Like many directors who came of age in the 1950s, Mel Brooks (unsurprisingly) got his start as a stand-up comedian and joke writer, performing at venues in the Catskills and earning $50 per week writing jokes for Sid Caesar. In 1968, Brooks' long-simmering (and completely offbeat) idea for a musical comedy about Adolf Hitler found backing and became The Producers. The film—which earned Brooks an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (beating out John Cassavetes for Faces and Stanley Kubrick for 2001: A Space Odyssey)—sent Brooks' career down a totally new path; he wrote and directed 10 features in the 25 years that followed, with well-received acting roles in almost all of them. He had the chops.