Mel Brooks celebrated the life of his longtime friend and collaborator Gene Wilder in the best way he knew how: by showing their work and making fans laugh

By Stephanie Petit
Updated October 06, 2016 02:45 PM
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Mel Brooks celebrated the life of his longtime friend and collaborator Gene Wilder in the best way he knew how: by showing their work and making fans laugh.

On Wednesday night, the filmmaker hosted a special screening of Young Frankenstein, which he directed and which Wilder starred in. The one-night event brought the 1974 hit comedy back to over 500 movie theaters across the country and included an introduction from Brooks himself, live from the 20th Century Fox Lot in Hollywood, California.

“The idea for the screening had actually been in the works for about six months,” Brooks, 90, told GOOD last month. “After Gene died, they didn’t want it to seem like they were taking advantage. But it’s still going to be wonderful to see him in his most beautiful and magnificent performance. He was never better.”

While Brooks (and, of course, the film) drew laughter from the audience, the director couldn’t help but get a bit choked up during his opening.

Gregory Pace/BEI/BEI/Shutterstock
Gregory Pace/BEI/BEI/Shutterstock

“I get just a little overcome,” Brooks said as he paused to gather himself. “I’ve had a few great memories in life, but I think honestly, I think making Young Frankenstein is probably the finest year of my life.”

Brooks, who collaborated with Wilder on several iconic comedies, explained that the idea for Young Frankenstein came while the duo were on the set of Blazing Saddles. Brooks noticed the actor writing ideas on a yellow legal pad during a set lunch break, and Wilder explained his idea for a story about a descendant of Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Thus, a classic was born.

However, the pair did have some disagreements on set.

“I told Gene that we should drop the ‘Puttin’ On the Ritz’ scene,” Brooks revealed to GOOD. “We’re making this film as a tribute to director James Whale, and I just thought the scene was too crazy. Gene convinced me to film it anyway and to decide later whether or not to keep it. Well, it turns out it’s the best thing in the movie. He saved me from a blunder and a huge mistake.”

The Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory star died in August due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 83.

“He was sick and I knew it. He was such a dear friend,” Brooks said in an appearance on The Tonight Showsoon after Wilder’s passing. “I expected that he would go, but when it happens, it’s still tremendous – it’s a big shock. I’m still reeling. No more Gene? I can’t call him. He was such a wonderful part of my life.”