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While working on Blazing Saddles, Gene Wilder began fiddling with the idea for Young Frankenstein. Director Mel Brooks saw the title’s name on the actor’s notepad and inquired about it. After Wilder explained the basic plot, Brooks was all in and agreed to direct and help write the script.
Gene said, “I would write all day and then [Mel would] come over after dinner [and read it].”
The pair worked well together, with Wilder taking Brooks’ notes and making adjustments to the story to strengthen it.
But there was one scene which they butted heads over -- the "Puttin' on the Ritz" dance number.
“One night, he came over, and he looks at the pages and he says, ‘You tap dance to Irving Berlin in top hat and tails with the monster?’” Wilder said, recalling Brooks’ disapproving reaction.
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, “We 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 Alan Johnson, who also did “Springtime for Hitler” for The Producers, choreographed the dance.
“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.”