' Lasting Friendships

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 08: Actor Gene Wilder and Writer/Composer Mel Brooks at the curtain call for Mel Brooks New Musical "Young Frankenstein" on Opening Night November 8, 2007 at the Hilton Theater in New York City.
Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

Brooks worked with some of the same actors again and again throughout his career. One of his most indelible working relationships and friendships was with the late Gene Wilder, who starred in Young Frankenstein, The Producers and more. Here, Brooks and Wilder shared a moment at the Broadway opening of Young Frankenstein.

15 of 16

Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner's Longtime Friendship

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks
Jerry Seinfeld/Facebook

Brooks and Reiner remained best friends until Reiner's death in 2020, getting together nightly to eat dinner on TV trays and watch a movie or Jeopardy!. (Jerry Seinfeld visited the two during an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.)

"I met him in 1950 when he joined Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows and we've been best friends ever since," Brooks said at the time. "I loved him."

16 of 16

Mel Brooks' 'Third Act'

mel-brooks-4
Chris Polk/FilmMagic

Brooks loved to work, and never slowed down for a minute. He toured the country doing shows, and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he wrote his memoir, which he published in 2021.

"I'm proud to say I have made people laugh for a living, and whether or not you'll allow me to, I'm going to brag — I can honestly say, I've done it as well as anybody," he wrote in All About Me!. "If you can laugh, you can get by. You can survive when things are bad if you have a sense of humor."

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