I’ve been reading the new Mel Brooks book, All About Me! My Remarkable Life in Show Business (Ballantine Books, 2021), aloud evenings for family entertainment. It takes a little getting used to, but it beats Jeopardy, which I’ve given up along with ice cream as a near nightly habit moving into the new year. I got the Mel Brooks book for Susan as a Christmas gift. She likes Mel Brooks. She’s very knowledgeable about films and actors and singers and such. Remembers lyrics of far away songs and where she was and how old she was when she saw a movie and who she saw it with. Her grandfather on her mother’s side was in the film industry in Hollywood, a career scene painter, back in the days when movies were made mostly on backlots and required giant backdrops of scenery painted, so the action filmed in the foreground would look like it was done on location. His specialty was clouds, skies, oceans, also buildings and street scenes, fronts, false facades, and interior walls and columns and windows. One year, they flew him to Italy to paint some backdrops for Ben Hur. He worked for the studios. He was an artist, a painter, in the union. He used bristle brush and airbrush. I probably wouldn’t get in line to watch Ben Hur now, but it was a very successful and influential film. I don’t know if Susan’s grandfather ever met Mel Brooks, but Mel might have been influenced by the Ben Hur film when making his History of the World films. Anyway, Mel uses the phrase “It took a little getting used to” frequently in All About Me! For example, when he first eats the Army chow called “shit on a shingle” he says, “it took a little getting used to.”
We’re in Chapter Three, titled World War II, and 18 year old Mel’s just finished a 1945 seasick crossing of the North Atlantic in February and is now in the French countryside of Normandy training to join an Engineer Battalion. In an aside, a flash-forward, he returns to the French farm while in Europe during the filming of The Elephant Man (1980), which was produced by Brooksfilms. And when Mel gets to the farm, he’s greeted by the little French farm kid he befriended with candy in 1945, the kid now the size of a bear. “Mon Dieu! Mel?” the now grown kid says, recognizing the now middle aged ex-soldier.
It takes a little getting used to, but I enjoy reading aloud, even if Susan is the only person in the audience. A book like All About Me! lends itself to an oral reading, straight ahead first person narrative memoir with plenty of room for interruption to discuss what’s going on, complete with jokes and laughs and dialog, anecdote and history, and old photos to share with the audience.
Yeah, it takes a little getting used to, oral reading for entertainment, for the reader and listener, but it’s fun and engaging and certainly beats bad television, but probably not the football championships. Add another lockdown activity to the list of things to do during the Great Covid Scare.