In the foreword to the new book, Judd Apatow says “Young Frankenstein” is a perfect comedy. Directors often see flaws in their own films that the audience doesn’t. How does the movie look to you today?
"You know, strangely enough, contrary to what you said, when I saw it yesterday on a big screen, I thought it was better than the first rough screening of it 40-something years ago when I was a nerdy kid."
Watching it on the big screen gives you an even greater appreciation for Gene Wilder’s performance.
"His performance is absolutely Promethean. It’s his very best work in film.
Gene was essentially really reticent and shy and when he broke out, he broke out like a volcano. He never just eased out of being mousy and quiet — he busted out like it was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and suddenly this new person would be yelling and commanding our attention. He did that beautifully in “Young Frankenstein.”"
You made three movies with him — “The Producers,” “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein” — but at a certain point later in his career, he essentially stopped making comedies because he felt they were becoming too crass and vulgar. Was that something you two ever discussed?
"He told me when we were working on “The Producers,” “I love this picture — there’s not a dirty word in it. We’re getting laughs on story and characters. We’re not getting laughs on sexual innuendo and dirty stuff.” I said, “I never even thought of it that way.”
Gene was kind of naïve, kind of an innocent, and when movies rested on profanity, he was upset…. But you know, everybody blames all the questionable, dirty stuff on me, but Gene Wilder came up with “What knockers!” [in “Young Frankenstein.”] You can blame that on him. Sweet, innocent Gene!"
The book has lots of great stuff from the Fox archives, but is there anything that’s lost forever that you wish you’d held onto?
"I wish I had kept all the scribbles on legal pads that led to the scripts.
It would be a goldmine for screenplay-writing students to see what incredible changes characters and stories go through before they become the screenplay. It’s quite a toboggan ride down a steep hill trying to write a script."
Last month, you were among those awarded the National Medal of Arts and Humanities by President Obama. I imagine he isn’t the first president you’ve met.
"No, I’ve got to tell you, when they had the Kennedy Center awards for performing arts, I was offered it when [George W.] Bush was president after the Iraq war started and I said, “No, I’m going to wait for another president.” And I did. It was worth the wait. It was a great night."
Speaking of presidential politics, I wonder what the 2,000-Year-Old Man would make of this year’s election and Donald Trump.
"You can’t get that out of me. I promised Carl [Reiner] I’d never do it without him. The “I wonder” was a great end run around it, but you can’t sneak that one in."
You recently turned 90 and you still stay incredibly busy with various projects. Why not relax and play golf?
"Well, first of all, I don’t know how to play golf. I could play tennis if it was triples — not doubles but if there were three on each side, I could cover my spot.
I’ve been going around the country, showing “Blazing Saddles.” People know the movie so well, they shout out lines like they were doing their bar mitzvah or something, and after I take questions and tell some intimate stories about the making of the movie.
I can’t tell you anything else, except if I get another idea and people are crazy enough to risk money on me, I’ll do it."
Read the full interview at the LA Times.