In 1974, Blazing Saddles Was Released and Made This Detroit Lion A Star
Social media has great way of reminding you time flies. It did it again today, with a reminder that Mel Brooks' classic Western spoof "Blazing Saddles" was released 48 years ago today.
And classic it is, as Brooks and his merry crew of writers and actors made fun of not only movie Westerns, but also race relations, sexual mores and even politics (remember, this movie came out smack dab in the middle of the Watergate scandal.) It's hard to believe a movie like this could even get made these days, even though it's on the correct side of almost everything.
The movie's stars were Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder and Madeline Kahn, not to mention darn near every character actor of that era. But the movie made Alex Karras a star. Alex Karras the football player? Oh, yes. The Hall of Fame Detroit Lions defensive lineman.
(Movieclips via YouTube)
Karras, who was from Gary, Indiana, had a colorful football career, first at Iowa and then with the Lions. He first made headlines in 1963, being suspended for a year, along with Green Bay Packers star Paul Hornung, for gambling on football.) Karras got his first taste of acting, when author George Plimpton's book Paper Lion was made into a movie starring Alan Alda and the 1967 Detroit Lions.
After his playing days were over, Karras began on his acting career in earnest. He did a few TV shows, a guest shot on the Odd Couple, even a TV movie, The 500 Pound Jerk. But Blazing Saddles made him a star. And the scene that did it was when henchman Mongo rides into town on a cow and punches a horse. And there was also a campfire scene involving beans that too was laugh out loud funny (even for my sensitive mom who was nice enough to take me to see it).
Karras went on to a fairly successful acting career, co-starring in Victor/Victoria with Julie Andrews and James Garner, then "Babe" where he met is second wife, actress Susan Clark with whom he did the long running sitcom, Webster, on ABC.
Karras died in 2012 from kidney disease and dementia. It was a long time in coming, but Karras was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, as part of its Centennial Class, in 2020.