Gene Wilder: Behind the Scenes of “Blazing Saddles”

Cleavon Little, left, and Gene Wilder in Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles."
Cleavon Little, left, and Gene Wilder in Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles.”

On Monday, actor Gene Wilder died at the age of 83 of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease.

Here are a few things you may not have known about one of his most memorable movies, “Blazing Saddles.”

Wilder played Jim, a gunfighter who was known as The Waco Kid. Jim has become an alcoholic after years of dealing with the pressure of gunfighting. He’s locked up in jail when the town’s new sheriff, Bart, shows up.

Bart, played by Cleavon Little, is a black railroad worker, who is appointed sheriff by the governor as part of a plot to chase the townspeople out of the town of Rock Ridge, leaving the property to be purchased by the evil attorney general Hedley LaMarr, played by Harvey Korman.

Needless to say, none of LaMarr’s schemes work, and Bart and Jim, his new deputy, are able to save the people of Rock Ridge.

The film had its origins in a story written by Andrew Bergman about a black sheriff in the Old West of 1874, who talks in the style of 1974. Originally James Earl Jones was going to play the role of the sheriff. Mel Brooks picked up the story at that point and worked with a writing team, including Bergman, Norman Steinberg and Richard Pryor. The original title of the move was “Tex X,” a play on the name of civil rights leader Malcolm X.

Perhaps the best bits of trivia from the movie have to do with the casting process.

Brooks wrote the movie with the intention of having Richard Pryor star as Bart. However, Pryor’s drug use and controversial comedy made him uninsurable as a lead actor. The role of the Waco Kid, which would eventually go to Gene Wilder, was originally offered to … wait for it … John Wayne. The Duke declined Brooks’ offer, saying that the movie was “too blue” for his image. However, he did tell Brooks that he would be the first in line to see it. Gig Young was cast in the part, but collapsed on his first day of shooting, suffering from alcohol withdrawal. Brooks fired him and brought in Gene Wilder. Wilder had earlier been offered the role of Hedley LaMarr after it was turned down by Johnny Carson. The role was eventually played by Harvey Korman

Brooks said that the studio almost didn’t release the film, thinking it would not find an audience. It premiered at a drive-in theater and the guests watched the movie on horseback.

The film ended up proving the studio executives very wrong. It went on to become the 10th movie to ever gross more than $100 million at the box office. It also earned three Academy Award nominations in 1974: Best film editing, best original song, and best supporting actress for Madeline Kahn as Lili von Shtupp. The American Film Institute ranked “Blazing Saddles” as the sixth best comedy of the 20th century.

Our question: What did AFI pick as the best comedy of the 20th century?

Today is Constitution Day in Kazakhstan, and in Turks and Caicos.

It’s unofficially National Toasted Marshmallow Day, National Slinky Day, and National Beach Day.

It’s the birthday of “Frankenstein” author Mary Shelley, who was born in 1797; U.S. politician Huey Long, who was born in 1893; and baseball legend Ted Williams, who was born in 1918.

Because we’ve had 1974 recently, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1964, the top song in the U.S. was “House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals.

The No. 1 movie was “Mary Poppins,” while the novel “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” by John Le Carre topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question

What tire company is now the exclusive provider for Formula One?



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