Mel Brooks’ The Producers: Tracing American Jewish Culture Through Comedy, 1967–2007

Kirsten Fermaglich

Abstract


In its first year on Broadway, Mel Brooks’ 2001 musical, The Producers, wowed critics, charmed audiences and shattered records with its 12 Tony awards, and its $100 tickets. Yet, Brooks’ original 1967 film, The Producers, received a far more mixed reception from both critics and audiences. The differences in the two works’ receptions resulted from the historical moments during which they were produced. Both works feature almost identical scripts that tell the story of two Jewish producers who attempt to make money by overselling shares in a Broadway musical that they believe is certain to be a flop: a paean to Nazi Germany entitled Springtime for Hitler. Mel Brooks’ original film version reflected the upheaval of the 1960s in the United States, and particularly in American Jewish life: generational and political divisions, as well as the changing social status and cultural preoccupations of Jews during this era reshaped the American Jewish community, and Brooks' wild film reflected this moment of very loud and visible change. The tamer Broadway musical version of The Producers in 2001, on the other hand, reflected a very different country, and a very different Jewish American experience in the 1990s. While issues like abortion and homosexuality moved to the center of public discourse in virulent culture wars during this decade, Jews moved more decisively, if quietly and unobtrusively, into the white middle class mainstream. The widely divergent responses to The Producers in 1967 and 2001 allow us to trace these changing dynamics in American and American Jewish life in the past forty years.

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American Studies. ISSN 0026-3079.

This electronic publication is supported by the University of Kansas Libraries