Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks were one of the great actor-director pairs. Though critics and audiences and the Oscars take comedy less seriously, their collaboration should be remembered alongside such famous pairings as Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee and Denzel Washington, Julianne Moore and Todd Haynes, and (until more recently) Johnny Depp and Tim Burton.
So when news first broke on Monday of Wilder’s death, the first person I thought of was Mel Brooks. I thought of Young Frankenstein, and Blazing Saddles, and The Producers, but above all, I thought of this scene from PBS’s American Masters documentary on Brooks, when the two remember when they first started to work together.
Asked whether Wilder saw his meeting with Brooks as “an important meeting,” Wilder breaks out laughing and is unable to stop himself. When the interview asks him “What’s so funny?”, he answers by making a comparison. “When God spoke to Moses the first time,” he explains, it’s like “if you ask him, ‘Was that significant in your life?’ ”
Brooks is equally warm about Wilder, almost five decades later. “Everything Gene did for me was angelic and supreme,” he recalls, and the documentary cuts back and forth between the director and the actor as they remember one of the many times that they did something together that they couldn’t have done apart. When that kind of chemistry comes along, you never forget it.