When the film was first screened for Warner Brothers executives, almost none of them laughed and the movie looked to be a disaster that the studio would not release. However, Mel Brooks quickly set up a subsequent screening for the studio's employees. When these regular folks laughed uproariously throughout the movie, Warners finally agreed to take a chance on releasing it.
One day in the Warner Bros. studio commissary, Mel Brooks and the other writers were seated at a table opposite John Wayne ("the Duke"). The Duke turned and said he had heard about their Western, the one where people say stuff like "blow it out your ass". Mel handed the Duke a copy of the script and said, "Yes, and we'd like you to be in it." According to Brooks, the Duke turned down the offer the next day by saying, "Naw, I can't do a movie like that, but I'll be first in line to see it!"
In the DVD commentary, Mel Brooks said that the working title for the film was "Tex X", as a reference to black Muslim leader Malcolm X. It was then switched to "Black Bart", then to "The Purple Sage". In either case, neither he nor the other writers thought those were great titles. Brooks says that one morning he was taking a shower and the words "Blazing Saddles" suddenly popped into his head. When he got out of the shower, he pitched the title to his wife, actress Anne Bancroft, who liked the idea, and that's how the movie ended up with its title.
The scene in which Cleavon Little aims his gun at his own head to save himself from the townspeople's wrath was based on an incident from Mel Brooks' childhood. He said that once, to his disbelief, he stole some gum and a water pistol from a drugstore; when a store worker tried to stop him, Brooks held the worker at bay with the very water pistol he had just fingered from the store.
After promising Warner Bros. that he would edit out several "offensive" scenes--such as the infamous farting sequence--Mel Brooks in fact never cut a single scene except one: after the room is darkened and Lilly (Madeline Kahn) informs Bart "It's TWUE! It's TWUE!", Bart (Cleavon Little) quietly states,"You're sucking on my arm".
At the end of the movie when the whole group is running out of the Warner Bros. studio front gates, there is a man in a sweater standing on the sidewalk, watching the action. Mel Brooks has said that the man was not part of the movie, and had simply wandered into the scene; they shooed him away and then went to film the scene--the guy comes back into the shot and is seen standing next to a light pole as the characters stream past him down the street. Brooks had asked the man to move, as they were getting ready to shoot that scene. The man, not understanding their requests, stood there. So Brooks sent out a waiver for him to sign and left him in the movie.
While filming, Burton Gilliam--who played Lyle, the henchman of Taggart (Slim Pickens)--was having a difficult time saying the word "nigger", especially to Cleavon Little because he really liked him. Finally, after several takes, Little took Gilliam off to the side and told him it was okay because these weren't his words. Little jokingly added, "If I thought you would say those words to me in any other situation we'd go to fist city, but this is all fun. Don't worry about it."
When auditioning for the role of Lili, Madeline Kahn was asked by Mel Brooks to pull up her skirt so he could see her legs. She was quite hesitant, being unclear of Brooks's intentions. Brooks actually just wanted to see if she had legs good enough to approximate Marlene Dietrich's famous "gams". So she lifted her skirt and said, '"No touching".
Mel Brooks never told Frankie Laine that the theme song "Blazing Saddles" was for a comedy. Laine thought it was a dramatic western. Brooks was worried that Laine wouldn't sing it with conviction if he knew the truth.
Madeline Kahn started working on the movie the day after being fired from the role of Agnes Gooch in Mame (1974). Lucille Ball believed that Kahn got herself fired (by deliberately acting poorly) so that she could take the role of Lili Von Shtupp in this film, but still get paid for the Gooch role in "Mame", which by her contract wouldn't have happened if she'd merely quit.
Supposedly, this movie officially marks the first time the sound of farting has ever been used in a film (at least according to the filmmakers in the DVD Documentary). According to Mel Brooks, they came up with the idea after watching numerous old westerns where cowboys only consume black coffee and plates of beans, concluding that such a food combination would inevitably lead to farting.
When Mel Brooks advertised in the show business trade papers for a "Frankie Laine-type" voice to sing the film's title song, he was hoping for a good imitator. Instead, Frankie Laine himself showed up at Brooks' office two days later, ready to do the job but nobody told him the movie was a parody.
The character Governor LePetomane was named after a popular turn-of-the-century French performer, Joseph Pujol, whose stage name was "Le Pétomane". Pujol was famous for his remarkable control of the abdominal muscles, which enabled him to inhale air into his rectum and expel the air upon command, farting at will. His stage name combines the French verb péter, "to fart" with the -mane suffix, meaning "-maniac," which translates to "fartomaniac". The profession was also referred to as "flatulist", "farteur", or "fartiste". He told stories punctuated with flatulence, demonstrated his ability to blow out candle flames from two feet way with his back turned, and performed "La Marseillaise" and popular tunes. So basically, the Governor's name is William Fartomaniac.
During a speech honoring Mel Brooks as a Kennedy Center Honoree, President Barack Obama mentioned going to see Blazing Saddles (1974) at the age of 13. When Brooks asked how he got in with the ratings restriction, the president replied, "I think I had a fake ID," before adding, "The statute of limitations has passed."
Production began with Gig Young as the Waco Kid. On the first day of shooting, the scene where the drunk Waco Kid hangs from a bunk asking if Bart is black, Young revealed that he really was indeed drunk (he had had an alcohol problem for years) and proceeded to undergo a physical collapse on set. Brooks shut down production for a day and Gene Wilder flew cross country to take over the role. Young later sued Warner Bros. for breach of contract.
The sound effects for the famous wind-breaking scene (with the cowboys around the camp fire letting nature take its natural course after a meal of beans) were added in the cutting room by Mel Brooks and any passer-by, who rubbed soap onto their hands and placed the hand under the armpit, and then closing the armpit.
One studio executive stopped Mel Brooks in an elevator at the Warner Brothers lot and told him that several scenes were offensive and needed to be cut in order for the picture to be released. Brooks nodded and agreed to be polite even though he had no intention of changing a thing, being that he had final cut written into his contract.
The world premiere was at the (now gone) Pickwick Drive-In Theater in Burbank, CA. The guests rode horses into the drive-in for the premiere. The Pickwick was also used for a location in Grease (1978).
The scene in which Mongo knocks out a horse has a basis in reality. Mel Brooks' former Your Show of Shows (1950) and Caesar's Hour (1954) boss, Sid Caesar, who was a physically imposing and somewhat violent man, reported in his 1982 autobiography "Where Have I Been?" that while trail riding with his wife, her horse caused trouble and he punched it once between the eyes. The horse collapsed, unconscious. He notes that this event was Brooks' inspiration for the Mongo-vs.-horse scene.
The role of Bart was intended for Richard Pryor, but due to the controversial nature of Pryor's stand-up routines of the day and his background, Mel Brooks couldn't secure financing for the project with Pryor in that role. So Pryor was made a co-writer of the script, and Cleavon Little played Bart. Pryor later got to star in a different western comedy - Adiós Amigo (1976). However, according to a 2013 interview with Gene Wilder, the casting change was a result of Pryor contacting Brooks via telephone during production - Pryor informing Brooks that he was in Cleveland, and "didn't know why".
On the marquee at Grauman's Chinese Theater, the flashing title "Blazing Saddles" is a matte lay-in, covering the film's original title, 'Black Bart.' The final title of the movie wasn't decided until after principal photography.
Dom DeLuise has claimed that the role of the director of the film-within-a-film, "The French Mistake", was originally meant to be played by Peter Sellers. However, after Mel Brooks endured an exhaustive four-hour audition, he instead cast DeLuise.
The Hebrew writing on headband worn by Mel Brooks on the movie poster should translate to "Kosher for Passover", but it has a (deliberate) mistake: the first letters were switched, which translates it to something like "Posher for Kassover". The huge coin on the poster is inscribed "Hi! I'm Mel, Trust Me!"
After writing his first two feature films on his own, Mel Brooks was nostalgic for the collaborative group writing style of his days on Your Show of Shows (1950), so he employed four other writers to work with. According to co-writer Andrew Bergman, who wrote the treatment on which the film is based, almost all of the scenes include some contribution from the five writers.
The bull that Mongo rides has "YES" painted on one side and "NO" painted on the other. This is apparently a reference to the practice in the 1950s of marking the back of school buses for which side was safe to pass on, essentially implying that Mongo and his mount are as big as a bus.
The name of Dom DeLuise's character "Buddy Bizarre" is a reference to the famed dance choreographer Busby Berkeley, who was renowned for staging highly elaborate and precisely-timed song and dance numbers, of which "The French Mistake" is a clear parody.
At the beginning of the scene in which Mongo awakens chained up in the sheriff's office, when Bart is hanging up posters on the board, there is a wanted poster already hanging up on the wall. This same wanted poster can be seen on the wall in the jail house in the John Wayne movie Rio Bravo (1959).
The idea of the film came from an original story outline written by Andrew Bergman, which Mel Brooks described as "hip talk--1974 talk and expressions--happening in 1874 in the Old West". Brooks was immediately taken by the story, and despite having not worked with a writing team for some time, hired a group of writers, including Bergman, to expand on the script, reminding them "Please do not write a polite script".
Mel Brooks described the writing process as chaotic in an interview with Creative Screenwriting, recalling, "'Blazing Saddles' was more or less written in the middle of a drunken fistfight. There were five of us all yelling loudly for our ideas to be put into the movie. Not only was I the loudest, but luckily I also had the right as director to decide what was in or out."
Mel Brooks wrote a song called "Bart" which would reveal that character's back-story as a pimp, but it was cut before filming began because he felt it slowed the film down and would make it less likely for audiences to sympathize with his plight.
Mel Brooks had repeated conflicts over content with Warner Bros. executives; they objected to the constant use of the word "nigger", the scene of Lili Von Shtupp seducing Bart in the dark, the flatulent campfire scene, and Mongo punching out a horse, among other issues. Brooks, whose contract gave him final content control, declined to make any substantial changes. He did remove the final line in Bart and Lili's seduction scene: "I hate to disappoint you, ma'am, but you're sucking my arm." When asked later about his frequent use of "nigger" in the script, Brooks said he received consistent support for its use from Richard Pryor and Cleavon Little. He added that if the film were to be remade today, the controversial word would have to be omitted, ". . . and then, you've got no movie". After the film's release, he said, he received many letters of complaint about the frequent "nigger" references; ". . . but of course, most of them were from white people."
The character of "Gabby Johnson" is a tribute to George 'Gabby' Hayes, who some film historians have dubbed "The Ultimate Sidekick". Hayes appeared in almost 200 films, nearly all westerns, including many early John Wayne films, and played sidekick to such western stars as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.
Gene Wilder was originally offered the role of Hedley Lamarr but didn't feel right for it, and told Mel Brooks that he wanted The Waco Kid instead. However, Brooks wanted someone older for The Waco Kid, someone like Dan Dailey. Dailey was originally considered for the role of the Waco Kid, but poor health and declining eyesight forced him to decline.
The Indian chief played by Mel Brooks speaks in Yiddish. This was possibly done as a gag reference to the fringe conspiracy theory that the Lost Tribes of Israel emigrated to America and became the Natives.
Though credited on screen as "Gum Chewer", Don Megowan actually played a different role in the film: he was the man who Madeline Kahn pushed into the audience after he lurched drunkenly toward her while she was on stage.
Numerous scenes were cut from the film, including a scene where Bart tricks Mongo into diving for treasure and a scene with the governor touring the fake Rock Ridge with the press. These are included on the Blu-ray release.
It's unlikely if Mel Brooks knew the story, but in real life a black man was named as the postmaster of Punta Gorda, FL, by a man who held a grudge against the town's founders, as a deliberate affront to its Southern sensibilities.
Just like George Furth's character is named after Van Johnson, David Huddleston's character Olson Johnson is named after comedy duo Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson, aka Olsen & Johnson. Bandleader Count Basie, who appears in "Blazing Saddles," also made a film with the real Olsen and Johnson, "Crazy House."
The film was almost not released at all. "When we screened it for executives, there were few laughs," said Mel Brooks. "The head of distribution said, 'Let's dump it and take a loss.' But [studio president John Calley] insisted they open it in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago as a test. It became the studio's top moneymaker that summer." The movie premiered on February 7, 1974, at the Pickwick Drive-In Theater in Burbank; 250 invited guests--including Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder--rode horses to the event, and watched the film on horseback.
Even though the U.S. movie release schedule used to be less structured around saving major/big budget releases for summer (either May or June through August) or December, it was still a huge surprise when this film became a blockbuster hit after going into wide release in February 1974. There was a general expectation then, which still persists to some extent today, that films released in February, April or October were ones studios had limited confidence in and were only hoping for overachieving returns. "Blazing Saddles" remains the last U.S. film to be released in February and finish as that year's #1 film in box office receipts.
In September 2016, while President Barack Obama was introducing the winners of the 2015 National Medals of the Arts and Humanities (one of whom was Mel Brooks), Obama joked, "we are here today to honor the very best of their fields, creators who give every piece of themselves to their craft. As Mel Brooks once said to his writers on Blazing Saddles--which is a great film--'write anything you want, because we'll never be heard from again. We will all be arrested for this movie.'"
When handing out the paddles to everyone at the table, Gov. William J. LePetomaine calls them by name as Frankie, Johnny, Patsy and Kelly. "Frankie & Johnny" was a popular song in the 1930s and Patsy Kelly was a popular comic actress at that time.
The movie poster shows Mel Brooks in his role as an Indian chief. On the headband of his feathered headdress are Hebrew characters that spell out "Posher l'Kesach." This is a deliberate spoonerism of the actual Hebrew phrase "Kosher l'Pesach," which means "Kosher for Passover", so it would read something like Posher for Kassover.
The character of Boris the executioner is a parody of Mord, the role Boris Karloff played in the 1939 historical drama "Tower of London." Mord was an assassin hired by Richard III (Basil Rathbone) to eliminate his rivals to the British throne.
Mel Brooks once recounted in an interview that, in the scene where Lili Von Shtupp has Sheriff Bart in her dressing room, and turns out the light, following the unzipping sound Lili says, "Oh, it's twu. It's twu, it's twu!" Bart replied with, "Why are you sucking on my elbow" The censors would not allow it, so Brooks had to edit out Bart's comment.
Count Basie: leader of the jazz band in the desert. The song being performed is 'April in Paris' written by Vernon Duke and E.Y. Harburg in 1932. The arrangement of "April in Paris" Basie plays in the film was made in 1955 and recorded by Basie at least twice, first as an instrumental and then at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival with a vocal by Ella Fitzgerald.
Mel Brooks: [Harrumph] created mob noise by having people say, "Harrumph." We can hear an example of this moment after the townspeople refuse to give land to the Irish. In the ensuing hubbub, Brooks can be heard to say, "Everybody, harrumph!"