Mel Brooks stopped by The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where he shared the touching story of how he met Gene Wilder. Not surprisingly, it took place in a theater.
Brooks’s wife, Anne Bancroft, was starring in the play Mother Courage and Her Children, and Wilder played the chaplain in the production. Brooks met him backstage one day and listened to Wilder lament about the audience laughing at his character too much. Brooks told him that it had nothing to do with his performance, saying, “Look in the mirror. Blame it on God.”
After the meeting, the two became close friends, and Brooks promised that if he sold The Producers, he would cast Wilder as the lead. Wilder was skeptical, because he had read the script, but sure enough, Brooks got the money to make the film.
Brooks surprised Wilder in his dressing room with the good news. “I said, ‘Gene, we got the money. We’re going to make the movie. You are Leo Bloom,” recalled Brooks. “And I threw [the script] on his makeup table, and he burst into tears, and held his face and cried, and then I hugged him. It was a wonderful moment.”
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon airs weeknights at 11:35 p.m. on NBC.
Take a look back at Gene Wilder’s amazing career: