Yes, I did. For a full 30 seconds, I spoke with her:

"I think, out of all the times I've seen Young Frankenstein, I enjoyed it the most tonight," I said as I handed her my DVD insert and program. "Yes, it's one that seems to last," she agreed, picking up a silver Sharpie and slanting a left-handed signature across the sheets. She handed them back to me. "Thank you." I turned away to join my son and his lady friend.

Our tete-a-tete was over.

On Friday, October 16, the 35th anniversary showing of Mel Brooks' homage to Mary Shelley's many-times-films horror classic was shown at the Joslyn Art Museum's Witherspoon Hall in Omaha. It is the 25th film event celebrating a classic cinematic comedy, presented by Bruce Crawford. To date, there have 116 incarnations of the famous story (the first Frankenstein movie was made by Thomas Edison), both as straight horror films, pastiches, satires, or comedies, as well as "guest appearances" by the Frankenstein Monster in various animated and live-action films. Even cereal boxes. The musical Young Frankenstein opened on Broadway this year.

Besides having a stellar cast of Gene Wilder (who also co-wrote the screenplay), Marty Feldman, Madeleine Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Gene Hackman, and Teri Garr in her first starring role, the movie was filmed in black and white, using some of the old movie techniques, such as the iris effect. Several actors who were in the Original Universal "Frankenstein" series were used in the film as was the laboratory set from the original James Whale movie of 1931. Sadly, besides Ms. Leachman, only Gene Hackman, Teri Garr and Gene Wilder remain of the original cast. In the film, Ms Leach plays Frau Blucher, the "girlfriend" of the hero's grandfather, an austere character whose very name sends any horse-onscreen or off-into a frenzy. (In German, "blucher" means "glue.") It's through Frau Blucher's machinations that Federick Frankenstein decides to carry on the monster-making tradition with unexpected, somewhat hilarious results.

Most television viewers may be familiar with Ms. Leachman through her portrayal of the landlady on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970's. This role won her two Emmys and her own sitcom. She also won an Oscar for her performance in 1971's The Last Picture Show, and appeared in three Mel Brooks comedies. To date, she has been awarded eight Emmys and a Daytime Emmy for her television work. Last year, at age 82, she was a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, for which she received some harsh criticism by the judges-in spite of some fanstastic choreographic maneuvers-but kept the audience's favor as well as making them laugh. This lady has come a long way from the young woman who headed to the Actors' Studio after competing in the 1946 Miss America pageant!

Last Friday night, having flown in from Pennsylvania where she's just finished a movie, she appeared alone onstage, answering questions and speaking individually with members of the audience who walked up to the stage to shake her hand. She kept the audience laughing with her quick retorts and risqué anecdotes. Loud guffaws were the mode of the evening, both then and during the movie. When the remastered movie was shown, the audience applauded loudly as her name appeared in the credits and when she made her first appearance onscreen. Afterward, she signed autographs while her son (a very handsome chap, by the way) sat nearby, fretting that his 83-year-old mother might be exhausted after both the entire showing, which lasted around two and a half hours, and then writing her name for 90 minutes. The mother, however, appeared to be going strong.

I was one of the last in line. I hope she got a good rest after it was all over. She deserved it.

Thank you, Ms. Leachman, for a wonderful and memorable bit of movie entertainment!

10 comments

  1. Jianne Carlo // October 22, 2009 at 9:27 AM  

    Wow, what a wonderful experience! She has to be one of my favorite performers.

    Jianne carlo

  2. Patrice // October 22, 2009 at 11:11 AM  

    What a fun night, Toni. Saw the movie oh so many years ago. The Broadway show should be a blast.
    Patrice

  3. Mary Marvella // October 22, 2009 at 3:23 PM  

    Wow, those wonderful few seconds with a celebrity! My daughter sat on the lap of Paladin, Richard ?? I'll think of his name. He was older than dirt then, even. We were on a vacation and happened on a movie set.

    Good blog, Toni!

  4. Autumn Jordon // October 22, 2009 at 3:56 PM  

    What an awesome experience. Gosh, I envy you for having met her. And 83. Wow. She definitely loves her work. Did anyone ask her what her favorite scene was?

    So cool.

    AJ

  5. Beth Trissel // October 22, 2009 at 4:25 PM  

    Toni, this is wonderful! I've always admired and enjoyed watching her. How kewl that you saw the show and got to meet her. I'm impressed!

  6. Mary Marvella // October 22, 2009 at 4:43 PM  

    Richard Boone! I meant Richard Boone.

  7. Judy // October 22, 2009 at 5:20 PM  

    Very interesting! And interesting to learn of some of the cultural activities of Omaha! Sounds like a fun evening...

  8. Scarlet Pumpernickel // October 22, 2009 at 8:25 PM  

    MM,Boone! Richard Boone. A man called Paladin, have gun will travel read the card of a man.....

    Toni, how fun! Guess it was exciting to meet her and get an autograph. Good blog.

  9. Toni V.S. // October 23, 2009 at 5:02 PM  

    The movie is a good one, full of laughs but not done in a slapstick way. I wish everyone could have been there to see how she handled her audience. She had them constantly laughing!

  10. Joanne // October 25, 2009 at 6:41 PM  

    Most exciting, Toni, and a memorable experience. Celebrities--Americans love them!