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The World's His Stage

February 18, 2001

I miss Mel Brooks, so it was great to see this influential comedy genius gracing the cover of Calendar ("It's a Classic Case of Chutzpah," by Richard Christiansen, Feb. 11).

Brooks mentioned his classic TV series "Get Smart," but there hasn't been anything like that since the '80s show "Sledgehammer," and the last movie to approximate Brooks' own brand of side-splitting madness was "A Fish Called Wanda." I doubt recent flicks like "Scary Movie" or "The Naked Gun" will have the staying power of "Blazing Saddles" or "Young Frankenstein."

While I hope his stage version of "The Producers" is a smash, I'd love to see him do a show for HBO. It'd be nice to see more of the 2,000 Year Old Man in the year 2001!

JULIE MEYERSON

Sherman Oaks

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Your feature on the musical of "The Producers" brought back memories of one of my favorite comedies.

In 1968, I came off a horrible experience from a Highway 1 truck convoy in Vietnam. When I got back to the battalion compound, they were showing "The Producers" that night. I howled, along with the rest of my fellow Marines. We talked about it for days.

Flash forward through a journalism career and UCLA film school. I'm now teaching screenplay structure in the UCLA Extension Writers Program and at the USC School of Cinema-TV.

My students want one class on the comedy. This forces me to research Aristotle's "Poetics." The "Old Guy" wrote that in the early days comedy was not accepted; it eventually emerged as being "an outgrowth of drama." (The suits were rejecting the good stuff even back then.)

At a screening of "High Anxiety" years ago, Mel Brooks was asked why he wanted to do "The Producers." He answered, as I recall, very seriously, "I wanted to ridicule Nazis for what they did to my people." I have often used that quote, backed up by the "Old Guy," that the best comedy has its foundation in serious drama.

Mel, thank you from Danang in 1968. You made me laugh when it was tough.

FRANK McADAMS

Dana Point

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As a member of the film cast of "The Producers" (I sang "Have You Ever Heard the German Band?"), I was very pleased to see the amount of coverage you gave the stage version. When we shot it, I had no idea what the film would be, other than the scene I appeared in, or that it would be such a funny film that would be remembered by so many people.

I was doing a musical onstage recently and heard the crew discussing a TV airing of "The Producers" they had seen the night before. When I told them I had been in it, and what I had done, they began bowing and chanting, "We are not worthy! We are not worthy!," which made me laugh and just goes to show some things get better with age.

Good luck, Mel!

ZALE KESSLER

Los Angeles

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As someone who has always considered "The Producers" to be perhaps the funniest movie of all time, I was quite pleased to read the articles about the musical.

However, I was astonished, and saddened, to read neither a word about the magnificent performance of the late Dick Shawn, whose "hippy-dippy" interpretation of Hitler turned the world's worst script into a hit show, nor any word of who was cast to play the part in the musical.

PHILIP S. KAUFMAN

West Covina

*

The character Shawn played is not in the musical, according to its spokesman.

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