Here are 10 trivia facts about Blazing Saddles from 1974, which originally appeared as our Mystery Movie Quiz on our Facebook page. There are lots of pieces of behind-the-scenes information about this movie. Please feel free to comment and add more trivia we might have missed.
1. This film has racial overtones.
In 1974, before the letters PC meant “politically correct,” Mel Brooks‘ Blazing Saddles towered as a laugh-out-loud comedy containing many references to racism and some rather derogatory terms for African-Americans. Much like the then-popular TV series All in the Family, though, the words were to mock bigotry, and throughout the film it’s the prejudiced white townspeople and the villains who bear the brunt of all the jokes.
Cleavon Little is smooth and polished in his role of Bart, but the Broadway actor was not Brooks’ first choice as the sheriff. Richard Pryor was slated to star, but as it is quite often difficult to secure financing for movies in Hollywood, Pryor’s stand-up routines and background proved too controversial for studio brass, and the role was given to Little. Pryor did not lose out, however, as he was already on board as part of the five-man script-writing team.
2. The movie is set before the turn of the 20th century.
Brooks and his crew played fast and loose with historical accuracy in the film, as evidenced in an early scene where Governor LePetomane (Brooks) addresses henchman Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) as “Hedy,” the start of a running gag where people confuse his name with that of the 1930s and ’40s screen sex symbol. When Korman takes umbrage at the reference, Brooks says to him “What the hell are you worried about? This is 1874. You’ll be able to sue her!” Of course, Brook’s “Old West” meets today’s “West” by the picture’s end.
3. The movie appears on many “best of” lists for its genre.
In addition to making “best of” lists from Premiere Magazine (among the “The 50 Greatest Comedies of All Time”) and voted #9 on Bravo TV’s list of the “100 Funniest Movies,” The American Film Institute voted Blazing Saddles into its AFI’s “100 Years…100 Laughs,” as #6. According to AFI’s description, these are the “the films and film artists that have made audiences laugh throughout the 20thcentury.” With a total of three Mel Brooks movies honored on that list, The Producers (1968) was #11 and Young Frankenstein (1974) was voted #13. Way to go, Mel!
Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn and Dom DeLuise appeared in writer/driector Wilder’s mystery spoof The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother in 1975. Two years later, Kahn and Harvey Korman joined Mel Brooks in High Anxiety (1977), and in 1979, Brooks, Kahn and co-writer Richard Pryor all had cameos in The Muppet Movie. And DeLuise was Emperor Nero in Brooks’ History of the World, Part 1 (1981), also starring Mel, Kahn and Korman. There are many movies where two of the stars appeared together (Young Frankenstein, among others) but if anyone knows of further Blazing Saddles talent “triple plays,” please let us know.
5. The film received three Oscar nominations.
Although Blazing Saddles is not an Oscar winner, and critics back in 1974 didn’t seriously believe it had any chance of being a contender, it was actually honored with three nominations: Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Madeline Kahn; Best Film Editing for John C. Howard and Danford B. Greene; and Best Music, Original Song for John Morris’ (music) and Mel Brooks’ (lyrics) title tune, sung in the film’s opening credits by Frankie Laine.
The story goes that Brooks advertised for a “Frankie Laine-type” singer to perform his theme song, and unbelievably, Laine himself showed up. At this point, Brooks felt if he told the famous singer the movie was a comedy, either he wouldn’t have done it or he wouldn’t have taken the recording session seriously — so Brooks never told him until the film wrapped.
6. A foreign language is spoken briefly in the film.
As Bart (Little) relates his life story to the Waco Kid (Wilder), a wagon train seen heading west is set upon by Indians who proceed to massacre the entire party…save for a lone, segregated Conestoga wagon with the young Bart and his parents. When the Indian chief sees the family close-up, he says in Yiddish, “Blacks!,” “Don’t be crazy!” and “Let them go!,” then in English, “They darker than us!” As a sidebar, the young boy in the wagon was Rodney Allen Rippy, who was very active in 1970s TV and continues to be a working actor.
Brooks usually includes Jewish references in his films and, keeping in character, he designed the movie poster to show the Indian chief’s headdress embedded with Hebrew letters saying “Kosher For Passover.” But there’s no holding Brooks down and he intentionally misspelled the words on the headdress to say “Posher For Kassover.” Another Yiddish reference is the name of Madeline Kahn’s character, Lili Von Shtupp. In Yiddish, the word “shtupp” actually translates to “fill” or “stuff,” but the vulgar connotation it has attained generally relates to “sexual activity,” which it surely means in this movie. Kahn’s Oscar-nominated performance is definitely a parody of Marlene Dietrich’s Frenchie in the 1939 James Stewart western Destry Rides Again. It’s twue, it’s twue!
7. An iconic Hollywood director is satirized in the movie.
When Blazing Saddles reaches its surreal final moments, we see a Hollywood director, dressed in an outfit Michael Curtiz might have worn, filming an all-male chorus line in a showy musical number. Funnyman Dom DeLuise, playing the part of Buddy Bizarre, is lampooning a legendary choreographer and director of the ’30s and ’40s, Busby Berkeley.
The Mongo character was supposedly created by Richard Pryor, and Alex Karras plays the slow-witted man-mountain to the hilt. With the anticipation that trouble is in the air when Mongo rides into town, one of the local Mexicans flees in fear, saying, “Mongo! Santa Maria!” Mongo Santamaría was actually a famous Cuban percussionist notable for his 1963 hit, “Watermelon Man.”
Mongo’s scene where he knocks a horse out with a hefty right cross is a classic and seemed like a genuinely original gag until years later, when Sid Caesar in his biography claimed that once, when his terrible temper consumed him, he punched out a horse in Central Park. Brooks was apparently paying homage to his former Your Show of Shows boss.
9. The film’s director appears in the movie.
Mel Brooks plays three parts in the film. The director is first seen as the hysterical Governor William J. LePetomane. then as the Yiddish-spouting Indian chief, and then waiting on line in the villian hiring scene (in an aviator’s uniform and false teeth).
10. A bodily function is lampooned in one of the scenes.
Never before in a movie had audiences heard the sounds of “breaking wind.” Brooks looked at the typical cowboy diet he always saw in movies — black coffee and canned beans — and concluded that there must have been an awful lot of gas passing out on the range. And Mel, being Mel, made an art of the fart, using the sounds of flatulence for a full minute. In bad taste, yes, but pretty darn funny! According to an interview with Brooks, those sounds weren’t actually the real thing, but were created by soaping up one hand and squeezing it under the armpit… whatever!
On a similar note, the name of Governor LePetomane came from Le Pétomane, a late 19th-century French music hall “artiste” whose stage routine consisted of him “inhaling” air into a certain part of his body and then expelling it in a variety of sound effects and imitations. He could also blow out a candle from several yards away and, aided by a rubber tube, play music on an ocarina.
Before Brooks decided to helm the film himself, it was thought that Alan Arkin would be the director and that Bart would be played by James Earl Jones. As time went on, things changed and Brooks wanted Dan Dailey as the Waco Kid, but Dailey’s health was failing and it didn’t work out. It was rumored that Johnny Carson was asked to play the “Waco” role but didn’t want it.
When production finally got under way, Gig Young was hired to be “Waco.” But on the very first day of shooting, Young turned out to be actually drunk in the scene where the ex-gunman is supposed to be hung over and dangling from the jail cell’s upper bunk. When Young literally passed out, Brooks realized that the actor’s known alcoholism was detrimental to the film and let him go. Brooks called his good friend Gene Wilder and asked him to fly out from New York to help find a replacement, but instead Gene became the Waco Kid. Years later it was revealed that Young sued Warner Brothers for not fulfilling their contract. It seems it should have been the other way around, but that story might be more folklore than truth.
Now that the film has become a classic, can we imagine anyone else in these roles other than the movie’s fine cast?