Nationality: American. Born: Albert Einstein, 22 July 1947, Beverly Hills, California; son of Harry (a radio comedian; professional name, Parkyakarkus) and Thelma (a singer; maiden name, Leeds) Einstein; brother of Bob Einstein (a comedy writer under his own name and a comedy performer under the name Super Dave Osborne). Education: Attended Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University), 1966–67. Family: Married Kimberly Shlain, 1997; two children. Career: Sportswriter for KMPC-Radio in Los Angeles, CA, 1962–63; wrote for Turn On ABC TV show, 1968;
Real Life (ro as Himself) (+ sc)
Modern Romance (ro as Robert Cole) (+ sc)
Lost in America (ro as David Howard) (+ sc)
Defending Your Life (ro as Daniel Miller) (+ sc)
Mother (ro as John Henderson) (+ sc)
The Muse (ro as Steven Phillips) (+ sc)
Taxi Driver (Scorsese) (ro as Tom)
Private Benjamin (Zieff) (ro as Yale Goodman)
Twilight Zone: The Movie (Dante, Landis, Miller, Spielberg) (ro as Driver)
Unfaithfully Yours (Zieff) (ro as Norman Robbins)
Broadcast News (James L. Brooks) (ro as Aaron Altman)
I'll Do Anything (James L. Brooks) (ro as Burke Adler); The Scout (Ritchie) (sc)
Critical Care (Lumet) (ro as Dr. Butz)
Doctor Dolittle (Thomas) (ro as voice of Tiger); Out of Sight (Soderbergh) (ro as Richard Ripley)
My First Mister (Lahti) (ro)
"Real Afterlife," interview with R. DiMatteo, in Film Comment (Denville, New Jersey), vol. 27, no. 2, March-April 1991.
"Spewing Genius: Albert Brooks," interview with Jonathan Cutler, in Fade In (Beverly Hills), vol. 2 no. 4, 1996.
"Playboy Interview: Albert Brooks," with Bill Zehme, in Playboy (Chicago), August 1999.
Comedy Minus One , ABC, 1973.
A Star Is Bought , Electra-Asylum, 1975.
Weber, Bruce, "Reflections on Himself," in New York Times Magazine , 17 March 1991.
Zehme, Bill, "Albert Brooks," in Rolling Stone (New York), 18 April 1991.
Guilliatt, R., "Angel Delight," in Time Out (London), no. 1088, 26 June 1991.
Rose, Alison, "It's Albert," in New Yorker , 14 February 1994.
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Albert Brooks has been called "the West Coast Woody Allen." While Brooks does write, direct, and star in comedies set in California instead of New York, his films tend to reflect a more consistent tone of baby boomer self-involved angst than do Allen's films, and are probably more revealing of the director himself and more universal. Brooks is a true comedian's comedian (David Letterman has said, "He's above all of us"), he has a cult following, and in 1997 Entertainment Weekly listed him as the fifth funniest human alive (after Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld, Roseanne, and Jim Carrey).
Born Albert Einstein, Albert changed his name to Brooks when he decided to go into standup comedy, and made numerous appearances on nationally televised variety shows. Asked to contribute an article to Esquire , in 1971 he concocted a six-page illustrated catalogue for an institution called Albert Brooks' Famous School for Comedians. In 1973 he turned this article into his first film, a short that ran on the PBS series Great American Dream Machine. When Lorne Michaels asked him to host a new series called Saturday Night Live , he declined, but he did agree to make six short films for the show, an experience he later described as being "like enrolling in the most amazing filmmaking course." Although he subsequently acted in other people's films (notably Broadcast News , for which he received an Academy Award nomination, and Taxi Driver ), his reputation is largely built on the six feature-length films he co-wrote, directed and starred in between 1979 and 1999.
In Real Life (1979), a parody of the PBS documentary An American Family , Brooks plays a megalomaniacal director who assures the Yeager family of Phoenix that his camera crew will not disrupt their lives, then proceeds to totally demolish both family and home. Charles Grodin is hilarious as Warren Yeager, a father and veterinarian who commits major medical malpractice on camera, and Frances Lee McCain is touching as Jeannette Yeager, the bored housewife who thinks she's falling in love with Brooks.
Modern Romance (1981) begins with Brooks breaking up with his girlfriend, Mary (Kathryn Harrold), and he then spends the rest of the film alternatively trying to win her back and driving her away. No other film has better captured a certain kind of obsessive behavior which, according to Brooks, is not driven by love but by sex ("A man in his twenties doesn't drive around a woman's house 400 times and act like a fool just to have a conversation with her"). Brooks said perhaps his greatest thrill in the film business was when director Stanley Kubrick called him to say, "This is the movie I've always wanted to make"—Kubrick's final film being his own jealousy movie, Eyes Wide Shut (1999).
In Lost in America , when self-centered yuppie David Howard (Brooks) is passed over for a promotion, he quits his job and convinces his wife Linda (Julie Hagerty) to do likewise so they can at last fulfill their dream of seeing America like the free spirits of Easy Rider —except instead of motorcycles they do it in a huge Winnebago with a six-figure nest egg to fall back on. In no time, Linda has gambled away their entire nest egg in a Las Vegas casino, and David tries to convince the pit boss (Gary Marshall) that it would be good for business if the casino gave the money back. Brooks has said, "I always loved the idea of making a life-long decision and finding out four days later that it was wrong." The film exposes the secret life of many middle-class Americans by letting its central characters realize their dreams of liberation, then watching them scurry back to the comfortable and familiar when their dreams go awry.
The main problem with each of Brooks' first three features was their weak endings; they just sort of petered out. But his fourth and subsequent films have all managed to have splendid third acts. In Defending Your Life , "the first true story of what happens after you die," Brooks plays Daniel Miller, an advertising executive who dies in a ridiculous auto accident and awakens in Judgment City, a way station where a trial determines who is returned to earth and who goes on to the next level. His trial does not go well—flashbacks reveal he lived his life much too timidly—and while waiting to learn his fate he meets and falls for Julia (Meryl Streep). The ending finds Daniel inspired by love and able to overcome his fears. Defending Your Life is a carpe diem movie that is neither preachy nor maudlin; an afterlife movie with no wings or halos. According to Brooks, this vision of the afterlife is the only one that made sense to him—this or dirt, but he "couldn't get financing [for] two hours of dirt."
Brooks' most successful film, Mother , demonstrates that no one can push your buttons like your mother because she's the one who installed them. After his second divorce, John Henderson (Brooks) becomes convinced that his problems with women stem from unresolved issues with his mother (Debbie Reynolds), so as an experiment he moves back in with her. The film is filled with insights both great and small, and is perhaps the best film ever made analyzing a mother-son relationship.
The Muse was less successful because it was less universal, more "inside Hollywood," than his previous film. But its observations into Hollywood's veneration of youth and having an "edge" are right on target. Sharon Stone plays the title character with true comedic flair, and such Hollywood heavyweights as James Cameron and Martin Scorcese have cameos.
What makes Brooks a true artist is his desire to reveal life as it's lived today and thereby strike a universal chord. Brooks has said, "What I like best is when movies capture life. . . . If the result of something I do is that someone feels 10 percent less crazy because they see someone else is thinking what they're thinking, then I provide a service."