I decided to watch this film today in remembrance of Gene Wilder, who died two days ago. After "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" this is probably the film for which he is best known. Ironically, he almost didn't appear in it. Mel Brooks invited his friend Gene to play the part of Hedley Lamarr, but Gene turned it down and Harvey Korman stepped in. The role of the Waco Kid was offered to John Wayne, who turned it down because he didn't think it fitted his clean cut image. John Wayne? Wow! That would have made it a very different film. Gig Young stepped in to play the Waco Kid, but he collapsed after one day of filming, presumably as a result of alcohol withdrawal. The film was in danger of cancellation, so Gene offered to take over the role. The rest is history. Gene Wilder's Waco Kid became the coolest, most laid back gunslinger in film history.
Gene Wilder was a last minute addition to the film cast, and in the film the Waco Kid is a last minute, almost accidental addition to the law enforcement team of the town of Rock Ridge. When Bart takes over as sheriff he finds the Kid in one of the cells, presumably locked up for being drunk in the saloon. The first we see of him is hanging upside down from the bunk bed. He might be a drunk, but he's a good man, and he's still the fastest gun in the West. Bart might be the duly elected sheriff, but without the Waco Kid as his deputy he wouldn't be able to defend the town from the thugs attempting to destroy it.
The Waco Kid is so calm and relaxed throughout the whole film that Gene Wilder could be accused of under-acting. However, fans of this film know that his performance was perfect. Gene's casual, hardly-even-there approach to the role is part of what made "Blazing Saddles" a masterpiece.
June 11, 1933 – August 29, 2016