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While on the set of Blazing Saddles, director Mel Brooks happened to notice a curious title on Gene Wilder's notepad -- Young Frankenstein.
Wilder pitched a comedy about Frankenstein's grandson who wants nothing to do with the infamous Frankenstein name. Brooks loved the idea and agreed to direct and help write the screenplay.
Gene said, “I would write all day and then [Mel would] come over after dinner [and read it].”
The pair worked well together, and Wilder used Brooks’ notes to strengthen the story.
But they didn't agree on everything. In fact, they butted heads over one specific scene: the "Puttin' on the Ritz" dance number.
Frankenstein tap dances to Irving Berlin's song with the monster in a top hat and tails?!
For Mel, the bit was frivolous.
“I told Gene it was a great idea. It was funny, but it was too far outside of our salute to the black-and-white classics… we didn’t want to be ridiculous,” Brooks recalled.
However, Gene saw it as crucial to the script.
He said, “My character had to convince the scientific members of Transylvania that with the procedure I was using on the creature, he could be taught to be a civilized human being… instead of a monster who’s going to kill their children.”
He argued to keep the scene in the script until, by his own admission, he turned red in the face.
So they decided to film the scene and test it with an audience, agreeing that if the reaction was negative that it would be cut.
The scene took about five days to shoot, and was choreographed by Alan Johnson, who oversaw the musical number, “Springtime for Hitler,” for The Producers.
“We kept having to cut because the audience of extras went crazy. I had to say, ‘Wait a minute, folks, you’re afraid of that guy! You’re killing the scene,’” Brooks remembered.
If there were any doubts about the scene, they were gone now.
“Gene was dead right because it took the movie to another level – our level.”