Focusing on the rise of a black sheriff in the American west of 1874, Blazing Saddles is widely regarded as the most audacious comedy of Mel Brooks’s directorial career. A subversive, fearless satire bent on tackling the ever-present absurdity of prejudice, it has maintained an impressive and growing fan base more than four decades later. On the 45th anniversary of the movie's release, here are some remarkable tidbits about one of the greatest spoofs ever made.
1. The Movie Was Originally Going to be Entitled Tex X: An Homage to Malcolm X.
Other rejected titles include Black Bart and The Purple Sage. Brooks struggled to find a better name after he signed on to direct. Eventually, he came up with Blazing Saddles; like so many other great ideas, it came to the writer/director while he was taking a shower.
2. John Wayne Politely Declined to Appear in the Movie.
Hoping to include the Western genre’s most recognizable star, Brooks asked John Wayne to read the script. Although the Duke apparently found it hilarious, he chose not to join the cast, fearing for his career. However, Wayne did declare, “I’ll be the first one in line to see it!”
3. Blazing Saddles was the first movie to incorporate audible flatulence.
“Blazing Saddles, for me, was a film that truly broke ground. It also broke wind … and maybe that’s why it broke ground,” Brooks once said. Having noticed that that cowboys in traditional westerns generally subsisted on a diet of canned beans, Brooks argued that, “you can only eat so many beans without some noise happening there.” (He had a point.) The resulting fart scene, in which a gang of thugs pass gas around a campfire, made movie history. Brooks knew this gag would get a big reaction, so he deliberately “made the farts louder” to prevent the audience’s laughter from drowning them out. However, despite his foresight, the offending noises were muted in the Blazing Saddles TV release.
4. The hulking henchman “Mongo” was portrayed by a former NFL player.
Alex Karras was a defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions who began appearing in films during the early 1960s. (The scene in which Mongo punches out a horse was inspired by Brooks’s former boss, comedian Sid Caesar, who supposedly knocked one unconscious in real life.) Karras would later begin acting on the small screen and is perhaps best known for playing George Papadapolis in the 1980s sitcom Webster.
5. Slim Pickens slept outside with a Winchester rifle to get a feel for his character.
To get into the mind of Taggart, his cowboy character, Slim Pickens chose to spend most nights sleeping outdoors, with his rifle in hand. If you want to see Taggart’s noggin meet the business end of a shovel, check out the hilarious—and definitely NSFW—clip below:
6. Gene Wilder was far From Brooks’s first choice to play “The Waco Kid.”
“He was magnificent!” Brooks said of Wilder in the 2004 Blazing Saddles DVD documentary Back in the Saddle. Multiple actors—including Johnny Carson—turned down the part before screen veteran Gig Young was hired for the role. At first Young seemed perfect for the boozy character ... until it became painfully clear that he struggled with alcohol in real life. During the first day of shooting, the actor—who was reportedly going through alcohol withdrawals—became violently ill and had to be rushed to a nearby hospital.
"We draped Gig Young’s legs over and hung him upside down. And he started to talk and he started shaking," Brooks recalled of shooting the scene. "I said, 'This guy’s giving me a lot. He is giving plenty. He’s giving me the old alky shake. Great.' And then it got serious, because the shaking never stopped, and green stuff started spewing out of his mouth and nose, and he started screaming. And, I said, 'That’s the last time I’ll ever cast anybody who really is that person.' If you want an alcoholic, don’t cast an alcoholic ... Anyway, poor Gig Young, it was the first shot on Friday, nine in the morning, and an ambulance came and took him away. I had no movie."
Fortunately, Wilder knew most of “the Kid’s” lines and was able totake over the part almost immediately.
7. Gene Wilder pitched the premise of Young Frankenstein to Brooks on the set one day.
Young Frankenstein, the movie that would become Brooks’s next directorial project, began with an idea Wilder approached him about while filming Saddles. “His idea was very simple,” Brooks said. “What if the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein wanted nothing to do with the family whatsoever? He was ashamed of those wackos. I said, 'That’s funny.'" Young Frankenstein was released in December of 1974, less than a year after Blazing Saddles arrived in theaters.
8. Madeline Kahn Earned An Oscar Nomination for Her Portrayal of Saloon Singer Lili von Shtupp.
After being fired from the cast of Mame (1974), Madeline Kahn took the part of a saloon singer in Blazing Saddles and earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for the role. The film marked the first of several collaborations with Brooks (including Young Frankenstein).
9. Mel’s Son was Born During the Movie’s Lengthy Writing Process.
Max Brooks—the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft—was born while his dad was busy writing the film. Max has gone on to have an impressive writing career of his own, focusing largely on zombie stories like World War Z. (You can check out his official site here.)
10. It almost spawned a tv series.
The pilot for a spinoff TV series called Black Bart was filmed in 1975. Unfortunately, it never got picked up.
11. It's considered one of the greatest American comedies of all-time.
In 2000, the American Film Institute rankedBlazing Saddles number six on its list of the 100 Funniest Movies of All Time. It was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected for preservation by the National Film Registry six years later. Additionally, former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg citedBlazing Saddles as his all-time favorite film, and the late Roger Ebert gave it a perfect four-star rating, describing it as “a crazed grabbag of a movie that does everything to keep us laughing except hit us over the head with a rubber chicken ... It’s an audience picture; it doesn’t have a lot of classy polish and its structure is a total mess. But of course! What does that matter when Alex Karras is knocking a horse cold with a right sock to the jaw?”
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Keanu Reeves has been a Hollywood fixture since the mid-1980s, shifting from early dramatic turns in films like River’s Edge (1986) to action thrillers like Speed (1994), The Matrix (1999), and John Wick (2014) and an indelible performance as Theodore “Ted” Logan in the Bill & Ted franchise.
For more on the actor, including why he believed he was sent to “movie jail” for a decade, read on.
1. Despite—or perhaps because of—his multicultural background, Keanu Reeves has never become an American citizen.
Born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1964, Reeves moved to Sydney, Australia and then New York City and (eventually) Toronto, following his mother Patricia’s wedding to her second husband. Born of Chinese, English, Irish, Native Hawaiian, and Portuguese descent, Reeves maintained a connection to the Canadian city where he spent the most time as a child before obtaining a green card through his American stepfather. To this day, and despite his success in America, Reeves maintains his Canadian citizenship.
2. Hockey kept Keanu Reeves busy as a kid.
In Toronto, Reeves became swept up in the appeal of ice hockey. He played throughout school and even co-coached a hockey club. While there, Reeves had an opportunity to try out for the Windsor Spitfires, a hockey team in the Ontario Hockey League. Reeves turned it down, believing his future was in performing. Later, he would portray a hockey pro alongside Patrick Swayze and Rob Lowe in 1986’s Youngblood.
3. When Keanu Reeves was a kid, Alice Cooper used to hang out at his house.
Reeves’s mother was a costume designer, which likely contributed to his interest in the performing arts. He toldUs magazine in 1995 that she made him some elaborate Halloween costumes—Dracula, Batman, Cousin Itt—and often had some of her clients over to the house. Among them: Alice Cooper. “I remember he brought fake vomit and dog poo to terrorize the housekeeper,” Reeves said. “He’d hang out, a regular dude.”
4. One of Keanu Reeves’s earliest roles was in a Coca-Cola commercial.
After getting parts on stage and Canadian television, Reeves landed a part as a cyclist in a Coke commercial in the 1980s. In 2018, The Late Late Show host James Corden asked the actor about the gig; Reeves remembered shooting over a three-day period, during which he drank “so many Coca-Colas.” In full commitment to the role, he also shaved his legs to look more believable as a cyclist.
5. Keanu Reeves almost renamed himself “Chuck Spadina.”
When Reeves came out to Los Angeles in the 1980s, he found that some casting agents were resistant to having him come in for auditions because his first name (which means “cool breeze over the mountains”) was hard to pronounce and seemingly too exotic. In order to combat this hurdle, Reeves began using “K.C. Reeves,” “Chuck Spadina,” and “Page Templeton III” instead. Reeves eventually abandoned the practice because he would go to auditions and tell them his real name anyway.
6. Keanu Reeves has a deep love for motorcycles.
Reeves first learned to ride a motorcycle while shooting a film in Germany, and purchased one for himself the moment he returned to the U.S. His favorite bike is the 1973 Norton Commando. He also bankrolled a custom motorcycle dealership, Arch Motorcycle Company.
7. Keanu Reeves also has an extensive history of motorcycle-related injuries.
If Reeves doesn’t ride his bike as fast (or often) as he used to, it’s because he’s been in a number of serious accidents while riding them. He has lost teeth, broken his ankle, gotten road rash, and ruptured his spleen, amongst other injuries.
8. In addition to his performances in River’s Edge, Dangerous Liaisons, and Parenthood, Keanu Reeves moonlighted in a music video.
In the same year Reeves appeared in Lawrence Kasdan’s I Love You to Death, he also appeared in the music video for Paula Abdul’s “Rush Rush,” the lead single from her sophomore album of the same name. Directed by Stefan Wurnitzer, the clip recreates moments from Rebel Without a Cause using locations from the original film, with Reeves playing the James Dean role opposite Abdul as Natalie Wood’s.
9. Keanu Reeves has been willing to defer his salary to get other actors in his movies.
Reeves has worked with an impressive list of actors in his career, including Al Pacino (1997’s The Devil’s Advocate), Gene Hackman (2000’s The Replacements), and Jack Nicholson (2003’s Something’s Gotta Give). In at least the first two instances, Reeves willingly deferred his compensation in order for the productions to free up some of their budget to be able to afford the actors.
"Is that all I have to do?" he recalled asking producers. "Sure! What else do I have to do? ‘Cause I’ll do it!"
10. Keanu Reeves’s commercial success has resulted in him subsidizing more than just a few high-profile casting choices.
Beyond deferring paychecks to work alongside the likes of Pacino and Nicholson, Reeves has earned more than enough money to live comfortably for the rest of his life with a net worth reportedly along the lines of $360 million. But he gave away a portion of his salary for The Matrix sequels to provide more money for the visual effects and costume departments. And as a reward for those same stunt teams, Reeves recognized their great work by gifting them with Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
11. Keanu Reeves’s friendship with River Phoenix led to them co-starring in My Own Private Idaho.
Reeves and River Phoenix first became best friends on the set of I Love You to Death. Writer-director Gus Van Sant had written the script for My Own Private Idaho decades earlier, but continually found difficulty obtaining funding for it. However, after sending the script to Reeves, the young actor was so struck by it that he drove more than 1000 miles on his motorcycle to hand-deliver a copy to Phoenix. The two men agreed to star in the film on each other’s behalf, and history was made.
12. Keanu Reeves has been injured or sidelined by illness multiple times during shooting.
Reeves is known to be a trouper when it comes to shooting through pain, disability, and sickness, and his dedication to his colleagues is legendary. Several of his co-stars on The Matrix were injured during the wire work sequences on the film, and Reeves dealt with a spinal injury during filming when two of the discs in his back began to fuse together. He also suffered a neck injury which required fight coordinator Yuen Woo-Ping to create sequences that didn’t involve as much kicking. Later, he fought through an ankle injury before filming even began on The Matrix Reloaded. And during an extended sequence in the first John Wickmovie, a scene in which Reeves's character battles several dozen adversaries in a nightclub, he finished his work despite a 103 degree fever.
13. Keanu Reeves says turning down Speed 2 put him in “movie jail” for 10 years.
After the success of 1994’s Speed, where Reeves portrayed a cop trying to save the lives of people trapped on a bus rigged to explode if it dips below 50 miles an hour, the studio was understandably eager for a sequel. At the time he was shown the script, Reeves was shooting the 1996 action film Chain Reaction and was growing wary of roles where he was “running and jumping” for little to no reason. He turned Speed 2 down, a move that he believed led to a decade of “movie jail” where he was offered no other roles by Fox. Ultimately, the sequel was made; Reeves was replaced by Jason Patric, who co-starred with Sandra Bullock in 1997’s Speed 2: Cruise Control. The film was not well-received, and Reeves appears to have no regrets about saying no to it. At the time he turned it down, he recalled telling director Jan de Bont, “You know, boats aren’t that fast.”
14. Keanu Reeves only became a part of Keanu at the last minute.
John Wick and the 2014 action-comedy Keanu were developed independently from one another, and early reporting about the latter film indicated it was a parody of the former. Consequently, Reeves’s management turned down an offer to appear in the second film without notifying their client. But when Reeves saw the initial trailers for Keanu, he reached out to filmmaker Peter Atencio and got involved, leading to the cameo in which he provides the voice of the eponymous kitten.
15. It’s possible that Keanu Reeves accidentally married Winona Ryder.
While shooting 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Reeves and Winona Ryder—who played Jonathan and Mina Harker, respectively—appear in a scene in which their characters get married. Ryder later pointed out that director Francis Ford Coppola used a real priest in the scene and that both actors said their vows, meaning they might actually be married. Coppola agreed with this theory, although it’s not known whether the priest used their character names or the actors' real names during shooting.
16. Without Keanu Reeves, Weezer might not exist.
Reeves began the music project Dogstar after a chance encounter at a grocery store with drummer/ percussionist Robert Mailhouse in 1991. The band’s success was decidedly muted at best, but Reeves’s celebrity drove fans to the band and they toured successfully for several years in addition to recording several albums. Among the bands that performed with them on tour was Weezer, who played their first ever gig in 1992 as an opener for Dogstar.
17. Keanu Reeves has been booed offstage.
Reeves infamously toured with his band, Dogstar, in the 1990s, which played what he once described as “like, folk music,” or “folk thrash.” When they were invited to play Metalfest in Milwaukee, the band stood out in sharp contrast to the heavier acts on the bill. Reeves recalled that the crowd “threw beer at us and told us to f*** off and yelled, ‘You suck!’ It was beautiful. It made me laugh.”
18. Keanu Reeves was tricked into appearing in The Watcher.
In 2000’s The Watcher, Reeves plays against his typical onscreen affability as a serial killer in a cat-and-mouse game with a detective (James Spader). According to Reeves, he was actually tricked into appearing in the film when a (presumably former) friend forged his signature on the contract. Daunted by the prospect of trying to prove it was a forgery, he decided to go ahead and do the movie. “I couldn’t prove he did and I didn’t want to get sued, so I had no other choice but to do the film,” he said.
19. Keanu Reeves supports several charitable causes.
After his sister was diagnosed with leukemia, Reeves founded a private cancer foundation—not in his own name—to provide research and assist children’s hospitals. He additionally supported Stand Up to Cancer and SickKids Foundations with generous contributions, to facilitate pediatric research.
20. Keanu Reeves has a recurring role on a tv show you've probably never heard of.
It’s not unusual for film actors to take roles in one of the many prestige television series airing on streaming and premium networks. Reeves, however, seems to have taken a low-key approach to television, opting for a small recurring role in Swedish Dicks, a U.S. and Scandinavian co-production about two private detectives from Sweden trying to earn a living in Los Angeles. Reeves’s friend, actor Peter Stormare, is one of the stars. The comedy airs on the Pop TV channel in the U.S.
21. Keanu Reeves has published books of his own poetry.
In 2011, Reeves collaborated with artist Alexandra Grant for Ode to Happiness, a limited-run book featuring a poem written by Reeves and accompanied by Grant’s illustrations for each line. The composition (“I draw a hot sorrow bath”) is self-aware in its overwrought approach that Grant likened to a “grown-up children’s book.” The two have since gone on to work on 2016’s Shadows, a similar poem and art project featuring photos of Reeves, and are now pursuing their own publishing imprint, X Artists’ Books, to showcase titles with a visual aesthetic that are sold via art stores or an online subscription.
22. Keanu Reeves has always actively participated in the physical preparation required for his roles.
Gearing up for Point Break, Reeves spent weeks and weeks learning how to surf, and developed the sport as a hobby. When Reeves was cast in Speed, the actor spent several months gaining muscle for the role. By the time it came to shoot the scene in which his character Jack Traven jumps from a moving car onto the bus, Jan De Bont was convinced that a stunt man would be required, but Reeves has practiced in private and was able to wow the director with his preparation and skill in pulling off the stunt. And just for the scene where Neo emerges from his pod inside The Matrix, Reeves shaved his entire body and lost 15 pounds for what amounted to just a few short minutes of screen time.
23. Keanu Reeves’s passion for—and recognition of—other storytellers’ passion—has led to many of his iconic roles.
As described above multiple times, Keanu took a part or played a role because of an actor ot storyteller’s dedication to a project. Always Be My Maybe was no exception. Casting him in the film was considered a “pipe dream” by director Nahnatchka Khan, but the actor was a longtime fan of comedian and star Ali Wong, so when the opportunity arose, he reworked his schedule to accommodate the film. He even ended up contributing a handful of ideas that expanded his character (at his own expense), like wearing glasses that had no lenses.
24. The John Wick franchise might not exist without The Matrix.
Reeves signed to star in the film, originally titled Scorn, after Thunder Road Pictures acquired Derek Kolstad’s script. He subsequently reached out to Chad Stahelski and David Leitch to see if they were interested in choreographing or directing the action of the film, after Stahelski performed as Reeves’s stunt double in The Matrix, and he and Leitch later helped choreograph action in the sequels. It was their vision for the film that inspired Reeves to back them not just as stunt coordinators but co-directors for the film.
25. Without John Wick, there might not have been a Bill & Ted Face the Music.
Reeves hadn’t seriously thought about reprising the role of Theodore “Ted” Logan until 2005 when a red carper reporter asked him about returning to the character. It took another five years before Alex Winter had created an idea that everyone felt was substantial or worthy enough to explore for another film. The project spent another several years languishing in development thanks to the commercial prospects of the stars, but the success of John Wick rekindled studio interest in making a third film. That franchise’s success generated heat for all of the films he was attached to, and Bill & Ted 3 picked up steam from there.