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Mel and Co. go Hollywood

May 31, 2003|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

At Thursday's opening night of "The Producers," it was hard to believe that this was Los Angeles. Oh, certain things were familiar. Hollywood Boulevard was closed; there was a red carpet; there were fabulous beaded, backless gowns; and, of course, there were celebrities -- Tim Allen, Alec Baldwin, Goldie Hawn, Cloris Leachman to name a few.

So it was a tiny bit like the Oscars, only smaller. And, as one publicist put it, everyone was wearing his or her own clothes.

But the star of the evening was not actor, actress nor director. The star of the evening was Mel Brooks. The writer.

This -- more than the hot dogs and signature New York black-and-white cookies served by Spago -- made the evening a true cross-coast pollination.

Brooks later claimed he did not know each and every person in the audience, but it took him almost an hour to get from his limo to his seat, and most of that time was spent pressing flesh rather than dealing with press. After about 20 minutes of this, Anne Bancroft, Brooks' wife of 39 years and, if one may indulge in a Liz Smith moment, simply beautiful, shrugged and headed toward her seat without him.

"What's it like being married to Mel Brooks?" a woman asked as she passed.

"What's it look like?" she answered with a laugh. "Hell."

The party started before the show as celebrity thespians climbed over each other to reach their seats. "Oh. My. God," said Goldie Hawn, spying Dom DeLuise. "I love you so much and I haven't seen you in so long."

(Theater-going tip: Whenever possible, sit next to Dom DeLuise -- the party comes to him.)

By the time the play was over and the crowd of 1,300 threaded its way back down the red carpet that led from the Pantages Theatre to the Palladium, the meet-and-greets were done and the serious talking, eating and dancing began. Allen and Garry Shandling put their heads together; Florence Henderson circulated with Carol Burnett; Richard Lewis and Carl Reiner navigated the crowds; Betty White shared a table with Jo Anne Worley; Jamie Lee Curtis hung out with her daughter.

The show, in all its incarnations, was universally praised.

"It's a foolproof show," said Burnett. "I've seen it three times. I love it."

"For so long we've been saying 'May 29, May 29, that's when we take L.A.,' " said Brooks' co-writer, Thomas Meehan, who is currently nominated for a Tony for "Hairspray." "And it was just brilliant, over the top. I'm so proud of the cast and happy for Mel. This was so important for him. Local boy makes good."

As in the theater, Brooks could not take three steps without someone taking his hand, his arm. "It's the best musical ever written," said Dick Van Patten, frowning with sincerity.

"You're crazy," said Brooks. "What about 'Guys and Dolls?' Nothing beats 'Guys and Dolls.' "

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