Mel Brooks cannot read music. "Springtime for Hitler" and "Prisoners of Love" (as were all the songs Brooks writes for his films) were hummed into a tape recorder and transcribed by an expert. When Brooks adapted the movie into a stage musical, he wrote the entire score by himself using the same method.
Gene Wilder said in an interview on TCM that at the first reading of the script, he excused himself to leave for a dentist appointment he could not miss, when in fact, he had to go to the unemployment office to collect a check for fifty-five dollars he desperately needed at the time.
The "hysterical" scene was filmed at the end of a long day, and an exhausted Gene Wilder told Mel Brooks that he just didn't think he "had it in him" to shoot it that day. Brooks solved the problem by loading the actor up with sugar and caffeine (in the form of two Hershey bars and a cup of coffee), after which the scene was shot in just two takes.
Mel Brooks related the following in an interview with Larry Siegel in Playboy Magazine in 1966: PLAYBOY: What else are you working on? BROOKS: Springtime for Hitler. PLAYBOY: You're putting us on. BROOKS: No, it's the God's honest truth. It's going to be a play within a play, or a play within a film, I haven't decided yet. It's a romp with Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun at Berchtesgaden. There was a whole nice side of Hitler. He was a good dancer, no one knows that. He loved a parakeet named Bob, no one knows that either. It's all brought out in the play.
When Mel Brooks was sixteen-years-old, he worked for a cash-strapped theatrical producer who'd raise funds by sleeping with his investors, most of whom were elderly women. "He pounced on little old ladies and would make love to them", Brooks told The Guardian. "They gave him money for his plays, and they were so grateful for his attention." In Manhattan, Brooks also knew a pair of showmen who had more or less failed their way into prosperity. "They were doing flop after flop and living like kings", Brooks said. "A press agent told me, 'God forbid they should ever get a hit, because they'd never be able to pay off the backers!' I coupled the producer with these two crooks and, BANG!, there was my story."
Because of the "Springtime For Hitler" musical number, the film was intially banned in Germany, where laws against public display of Nazi symbolism had been in place since the end of World War II. It wasn't screened there until it was included in a film festival featuring the works of Jewish filmmakers.
Dustin Hoffman was set to play Franz Liebkind, but declined when he got the part of Benjamin in The Graduate (1967). Brooks only allowed Hoffman the chance to go off to the audition for the film because his wife (Anne Bancroft) was in it, and Brooks was familiar enough with the role of Benjamin to know Hoffman was utterly wrong for it (as written), and would never be cast.
Roger Ebert recounted how he was in an elevator with Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft in New York City after the film premiered. A woman got onto the elevator, recognized him and said, "I have to tell you, Mr. Brooks, that your movie is vulgar." Brooks replied, "Lady", he said, "it rose below vulgarity."
The scene with Max and Leo outside the fountain at Lincoln Center was the last scene to be filmed. Gene Wilder thought Leo's ecstasy mirrored his own at the time, and was what convinced him to stay with acting.
In a Playboy Magazine interview (December 1974 issue), Mel Brooks recalled the filming: "I did dumb things. First day on the set, first scene, sound men are ready, cameras are rolling, the director's supposed to say: 'Action!' Being a little nervous, I said: 'Cut!'"
Mel Brooks says that Producer Joseph E. Levine wanted to fire Gene Wilder after seeing some of the footage because he thought he "stunk". He wanted to give Mel Brooks thirty-five thousand dollars more to find someone better, but Brooks convinced Levine that Wilder was fine, and would make the movie work.
Estelle Winwood said about the film, "Oh, that dreadful picture. I can't bear to watch it, even on a small television. I must have needed the money, living in Hollywood weakens one's motives. It reminds me of the saying that nobody ever went broke underestimating the American public's taste."
One major reason the film ever got released at all, was due to the intervention of Peter Sellers. After Brooks completed the picture, at that point titled "Springtime for Hitler", Executive Producer Joseph E. Levine told Brooks the film wouldn't be released, because he thought it was in poor taste, and not very funny. Meanwhile, while Sellers was in Hollywood making I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968), he liked to screen movies for him and his friends' entertainment. One night this film was screened (even though him and his friends were supposed to screen I Vitelloni (1953), but Mazursky never brought the film on over to show them) and Sellers loved it. When he heard it would not be released, he began calling Levine, and eventually convinced him to release it, the only compromise being that the title be changed to "The Producers".
DIRECTOR_TRADEMARK(Mel Brooks): [The Producers]: This was Mel Brooks' first movie. All of Brooks' future movies make at least one reference to this one, some with bits of a musical, and others by referring to Nazi Germany.
Mel Brooks originally conceived the film as a non-musical play, but realized it required too many set changes. He then played with the idea of it as a book, but it had too much dialogue. Eventually, he realized it could only work as a movie.
Mel Brooks has said that one of his "lifelong jobs" is "to make the world laugh at Adolf Hitler." The film was a way to enact vengeance through comedy. "The only real way I could get even with Hitler and company was to bring them down with laughter", Brooks said.
The movie's line, "We find the defendants incredibly guilty." was voted as the number eighty-eight of "The 100 Greatest Movie Lines" by Premiere in 2007. "I'm the author. You are the audience. I outrank you!" was number fourteen in the same.
Composer John Morris was given the daunting task of creating the showcase musical number "Springtime for Hitler". Mel Brooks directed him to create the biggest, flashiest, tackiest, most terrible number he could think of. "Every time we hit a level", said Morris, "we'd have to go broader, bigger, and that was the fun of it."
According to Mel Brooks, "Jewish organizations at the beginning were outraged. They didn't get the joke." Within a few months of the movie's release, Brooks received angry letters from, in his estimation, "every Rabbi in New York." He took these very seriously. "I wrote a reply to every single letter I got, explaining 'You can't get on a soap box with Hitler. You've got to ridicule him.'"
Since Mel Brooks had never directed a movie before, he had to convince Joseph E. Levine that since he had written the script, he could visualize making it much better than any other outside director new to the project. He also agreed to work for scale.
The original screenplay had Franz Liebkind having Max and Leo swearing on The Siegfried Oath, accompanied by "The Ride of the Valkyries" and promising fealty to Siegfried, Richard Wagner, Friedrich Nietzsche, Paul von Hindenburg, The Graf Spee, The Blue Max, and Adolph "You know who". This explains Franz's outraged cry when entering Max's office, "You have broken the Siegfried Oath, you must die!" The Oath was restored in the musical version.
The "Springtime For Hitler" number took two days to film, and was the the most expensive scene in the film. But Mel Brooks said he also spent almost fourteen days of his allotted forty-day shooting schedule getting the movie's vital opening scene, with Bialystock seducing an old lady investor, just right.
Adapted as a Broadway stage musical by Mel Brooks, "The Producers" opened at the St. James Theater in April 2001, with Nathan Lane as Bialystock, and Matthew Broderick as Bloom. The renowned musical went on to run for 2,502 performances, and won a record-breaking twelve Tony awards.
At one point, when reading scripts, Max reads the line, "Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to find he'd been transformed into a gigantic cockroach". This is the first line of the book "The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka. "The Metamorphosis" was later adapted as a stage play and an opera.
Zero Mostel took Gene Wilder under his wing and the two became friends. "You may have heard stories about how bombastic, aggressive, and dictatorial Zero might be," said Wilder. "It didn't happen with me. He always took care of me. I loved him. He looked after me as if I were a baby sparrow."
Despite being described as a lavish production number, "Springtime for Hitler" was not ready until the first rehearsals. Mel Brooks sat with first-time Composer John Morris at the piano, and improvised some lyrics. Morris then developed the stage performance with Choreographer Alan Johnson, instructed to do the number "big, wonderful, flashy, but terrible." As Brooks kept suggesting bizarre costume ideas to enhance the burlesque nature of "Springtime for Hitler", such as women with clothes inspired by beer mugs and pretzels, Johnson decided to showcase them all in a parade.
Gene Wilder had previously starred alongside Anne Bancroft in a stage version of "Mother Courage". Wilder had become friendly through with Mel Brooks through their association with Bancroft, and Brooks realized that Wilder would make a great Leo Bloom. In June 1963, Brooks invited Wilder to spend the weekend with him and Bancroft on Fire Island, where he gave him the first thirty pages of The Producers to read. He liked it immediately, and Brooks offered him the part. Three years passed without Wilder receiving a phone call or any contact with Brooks about the film. He assumed the project was dead. Then one night, when he was performing in the play Luv, Brooks showed up in his dressing room, out of the blue, with Producer Sidney Glazier in tow. It was as if not a day had passed. "We got the money, here's the script, you're Leo Bloom", said Brooks. Wilder couldn't believe it and he burst into tears. There was just one obstacle: Zero Mostel didn't know Wilder, and wanted to meet him first. If he passed muster with Mostel, he had the part. Wilder was nervous about his first meeting with Mostel. "This huge, round, fantasy of a man came waltzing towards me", said Wilder in his 2005 autobiography "Kiss Me Like a Stranger". "My heart was pounding so loud, I thought he'd hear it. I stuck out my hand, politely, to shake his, but instead of shaking my hand, Zero pulled me into his body and gave me a giant kiss on the lips. All nervousness floated away, I gave a good reading, and was cast."
According to an interview with Director and Blue Underground owner William Lustig, the original negative was destroyed because the then-owner decided it wasn't necessary to pay for the storage of its negative library.
Mel Brooks described to Gene Wilder the character of Leo Bloom as "a neurotic bud that blossoms into a neurotic flower, a shy guy who carries around a piece of blue baby blanket with him for security." He continued to reassure Wilder that he wouldn't have to act, because Brooks was careful to hire only the actors "who are just right for the parts." Concerned, Wilder asked Anne Bancroft, "Does he really think I'm like that?" She replied, "Just go along with him."
Mel Brooks worked on two real-life Broadway musical failures. He did a re-write on the failed musical "Shinbone Alley" (1957), and wrote the libretto for "All American", which starred Ray Bolger, and ran for eighty performances in 1962.
Mel Brooks had an extremely rare deal for the production of this movie: a contract that gave a novice director full creative control of the project. Producer Sidney Glazier gave him creative autonomy based on Brooks' comedic work with Sid Caesar and the legendary audio recording of The 2,000-Year-Old-Man that he made with Carl Reiner. Furthermore, Brooks helped his own case by agreeing to direct the picture at one-third his normal fee. Glazier raised six hundred thousand dollars for the production.
When Max mockingly calls Leo "Prince Mishkin", he is alluding to the main character of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel "The Idiot", like Leo, a mentally fragile innocent who gets caught up in the schemes of a frustrated, unscrupulous man.
Mel Brooks' original title for the film was "Springtime for Hitler", but the studio wouldn't allow it. They did say that they would allow "Springtime for Mussolini", but Brooks didn't like that, and ended up calling it "The Producers".
When it was completed, the film was in danger of not receiving a theatrical release. Joseph Levine was dubious about its offensive humor, and thought it might cause more trouble than it was worth, so the film was temporarily shelved, until Peter Sellers intervened.
The "Springtime for Hitler" sequences were filmed at Broadway's Playhouse Theater (torn down in 1969), whose marquee can be glimpsed briefly. However, in the scene where the theater blows up, the marquee of the Cort Theater, which stood (and still stands) across 48th Street from the Playhouse, can be seen.
Once recent American Academy of Dramatic Arts graduate Lee Meredith was invited to audition, she was given the condition of knowing a Swedish accent. She borrowed a book from the AADA library to learn the accent, and won the role of Ulla with the screentest featuring the scene of her dancing.
It has been alleged that the film was "banned in Germany", following the film's lackluster response in the UK. German distributors did decline to distribute it, but their lack of interest did not constitute a ban.
Mel Brooks derived the title of the play within the film, "Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva in Berchtesgarten", from a favorite of the summer stock circuit called "Springtime for Henry". He had used the provocative title as a running gag for many years. When anyone asked him what his next project was, he'd say he was planning a musical called "Springtime for Hitler". This news, of course, was usually received with shocked expressions, exactly the reaction Brooks wanted.
The name "Rudolfo" that the "hold me, touch me" lady (Estelle Winwood) gives to Bialystock (Zero Mostel), when they are playing "The Contessa and the Chauffeur" at the beginning, is also the name of the chauffeur Bialystock hired, after he and Bloom raise the money for the play.
Mel Brooks, being a first time director, was often challenged in his creative decisions by Zero Mostel who had his own ideas about staging and performance after years of experience on the stage and in film. Brooks was used to the lightning pace of live television, and could easily get impatient with the slowness of a film shoot. Zero, in turn, often offered unsolicited advice to Brooks on how he should direct a scene. The two lashed out at each other occasionally, but there was a mutual respect. Any animosity on the set was short-lived.
The original Swedish title for the film was a direct translation of the original title, Producenterna (The Producers). The film didn't arouse much interest from the public. This changed when the title was replaced by "Det våras för Hitler" (Springtime for Hitler). Then the film became an instant smash. All subsequent Mel Brooks films then got Swedish title starting with "Det våras för..." e.g. "Det våras för Frankenstein" (Young Frankenstein (1974))/ ..."Sherriffen" (Blazing Saddles (1974)) / ..."Galningarna" (High Anxiety (1977) et cetera except for Brooks' two last films, which received the Swedish titles "Robin Hood: Karlar i trikåer" (Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)) and "Dracula - Död men lycklig" (Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995); literally "Dracula - Dead but Happy").
For the pivotal scene in which Max finally convinces Leo to help him with his scheme, Mel Brooks was originally going to shoot it on the parachute jump ride at Coney Island. When he discovered that the ride was out of order awaiting repair, Brooks decided instead to shoot the scene at the fountain in Lincoln Center.
As Max (Zero Mostel) and "Hold Me Touch Me" (Estelle Winwood) are cavorting during the title sequence, a poster from the 1964 stage production of "Baby Want a Kiss" can be seen prominently. The play's two principal leads' names (Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward) are shown obscured: "BAOL" and "OOANNE", with their surnames indecipherable.
Zero Mostel had it written into his contract that he didn't have to work past 5:30 p.m., due to a leg injury he had suffered in a bus accident. Assistant Director Michael Hertzberg managed to convince him once to work overtime, by enduring Mostel screaming his lungs off at him for several minutes, and given the leg injury got worse in humid weather, the last scene at the Lincoln Center's fountain had Mostel throwing a fit and give up on production. Sidney Glazier had to leave a dentist appointment and rush to the set where Mostel and Brooks were arguing, and once the producer managed to calm them down, the resulting scene had to be shot all night long. (it shows in the finished film, as the sky is as dark as possible).
Newspaper articles from 1966 indicate Mel Brooks originally conceived of this as a Broadway comedy titled "Springtime for Hitler", and that his original choice for the role of Leopold Bloom was Paul Anka.
The ad, shown in "Variety", for the open casting call for the role of Adolf Hitler, said it was held at 254 W. 54th Street, at that time a television studio of CBS. In a few years, the studio became "Studio 54".