How "The Producers" Inspired A Noted British Comedy Producer/Performer/Writer

On its limited British release in 1969 the film "The Producers" made a huge impact on a young Englishman who was destined to become a high profile comedy producer - and subsequently a successful comedic performer and writer in his own right. Martin Lewis was a 16 year-old comedy fan when he first saw the film. He recalls being so enamored with the movie that he went back to see the film six more times in that same first week of its premiere British engagement at The Prince Charles Cinema in London's Piccadilly Circus!

Though the film was not a major commercial or critical success on its initial theatrical release - Lewis was a fervent fan and passionate advocate for the film. In the many years that elapsed before films became widely available on home video - the film languished as an under-appreciated gem. A cult favorite to the comparatively few who had savored its brilliance on its very limited theatrical run. . It was only on the film's home-video release and renewed TV screenings in the 80's that the film's reputation started to grow and reach its much-deserved status as a comedy classic.

Despite the fact that the film was just a cult movie from the 60's with little widespread awareness - when in 1977 Martin Lewis became an independent comedy producer - he decided to name the two production companies he was creating with names inspired by the film. He formed one company for film, TV and record production and one company for stage productions.

The film/TV/record company he formed was named "Springtime!" after the "Springtime For Hitler" sequence in "The Producers." The company's first logo was an artist's stylized rendition of the scene in which Leo Bloom dances joyously around the Lincoln Center fountain. The company's current logo (in use since 1982) features distinctive elements inspired by the poster for "Springtime For Hitler" seen in the movie.

The stage production company Lewis formed and registered in 1977 was named "Bialystock & Bloom" after the name of the theatrical producers in the film who devise the scheme to stage "Springtime For Hitler." The company's most recent presentations have been in the late 1990's when Lewis reactivated it to present his own stage productions.

Many of Britain's top comedic talents have appeared in films and TV specials produced by Lewis through his Springtime! company and on records issued on the Springtime! record label. These stars include the members of Monty Python, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Billy Connolly, Rowan Atkinson and "Absolutely Fabulous" creator/star Jennifer Saunders. Lewis' Springtime productions include the film which became the first hit movie for the fledgling Miramax Films in 1982 - "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball." (Miramax founders/chairmen Bob & Harvey Weinstein - are among the leading producers of the Broadway presentation of "The Producers.")

Through Springtime! was formed primarily as a company to produce comedic content - Lewis also produced films, TV specials, promotional shorts, documentaries, music videos and records featuring some of Britain's top rock and pop stars. Musical artists who have appeared in Springtime productions - include Sir Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, Sting, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Jeff Beck, Donovan, Bob Geldof, George Michael and Julian Lennon.

Lewis met his hero Mel Brooks for the first time in 1981 at the British premiere of Brooks' movie "History Of the World: Part One." Brooks was amused that Lewis had chosen the "Springtime!" and "Bialystock & Bloom" names for his companies. Brooks and Lewis have stayed in friendly contact over the past 20 years - running into each other at various social and cultural events. Lewis was invited to attend the opening night of Brooks' Broadway stage show of "The Producers" and the post-show party. Lewis wrote about the experience for an exclusive TIME.com column.

In 1989 when Lewis got married in Los Angeles - he arranged to have a string quartet of 'little old ladies' playing "Springtime For Hitler" at his wedding! He "whited-out" the words "...For Hitler" on the sheet music so the ladies would think that the tune was just an innocent paean to the months of April and May! The Rabbi was not amused! The marriage broke up shortly afterwards - and when Lewis next saw Brooks they joked that it was all because "Springtime For Hitler" had been played at his Jewish wedding!

After many years as a successful producer of films, TV and records - in 1990 Lewis evolved into a comedic performer and writer in his own right - and he is now a familiar face on American TV (CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, VH1, E! etc etc) offering satirical commentary on everything from politics to pop culture. He also writes humorous columns regularly for Time.com - the website of Time Magazine.

In 1999 - in Los Angeles - Lewis premiered his first one-man show - an autobiographical piece called "Great Exploitations!" The critically-acclaimed show includes an account of how he was inspired to name his two companies "Springtime" and Bialystock & Bloom" - and the story of "Springtime For Hitler" being played at his Jewish wedding by a little-old-lady string quartet. The show became the inaugural presentation at the new Steven Spielberg Theatre at the restored Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The show was billed as a "Bialystock & Bloom Production in association with Springtime!"

In 2001 that one-man show was selected to have its New York premiere as part of the prestigious 9th Annual Toyota Comedy Festival. Lewis will present his show at hip off-off-Broadway venue P.S. 122 - which is where another British comic - Eddie Izzard - got his big US break. As with the L.A. production - it will be presented by "Bialystock & Bloom in association with Springtime!"

One final note of synchronicity. In May 1982, Lewis was the subject of a profile in the New York Times. He was being hailed as one of Britain's hottest comedy producers on the heels of the success of his Monty Python-starring stage-show and movie "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball." In that article Lewis (who at that time had never performed in his life) was asked to speculate on his future. This is the extract from the New York Times - dated May 28, 1982.

"Some day the 'repressed performer' in Mr. Lewis will probably come out and he'll turn into Mel Brooks. "I will end up getting in front of the camera." But at the moment, his aims are more modest. "People come to America and say, 'Make me a star.' I say, "Make me a sandwich.' The Stage Delicatessen has all those sandwiches named after Frank Sinatra, Donny Osmond, Susan Anton, all the great American intellectuals. That's my ambition. I want to see my name in pastrami."



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