September 10, 2011


The Great Melvino, or Our Mr. Brooks (DICK CAVETT, 9/09/11, NY Times)

Ballantine Beer, starting a new commercial campaign, had hired Mel to be "The 2,500-Year-Old Brewmaster." They needed a Carl Reiner stand-in to interview the old gent, whose voice resembled, not entirely coincidentally, the 2,000-year-old man's.

I've never had more fun.

First, I stood around nervously. Then Mel Brooks himself walked into the studio. He eyed my slight, 20-ish self with suspicion. "Spectacularly gentile!" he observed. We've been friends ever since.

There was not a word of script. The ad agency guy directing our sessions urged, "Just hit Mel with anything that comes to mind, the way Carl does. He's best when he doesn't know what's coming."

I played an eager young interviewer, bringing his hand-mike to the old man's cave and peppering him with questions, challenges, skepticism and, once, mock hurt feelings, asking,

"Why are you rude to me, sir?"

"Why are you wearing a cardboard belt?"

Example of a challenge:

"Sir, I don't think you've ever actually tasted the beer we're selling. Do so now."

"All right, Fluffy." [sipping sound: voop! voop!]

"How would you put it, sir?"

"My tongue just threw a party for my mouth!"

I could never corner Mel. God knows I tried. I sat there and watched him go comic-mad before my wondering eyes, scoring every time he opened his mouth.

There was no dross. The first session went three hours, at the end of which both of us were exhausted but high.

Once an engineer in the control room laughed so hard he fell against the recording equipment and it had to be re-set. Mel broke me up in such helpless laughter, and so many times, that the agency was forced -- or someone was hip enough -- to leave some of my laughter in. I've seen this faked, but it was obvious that I was genuinely convulsed by my partner.

If the raw, unedited tapes -- from which the commercials were cut -- are not preserved somewhere, it's comparable as a cultural loss to the burning of the library at Alexandria.

Posted by at September 10, 2011 9:14 AM

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