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Monday, September 29, 2014

72 Groovy Things about Madeline Kahn

Today would have been the 72nd birthday of actress Madeline Kahn, who left us much too soon in 1999 at age 57. So to celebrate the life and career of this lovely, talented and always amusing lady, here are a "few" groovy things about her:

1. Madeline Gail Wolfson was born on September 29, 1942, in Boston, Massachusetts. She became "Madeline Kahn" after her parents divorced and her mother married her stepfather, Hiller Kahn, who later adopted her.

2. She made her stage debut as a chorus girl in the New York City Center revival of Kiss Me, Kate, which opened on May 12, 1965, and ran for 23 performances.

3. She and Fannie Flagg performed in the Off-Off-Broadway musical revue, Just for Openers, which opened on November 3, 1965, and ran for 395 performances at NYC's Upstairs at the Downstairs.

4. She, Lily Tomlin and Geena (Dixie) Carter performed in the Off-Broadway musical revue, Below the Belt, which opened on June 21, 1966, and ran for 186 performances at NYC's Upstairs at the Downstairs.

5. She was Brenda Vaccaro's understudy for the 1967 musical, How Now, Dow Jones, during its out-of-town tryout, but her supporting role as Miss Whipple was written out before How Now reached Broadway.

6. She made her Broadway debut in the musical revue, Leonard Sillman's New Face of 1968, which opened on May 2, 1968, and ran for 52 performances.

7. She performed her first professional lead as Cunegonde in a 1968 Lincoln Center concert performance of the operetta, Candide, in honor of composer Leonard Bernstein's 50th birthday.

8. She made her film debut in The Dove (De Düva), a 1968 Academy Award-nominated short film that parodies the work of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.

9. She appeared in the Off-Broadway musical, Promenade, which opened June 4, 1969.

10. She played Magnolia in the Sacramento Music Circus production of Show Boat in August 1969.

11. In 1970, she appeared with host Robert Klein in Comedy Tonight, a comedy/variety series (and a summer replacement for The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour).

12. She appeared on Broadway in the 1970 Richard Rodgers musical, Two by Two, starring Danny Kaye.

13. She sang on a 1972 studio cast recording of Man of La Mancha with Jim Nabors.

14. She received a Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Female Newcomer for her feature film debut as Howard Bannister's fiancée, Eunice Burns, in Peter Bogdanovich's 1972 screwball comedy, What's Up, Doc?

15. She played Nurse Ruth Kelly in a 1972 Hallmark Hall of Fame television production of the 1944 play, Harvey, with James Stewart, Arlene Francis and Helen Hayes.

16. She received her first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performances as stripper Trixie Delight in Peter Bogdanovich's 1973 comedy, Paper Moon. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe.

17. She briefly appeared as a schoolteacher in the 1973 film, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, starring Ingrid Bergman (it was retitled The Hideaways for home video).

18. She won a Drama Desk Award and received her first Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Play for her performance in David Rabe's 1973 play, Boom Boom Room, which ran for 37 performances.

19. She was originally cast in the role of Agnes Gooch in the 1974 film of the Broadway musical, Mame, but she was fired by star Lucille Ball due to artistic differences - or some say she got herself fired on purpose so she could appear in Blazing Saddles.

20. She received her second Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as cabaret singer Lili von Shtupp in Mel Brooks' 1974 comedy, Blazing Saddles.

21. She received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Mel Brooks' 1974 comedy, Young Frankenstein.

22. She appeared in her third Peter Bogdanovich film, 1975's At Long Last Love, with Burt Reynolds, Cybill Shepherd and Eileen Brennan.

23. She appeared in the 1975 film, The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother, with Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman.

24. She was the host of Saturday Night Live on May 8, 1976, with musical guest Carly Simon, and Gilda Radner's Baba Wawa interviewed Kahn's Marlene Dietrich in a sketch. She hosted the show again in 1977 and 1995.

25. She starred in the 1976 film, Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood, with Bruce Dern, Art Carney and Teri Garr.

26. She was a guest on The Carol Burnett Show on October 16, 1976.

27. She was a guest - along with Johnny Carson, Walter Matthau, Donny Osmond and Chita Rivera - on The George Burns Special on December 1, 1976.

28. In January 1977, she appeared in John Guare's comedy, Marco Polo Sings a Solo, at Manhattan's Public Theater with Joel Grey and Sigourney Weaver.

29. In March 1977, she starred as Amalia in a limited run of concert performances of She Loves Me at NYC's Town Hall with Barry Bostwick and Rita Moreno.

30. She appeared on The Muppet Show on October 1, 1977.

31. She played Victoria Brisbane in Mel Brooks' 1977 comedy, High Anxiety.

32. She appeared on Sesame Street on February 14, 1978.

33. She received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance as Lily Garland in the 1978 Broadway musical, On the Twentieth Century. However, she left the show very early in its run because of damage to her vocal cords - or some say she was fired.

34. She played Mrs. Montenegro in the 1978 comedy, The Cheap Detective.

35. She made a cameo appearance as an "El Sleezo Patron" in the 1979 film, The Muppet Movie.

36. She played the First Lady (and Gilda Radner's mother) in the 1980 comedy, First Family.

37. She appeared in the 1980 film, Happy Birthday, Gemini, with Rita Moreno.

38. She appeared in the 1980 Biblical spoof, Wholly Moses!, with Dudley Moore and Laraine Newman.

39. She appeared in the 1980 comedy, Simon, with Alan Arkin.

40. She was the host of Fridays on April 30, 1981.

41. She played Empress Nympho in Mel Brooks' 1981 comedy, History of the World, Part 1.

42. She played Jerry Lewis' twin sister in the 1982 comedy, Slapstick of Another Kind.

43. She appeared in the 1983 comedy, Yellowbeard, with Graham Chapman and Marty Feldman.

44. She won a People's Choice Award for Favorite Female Performer in a New TV Program for her 1983-84 ABC sitcom, Oh Madeline. She also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy Series.

45. She played Burt Reynolds' love interest in the 1984 film, City Heat.

46. In 1984, she appeared on the Metropolitan Opera's Opera Quiz with Charles Nelson Reilly, Kitty Carlisle Hart and host Edwin Newman.

47. She played Mrs. White in the 1985 film, Clue.

48. She sang "The Moment Has Passed" from Promenade (with Jason Robert Brown on piano) on The Tonight Show on January 8, 1986.

49. She starred in Chameleon, an unsold pilot that aired on ABC on July 18, 1986 (as part of the Canadian series, Comedy Factory).

50. She won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Performer in Children's Programming for her performance as Ben Affleck's mother in Wanted: The Perfect Guy, an ABC Afterschool Special that aired on October 1, 1986.

51. She played George C. Scott's sister-in-law on the 1987-88 Fox sitcom, Mr. President.

52. She appeared on Late Night with David Letterman on November 18, 1987.

53. She performed "You'd be Surprised!" during Irving Berlin's 100th Birthday Celebration, a concert gala which was taped at Carnegie Hall on May 11, 1988.

54. She appeared on Late Night with David Letterman on February 16, 1989.

55. She received her third Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Play for her performance in the 1989 Broadway revival of the 1946 play, Born Yesterday, which also starred Edward Asner.

56. She played Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy's mother in the 1990 film, Betsy's Wedding.

57. She appeared with Jack Lemmon in the HBO movie, For Richer, for Poorer, which aired on February 29, 1992.

58. She performed "Getting Married Today" from Company during Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall on June 10, 1992.

59. She played Dolly Levi (opposite John Schuck's Horace) in a 1992 summer tour of the musical, Hello, Dolly.

60. She won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance as Gorgeous Teitelbaum in the 1993 Broadway production of Wendy Wasserstein's The Sisters Rosensweig.

61. She was a guest on Later with Bob Costas in 1993.

62. She appeared in the 1994 Christmas comedy, Mixed Nuts, with Steve Martin and Adam Sandler.

63. She, Bernadette Peters and Scott Bakula starred in a staged concert performance of the Sondheim musical, Anyone Can Whistle, on April 8, 1995, at Carnegie Hall. It was a benefit for the Gay Men's Health Crisis.

64. She played gossip columnist Nan Chase in the 1995 CBS drama, New York News, which also starred Mary Tyler Moore and Gregory Harrison.

65. She played Martha Mitchell in Oliver Stone's 1995 film, Nixon.

66. She appeared with Richard Mulligan in the TV movie, London Suite, which aired on September 15, 1996.

67. She played Bill Cosby's neighbor, Pauline Fox, on his CBS sitcom, Cosby, from 1996 until her death.

68. She was a guest on Charlie Rose on December 16, 1996.

69. In February 1998, she joined Patti LuPone, Lainie Kazan, Andrea Martin, Bette Midler, Debra Monk and Elaine Stritch in a concert tribute to Ethel Merman called Doin' What Comes Natur'lly! It was a benefit for the Gay Men's Health Crisis.

70. She provided the voice of Gypsy, a gypsy moth, in the 1998 animated Disney film, A Bug's Life.

71. She played Gabrielle in a workshop reading of the Jerry Herman musical, Dear World, on June 14, 1998, with Chita Rivera (as Aurelia), Audra McDonald, Debra Monk, Alfred Molina, Michael C. Hall and Mario Cantone. Roundabout Theatre Company was planning to produce a 30th anniversary Broadway revival of the show during its 1999-2000 season, but this never happened.

72. Her final film appearance was in the 1999 drama, Judy Berlin, with Edie Falco.


joel65913 said...

Wonderful collection of clips and info about this one of a kind entertainer. Totally unique and so special she left this world far too soon.

Marc Harshbarger said...

Glad you liked my tribute, Joel!

William V. Madison said...

This is wonderful! I'm the author of Madeline Kahn: Being the Music, A Life, the first biography of Madeline Kahn, coming in May 2015 from the University Press of Mississippi. I ought to point out a couple of things:

First, Madeline used her stepfather's last name consistently from the moment he adopted her until the time of her death. The only time she used a stage name was when she worked as a singing waitress in a German restaurant. Then, she used her middle name, appearing as Madeline Gail because she thought "Kahn" sounded too Jewish in such surroundings. Immediately after her waitress phase, however, she was Madeline Kahn again -- at the Green Mansions theater colony, in Kiss Me, Kate, at the Upstairs club, and so on.

Second, Miss Whipple was the name of Madeline's character in How Now, Dow Jones. Madeline was never involved in Promises, Promises -- much less playing a character with the same name. I checked with Promises star Donna McKechnie to be sure, but David Merrick's shabby treatment of Madeline in How Now pretty much guaranteed she'd never even audition for another of his shows. I have no idea how this rumor started, but it's rampant on the Internet. (Similarly, persists in claiming that Madeline appeared in a TV special, Once Upon a Brothers Grimm, in 1977, though she's nowhere in it. I spent $25 on a VHS tape to be sure.)

In the biography, I'll address the questions of whether Madeline quit or was fired from both Mame and On the Twentieth Century (the latter is the longest chapter in the book), with interviews from Mel Brooks, Harold Prince, John Cullum, Kevin Kline, and many others.

For other chapters, I also interviewed Gene Wilder, Peter Bogdanovich, Bill Cosby, Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett, Ryan O'Neal, Eileen Brennan, Ed Asner, Robert Klein, a total of some 120 friends, family, and colleagues. I also made use of Madeline's private journal and appointment books.

Here's hoping the book is of interest to you! And happy birthday to Madeline!

Marc Harshbarger said...

Thanks for your comment, William - and I look forward to your book! Also, I made a few changes in my post, replacing the incorrect Promises, Promises entry with her Show Boat performance.