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, Warner Brothers finally agreed to take a chance on releasing it.
One day in the Warner Brothers lot, Mel Brooks saw John Wayne ("the Duke"). As state by Brooks, he thought, "What the hell", so he approached Wayne, told him about his movie and Wayne agreed to take a look. After reading it, he told Brooks that it was too dirty and said he would not be able to do it, but assured Brooks that he would, "...be first in line to see it!"
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.
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.
After promising Warner Brothers that he would edit out several "offensive" scenes, such as the infamous farting sequence, Mel Brooks 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". The scene was later added back to the home video release.
At the end of the movie when the whole group is running out of the Warner Brothers 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 came 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.
Hedy Lamarr sued Mel Brooks over the use of the name Hedley Lamarr and settled out of court. Brooks said he was flattered by this attention. The reference to suing Hedy Lamarr was from Harvey Korman's first day on the set and, ironically, made a comedic reference to what was at that point a non-existent lawsuit.
While filming, Burton Gilliam (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."
According to Mel Brooks (in the commentary for Spaceballs (1987)), when Gene Wilder first came on-set for this movie, he asked for Brooks' next movie that he use an idea that Wilder himself had been writing. That idea was Young Frankenstein (1974).
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.
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, the late Anne Bancroft, who liked the idea, and that's how the movie ended up with its title.
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 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' 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". The Lili Von Shtupp character was a parody of Marlene Dietrich.
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 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.
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.
Production began with Gig Young as Jim, 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 sued Warner Brothers for breach of contract.
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.
Mel Brooks had repeated conflicts over content with Warner Brothers 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 have 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."
During a speech honoring Mel Brooks as a Kennedy Center Honoree, former President Barack Obama mentioned going to see Blazing Saddles (1974) at the age of twelve. When Brooks asked how he got in with the ratings restriction, Obama replied, "I think I had a fake ID, that I got with my fake birth certificate" before adding, "The statute of limitations has passed."
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 world premiere was at the (now gone) Pickwick Drive-In Theater in Burbank, California. The guests rode horses into the drive-in for the premiere. The Pickwick was also used for a location in Grease (1978).
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 reputation, Mel Brooks couldn't secure financing for the project with Pryor in that role. So he 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 and informing Brooks that he was in Cleveland, and "didn't know why".
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 trailriding 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 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!"
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.
DIRECTOR TRADEMARK (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!"
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 backstory 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.
On the marquee at Grauman's Chinese Theater, the flashing title "Blazing Saddles" is a matte lay-in, covering the film's temporary title, "Black Bart". The final title of the movie wasn't decided until after principal photography.
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, with whom to work. According to 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 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 parody.
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 City, 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. Two hundred fifty invited guests, including Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder, rode horses to the event, and watched the film on horseback.
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 two hundred films, nearly all westerns, including many early John Wayne films, and played sidekick to such western stars as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.
It's unlikely if Mel Brooks knew the story, but in real-life, a black man was named as the postmaster of Punta Gorda, Florida, by a man who held a grudge against the town's founders, as a deliberate affront to its Southern sensibilities.
In September 2016, while former 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'."
Gene Wilder was originally offered the role of Hedley Lamarr, but didn't feel right for it, and told Mel Brooks that he wanted Jim, The Waco Kid instead. However, Brooks wanted someone older for Jim, The Waco Kid, someone like Dan Dailey. Dailey was originally considered for the role of Jim, The Waco Kid, but poor health and declining eyesight forced him to decline.
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, in which studios had limited confidence, and were only hoping for overachieving returns. This movie remains the last U.S. film to be released in February and finish as that year's number one film in box-office receipts.
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).
Numerous scenes were cut from the film, including one 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.
The character of Boris the executioner is a parody of Mord, the role Boris Karloff played in Tower of London (1939). Mord was an assassin hired by Richard III (Basil Rathbone) to eliminate his rivals to the British throne.
Though credited on-screen as "Gum Chewer", Don Megowan 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.
In a 2017 interview with Kelli Skye Fadroski, Mel Brooks related being asked about Gene Wilder, who had starred in other Brooks films including The Producers (1967) and Young Frankenstein (1974). Since Wilder's death in August of 2016, Brooks has added in a few extra minutes into his appearances for the film's special screening "Mel Brooks: Back in The Saddle Again!" Following a screening, Brooks comes out for a Q&A session to talk about the iconic and controversial feature that almost wasn't. "I still get goosebumps", the ninety-year-old said, getting a kick out of watching the audience's reactions as he stands quietly in the wings or in the back of sold-out venues, while his beloved film is viewed.
The Howard Johnson's Ice Cream Parlor, 1 Flavor, in the town of Rock Ridge was a reference to the Howard Johnson's restaurant and hotel chain, famous for its twenty-eight flavors of ice cream. At its peak in the 1970s, when the movie was made, the chain had over one thousand outlets. By 2017, there was only one store left.
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.
When handing out the paddle balls to everyone at the table, Governor 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.
In 2002, "Model Railroader Magazine" ran a series of articles about building a train layout from start to finish, using Rock Ridge as inspiration. The "Rock Ridge Central" was an Old West-themed line and included buildings from the town, like Howard Johnson's one-flavor ice cream parlor.
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 Basie played in the film was made in 1955 and recorded by him at least twice, first as an instrumental, and then at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival with a vocal by Ella Fitzgerald.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
In "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee", Mel Brooks revealed that he had lunch with film director Billy Wilder at Wilder's request. Brooks considered Wilder a god and was surprised at the invite. Wilder said he wanted to meet the man who filmed a sequence where cowboys crash into an elaborate Hollywood dance sequence, something Wilder never expected to see in a film.