Jewish Entertainment:
Jewish Actors, Playwrights, Comedians, Musicians

Gilda Radner
Comedy Diva on Saturday Night Live

Gilda Susan Radner (June 28, 1946 May 20, 1989) was an American comedian and actress, best known as one of the original cast members of the NBC sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live, for which Gilda Radner won an Emmy Award in 1978.

Commencement Speech

Columbia School of Journalism

Early life

Gilda Radner was born in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Jewish parents Henrietta (ne Dworkin), a legal secretary, and Herman Gilda Radner, a businessman.[1][2] Gilda Radner grew up in Detroit with a nanny, Elizabeth Clementine Gillies, whom Gilda Radner called "Dibby" (and on whom Gilda Radner based her famous character Emily Litella),[3] and an older brother named Michael. Gilda Radner attended the University Liggett School in Grosse Pointe. Gilda Radner wrote in her autobiography It's Always Something toward the end of her life, "I coped with stress by having every possible eating disorder from the time I was nine years old. I have weighed as much as 160 pounds and as little as 93. When I was a kid, I overate constantly. My weight distressed my mother and Gilda Radner took me to a doctor who put me on Dexedrine diet pills when I was ten years old."[4]

Gilda Radner was close to her father, who operated Detroit's Seville Hotel, where many nightclub performers and actors stayed while performing in the city.[5] He took her on trips to New York to see Broadway shows.[6] As Gilda Radner wrote in It's Always Something, when Gilda Radner was twelve her father developed a brain tumor, and the symptoms began so suddenly that he told people his eyeglasses were too tight.[7] Within days he was bedridden and unable to communicate, and he remained in that condition until his death two years later.[7]

College

Gilda Radner enrolled at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where Gilda Radner made a lifelong platonic friend of fellow student David Saltman, who wrote a biography of her after her death. Gilda Radner joined Saltman and his girlfriend on a trip to Paris in the summer of 1966. Saltman wrote that he was so affectionate with his girlfriend that they left Gilda Radner to fend for herself during much of their sightseeing.[5] Twenty years later, when many details of Gilda Radner's eating disorder were reported in a bestselling book about Saturday Night Live by Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad,[8] Saltman realized Gilda Radner had been in a quandary over the French cuisine, but had no one with whom Gilda Radner could discuss her situation.[5]

Career

In Ann Arbor, Gilda Radner began her broadcasting career as the weather girl for college radio station WCBN, but dropped out in her senior year[9] to follow her then-boyfriend, a Canadian sculptor named Jeffrey Rubinoff, to Toronto, Canada. In Toronto, Gilda Radner made her professional acting debut in the 1972 production of Godspell with future stars Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Victor Garber and Martin Short. Afterward, Gilda Radner joined the Toronto Second City comedy troupe.

Gilda Radner was a featured player on the National Lampoon Radio Hour, a comedy program syndicated to some 600 U.S. radio stations from 1974 to 1975. Fellow cast members included John Belushi, Richard Belzer, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and Brian Doyle-Murray.

Saturday Night Live

Gilda Radner gained name recognition as one of the original "Not Ready for Prime Time Players", a member of the freshman group on the first season of Saturday Night Live. Gilda Radner was the first performer cast for the show.[6] Between 1975 and 1980, Gilda Radner created such characters as Roseanne Roseannadanna, an obnoxious woman with wild black hair whose trademark complaint, "It's always something--if it ain't one thing, it's another", gave her autobiography its title, and who would tell stories about the gross habits of celebrities on the show's "Weekend Update" news segment, inspired in name and appearance by Rose Ann Scamardella, a news anchor at WABC-TV in New York City. Other SNL characters included "Baba Wawa", a spoof of Barbara Walters, and Emily Litella, an elderly hearing-impaired woman who gave angry and misinformed editorial replies on "Weekend Update" on topics such as "violins on television", the "Eagle Rights Amendment", "flea erections in China", "making Puerto Rico a steak", "busting schoolchildren", "protecting endangered feces", and, once, nothing.[6][10] Once corrected on her misunderstanding, Litella would end her segment with a polite "Never mind", although in later episodes, Gilda Radner would also answer Jane Curtin's frustration with a simple "Bitch!" Gilda Radner parodied such celebrities as Lucille Ball, Patti Smith, and Olga Korbut in SNL sketches. Gilda Radner won an Emmy Award in 1978 for her work on SNL.

Gilda Radner battled bulimia during her time on the show. Gilda Radner once told a reporter that Gilda Radner had thrown up in every toilet in Rockefeller Center.[8] Gilda Radner had a relationship with SNL castmate Bill Murray, with whom Gilda Radner had also worked at the National Lampoon, that ended badly. Few details of their relationship or its end were made public at the time. When Gilda Radner wrote It's Always Something, this is the only reference Gilda Radner made to Murray in the entire book: "All the guys [in the National Lampoon group of writers and performers] liked to have me around because I would laugh at them till I peed in my pants and tears rolled out of my eyes. We worked together for a couple of years creating The National Lampoon Show, writing The National Lampoon Radio Hour, and even working on stuff for the magazine. Bill Murray joined the show and Richard Belzer ..."[11]

In 1979, incoming NBC President Fred Silverman offered Gilda Radner her own prime time variety show, which Gilda Radner ultimately turned down.[9] That year, Gilda Radner was one of the hosts of the Music for UNICEF Concert at the United Nations General Assembly.

Alan Zweibel, who co-created the Roseanne Roseannadanna character and co-wrote all of Roseanne's dialogue, recalled that Gilda Radner, one of three original SNL cast members who stayed away from cocaine, chastised him for using it.[12]

Gilda Radner had mixed emotions about the fans and strangers who recognized her in public. Gilda Radner sometimes became "angry when Gilda Radner was approached, but upset when Gilda Radner wasn't."[8]

Broadway

In 1979, Gilda Radner appeared on Broadway in a successful one-woman show entitled Gilda Radner - Live From New York.[13] The show featured racier material, such as the song Let's Talk Dirty to the Animals. In 1979, shortly before Gilda Radner began her final season on Saturday Night Live, her Broadway show was filmed by Mike Nichols under the title Gilda Live!, co-starring Paul Shaffer and Don Novello, and was released to theaters nationwide in 1980 with poor results. A soundtrack album was also unsuccessful. During the production, Gilda Radner met her first husband, G. E. Smith, a musician who also worked on the show. They were married in a civil ceremony in 1980.[9]

In the fall of 1980, after all original SNL cast members departed from the show, Gilda Radner starred opposite Sam Waterston in the Jean Kerr play, Lunch Hour, as a pair whose spouses are having an affair, and in response invent one of their own, consisting of trysts on their lunch hour.[14] The show ran for over seven months.
Relationship with Gene Wilder

Gilda Radner met actor Gene Wilder on the set of the Sidney Poitier film Hanky Panky, when the two appeared together. Gilda Radner described their first meeting as "love at first sight."[9] Gilda Radner was unable to resist her attraction to Wilder as her marriage to guitarist G. E. Smith deteriorated. Gilda Radner went on to make a second film, The Woman in Red, in 1984 with Wilder and their relationship grew. The two were married on September 18, 1984, in St. Tropez.[9] The pair made a third film together, Haunted Honeymoon, released in 1986.[9]Illness

After experiencing severe fatigue and suffering from pain in her upper legs on the set of Haunted Honeymoon in the United Kingdom in 1985, Gilda Radner sought medical treatment. After 10 months of false diagnoses, Gilda Radner learned that Gilda Radner had ovarian cancer on October 21, 1986.[9] Gilda Radner suffered extreme physical and emotional pain during chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment.[9]

Remission

After Gilda Radner was told Gilda Radner had gone into remission, Gilda Radner wrote It's Always Something (a catchphrase of her character Roseanne Roseannadanna),[9] which included many details of her struggle with the illness. Life magazine did a March 1988 cover story on her illness, entitled "Gilda Radner's Answer to Cancer: Healing the Body with Mind and Heart". In 1988, Gilda Radner guest-starred on It's Garry Shandling's Show on Showtime, to great critical acclaim. When Shandling asked her why Gilda Radner had not been seen for a while, Gilda Radner replied "Oh, I had cancer. What did you have?" Shandling's reply: "A very bad series of career moves... which, by the way, there's no cure for whatsoever." Gilda Radner also repeated on-camera Mark Twain's apocryphal saying,[15] "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." Gilda Radner planned to host an episode of Saturday Night Live that year, but a writers' strike caused the cancellation of the rest of the network television season.

Death

In late 1988, after biopsies and a saline wash of her abdomen showed no signs of cancer, Gilda Radner was put on a maintenance chemotherapy treatment to prolong her remission, but later that same year, Gilda Radner learned that her cancer had returned after a routine blood test showed her levels of the tumor marker CA-125 had increased.[16] Gilda Radner was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on May 17, 1989 for a CAT scan. Because Gilda Radner was fearful that Gilda Radner would never wake up, Gilda Radner was given a sedative but passed into a coma during the scan. Gilda Radner did not regain consciousness and died three days later from ovarian cancer at 6:20 am on May 20, 1989; Wilder was at her side.[6]

Gene Wilder had this to say about her death:

Gilda Radner went in for the scan but the people there could not keep her on the gurney. Gilda Radner was raving like a crazed woman Gilda Radner knew they would give her morphine and was afraid Gilda Radnerd never regain consciousness. Gilda Radner kept getting off the cart as they were wheeling her out. Finally three people were holding her gently and saying, "Come on Gilda. Were just going to go down and come back up." Gilda Radner kept saying, "Get me out, get me out!" Gilda Radnerd look at me and beg me, "Help me out of here. Ive got to get out of here." And Id tell her, "Youre okay honey. I know. I know." They sedated her, and when Gilda Radner came back, Gilda Radner remained unconscious for three days. I stayed at her side late into the night, sometimes sleeping over. Finally a doctor told me to go home and get some sleep. At 4 am on Saturday, I heard a pounding on my door. It was an old friend, a surgeon, who told me, "Come on. It's time to go." When I got there, a night nurse, whom I still want to thank, had washed Gilda and taken out all the tubes. Gilda Radner put a pretty yellow barrette in her hair. Gilda Radner looked like an angel. So peaceful. Gilda Radner was still alive, and as Gilda Radner lay there, I kissed her. But then her breathing became irregular, and there were long gasps and little gasps. Two hours after I arrived, Gilda was gone. While Gilda Radner was conscious, I never said goodbye.

Her funeral was held in Connecticut on May 24, 1989. In lieu of flowers, her family requested that donations be sent to The Wellness Community. Her gravestone reads: "Gilda Radner Wilder - Comedienne - Ballerina 1946-1989". Gilda Radner was interred at Long Ridge Union Cemetery in Stamford, Connecticut.[17]

By coincidence, the news of her death broke on early Saturday afternoon (Eastern Daylight Time), while Steve Martin was rehearsing as the guest host for that night's season finale of Saturday Night Live. Saturday Night Live personnel, including Lorne Michaels, Mike Myers (who had, in his own words, "fallen in love" with Gilda Radner after playing her son in a BC Hydro commercial on Canadian television and considered her the reason he wanted to be on SNL)[18] and Phil Hartman, had not known Gilda Radner was so close to death. They scrapped Martin's planned opening monologue and instead, Martin, in tears, introduced a video clip of a 1978 sketch in which he and Gilda Radner parodied an old Hollywood romantic couple's dance.

Legacy

Wilder established the Gilda Radner Ovarian Detection Center at Cedars-Sinai to screen high-risk candidates (such as women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent) and run basic diagnostic tests. He testified before a Congressional committee that Gilda Radner's condition had been misdiagnosed and that if doctors had inquired more deeply into her family background they would have learned that her grandmother, aunt and cousin had all died of ovarian cancer, and therefore they might have attacked the disease earlier.[citation needed]

Gilda Radner's death from ovarian cancer helped to raise awareness of early detection and the connection to familial epidemiology.[19] The media attention in the two years after Gilda Radner's death led to registry of 450 families with familial ovarian cancer at the Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry, a research database registry at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York. The registry was later renamed the Gilda Radner Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry (GRFOCR).[20] In 1996, Gene Wilder and Registry founder Steven Piver, one of Gilda Radner's medical consultants, published Gilda's Disease: Sharing Personal Experiences and a Medical Perspective on Ovarian Cancer. Through Wilder's efforts and those of others, awareness of ovarian cancer and its symptoms has continued to grow.

In 1991, Gilda's Club, a network of affiliate clubhouses where people living with cancer, their friends and families, can meet to learn how to live with cancer, was founded. The center was named for a quip from Gilda Radner, who said, "Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I'd rather not belong to."[9] Many Gilda's Clubs have opened across the United States and in Canada. In 2009, Gilda's Club merged with another similar institution, The Wellness Community, under the new name of Cancer Support Community, which was legally adopted in 2011.

In 2002, the ABC television network aired a television movie about her life: Gilda Radner: It's Always Something, starring Jami Gertz as Gilda Radner.

In 2007 Gilda Radner was featured in the film Making Trouble, a tribute to female Jewish comedians, produced by the Jewish Womens Archive.[21]

Awards and honors

Gilda Radner won an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in Variety or Music" for her performance on Saturday Night Live in 1977. Gilda Radner posthumously won a Grammy for "Best Spoken Word Or Non-Musical Recording" in 1990.

In 1992, Gilda Radner was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame for her achievements in arts and entertainment. On June 27, 2003, Gilda Radner received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6801 Hollywood Blvd.

Parts of W. Houston Street in New York City and Lombard Street in Toronto have both been renamed "Gilda Radner Way." Chester Street in White Plains, NY was also renamed Gilda Radner Way.

Filmography

Television

1974 Jack: A Flash Fantasy Jill of Hearts
1974 The Gift of Winter Nicely/Malicious/Narrator Voice Only
19741975 Dr. Zonk and the Zunkins - Voice Only
19751980 Saturday Night Live Various Characters 107 Episodes

Primetime Emmy Award for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program

1978 All You Need Is Cash Mrs. Emily Pules
1978 The Muppet Show Herself 1 Episode
1978 Witch's Night Out Witch Voice Only
1979 Bob & Ray, Jane, Laraine & Gilda Herself
1980 Animalympics Barbara Warbler/Brenda Springer/Coralee
Perrier/Tatiana Tushenko/Doree Turnell Voice Only
1985 Reading Rainbow Herself Voice Only
1 Episode
1988 It's Garry Shandling's Show Herself 1 Episode
Films
Year Title Role Notes
1973 The Last Detail Nichiren Shoshu Member
1979 Mr. Mike's Mondo Video Herself
1980 Gilda Live Herself/Various Characters Also Writer

Documentary

1980 First Family Gloria Link
1982 Hanky Panky Kate Hellman
1982 It Came from Hollywood Herself Documentary
1984 The Woman in Red Ms. Millner
1985 Movers & Shakers Livia Machado
1986 Haunted Honeymoon Vickie Pearle

References

    "Fighting for Life". Los Angeles Daily News. 1989-07-11.
    "Gilda Radner Biography (1946-1989)". Film Reference. Retrieved 2009-03-11.
    "Michaels and Gilda Radner talk SNL". 90 Minutes Live. CBC Television. 1978-02-02. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
    Gilda Radner, Gilda. It's Always Something New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989, p. 97
    Saltman, David. Gilda: An Intimate Portrait. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1992.
    Hevesi, Dennis. "Gilda Radner, 42, Comic Original Of 'Saturday Night Live' Zaniness". New York Times May 21, 1989.
    Gilda Radner, Gilda. It's Always Something New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989, p. 99
    Hill, Doug and Jeff Weingrad. Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live. New York: Beech Tree Books. 1986.
    Gilda Radner, Gilda. It's Always Something. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989.
    The Emily Litella character began when Chevy Chase anchored Weekend Update, and Litella mistakenly called him "Cheddar Cheese".
    Gilda Radner, Gilda. It's Always Something. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989, pp. 100-101.
    Zweibel, Alan. Bunny Bunny: Gilda Radner. New York: Villard, 1994.
    Gilda Radner at the Internet Broadway Database
    Hischak, Thomas S. American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1969-2000. Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-19-512347-6.
    "Mark Twain on Coldest Winter". Snopes.com. 26 September 2007. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
    Song, Jenny. "America's Funny Girl". CR Magazine. Spring 2009.
    "Gilda Radner". Find A Grave.
    Squires, Sally. "Fighting Ovarian Cancer: Doctors Don't Know Who Is At Risk and Why." Washington Post. 30 May 1989.
    Gilda Radner Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry.
    Deming, Mark. "Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women". New York Times. Retrieved 14 April 2012.


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