Max Bialystock, Franz Liebkind, and Leo Bloom in a scene from The Producers.
Of all the Jews in all the books in all of literature, why did Mel Brooks steal the name Leo Bloom from the protagonist of James Joyce's Ulysses for his nervous and corruptible accountant in The Producers?
Played by Gene Wilder in the 1968 film, and Matthew Broderick in the original cast of the 2001 Broadway musical, Leo Bloom, in the course of auditing scam-artist producer Max Bialystock’s books, realizes that more money can be made from producing a flop than producing a hit. And the super-flop that Bloom and Bialystock scheme to produce is a musical titled Springtime for Hitler, written by a deranged former-Nazi playwright, Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars).
“I don’t know what it meant to James Joyce,” said Mel Brooks, “but to me Leo Bloom always meant a vulnerable Jew with curly hair. Enter Gene Wilder.”
There’s more: Before taking on the role of Max Bialystock in the film, Zero Mostel played Leopold Bloom in a Broadway production of Ulysses in Nighttown. And the film is full of Ulysses references. In one scene, Bloom asks Bialystock, “When will it be Bloom’s Day?” A calendar on the wall shows that it is Bloomsday—June 16.
I bring this up now because, though Ulysses seems to contain references to everything in the world, it contains no references to Nazis—the book predated Nazism. And since everything that will happen this June 16, at Bloomsday on Beaver Street II, at the Killarney Rose, will, in one way or another, be tied into the Ulysses theme, I thought that a direct connection to the title of my book, Bobby in Naziland, which I’ll read from for the first time in public that night, was lacking.
True, the subtitle, A Portrait of the Author as a Young Jew, is a direct reference to Joyce, and I figured that that was good enough. But now I know that, thanks to The Producers and Mel Brooks, which are both referenced in Bobby in Naziland, I do have the Ulysses-Nazi connection that I longed for.