The History of Mel Brooks, Part I

Tells Difference Between Jelly Jars and Yahrtzeit Glasses

Showman of Showmen: Mel Brooks is the subject of a new PBS American Masters documentary and will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute.
Courtesy of Pamela Barkentin Blackwell
Showman of Showmen: Mel Brooks is the subject of a new PBS American Masters documentary and will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute.

By Curt Schleier

Published May 13, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Ironically, it was Mel Brooks who asked the first question: “So, how long have you been working for the Jewish Daily Forward?”

Then he wondered aloud how I spell my name, and he graded my response. “You got all the letters right,” he said, and laughed when I ask for extra credit for getting them in the proper order: “That’s funny.”

Brooks, 86, is one of only 11 people to have won the grand slam of show business — an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. But despite the accolades, the fame and the riches, he still seems to be that little boy from Brooklyn, just as curious about you as you are about him.

On May 20, the Public Broadcasting Service will premiere “Mel Brooks: Make a Noise,” an extraordinary American Masters special that traces his remarkable career. Less than three weeks later, on June 6, the American Film Institute will honor Brooks with its Lifetime Achievement Award. Still, his conversation with the Forward seemed less an opportunity to promote than to reminisce.

“It’s like a big deal, second only to the Oscars,” he said of the AFI honor before quickly moving on to discuss his remembrances of things past: his mother and her friends drinking coffee from yahrzeit glasses “because coffee was always in a yahrzeit glass, never in a cup. Ever. They used to have these jelly jars. The jelly jar was for tea, and yahrzeit glasses were for coffee.”

Brooks’ father died when Mel was just 2 years old, leaving his mother with four young boys.

“We lived on the fifth floor in the back of a tenement. We were incredibly poor,” he said.

Spending just $2 for a High Holy Day ticket was considered “frivolous.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.