On this day: Mel Brooks is born

June 28 1926: A comedian is born

By Deborah Weitzmann, June 28, 2011

Hollywood legend Mel Brooks was born Melvin Kaminsky to a Russian Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York.

One of the biggest Jewish stars to date, Brooks is a member of the short list of entertainers who have the distinction of having Academy Awards and Emmys to their names.

In 2010 Brooks received his star on the prestigious Hollywood Walk of Fame, the culmination of a celebrated career that has ranged from directing, to producing and from comedy to acting. Brooks delighted audiences at the ceremony for the star by bursting into song on the podium.

Brooks was behind many comedy classics including The Producers in 1968, which also starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. The film remains popular to this day, despite it being regarded as controversial for making Hitler a figure of fun. In 1974, he directed Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein - two of the most successful films ever.

His career began in the 1940s while he was serving in the military. The Jewish comedian served as a combat engineer in the US Army and was known to respond to German propaganda broadcasts by imitating Al Jolson's "Toot Toot Tootsie".

After the war, Brooks did stand-up comedy acts in the Catskills resorts, where he became known for telling jokes and doing movie-star impressions. Routines included pretending to insult both co-workers and the guests.

As he would throughout his career, even then he went to great lengths in order to get laughs out of the audience, ending one show by jumping fully clothed into a swimming pool before returning to the stage to continue his act sopping wet.

What he told the JC: "We were very poor – but very clean. Every Friday my mother used to scrub the floor and we weren't allowed to walk on it. She used to cover it with the Jewish Daily Forward or the Freiheit – that's how I learned Yiddish, from the kitchen floor."

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Last updated: 8:42am, June 28 2011