|Birth name||Gilda Susan Radner|
|Born||June 28, 1946|
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
|Died||May 20, 1989 (aged 42)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Alma mater||University of Michigan|
|Genres||Sketch comedy, character comedy|
|Notable works and roles||Original cast member of Saturday Night Live|
Gilda Susan Radner (June 28, 1946 – May 20, 1989) was an American actress and comedian, who was one of the seven original cast members for the NBC sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live (SNL). In her routines, Radner specialized in parodies of television stereotypes, such as advice specialists and news anchors. In 1978, she won an Emmy Award for her performances on the show. She also portrayed those characters in her highly successful one-woman show on Broadway in 1979. Radner's SNL work established her as an iconic figure in the history of American comedy.
She died from ovarian cancer in 1989. Her autobiography dealt frankly with her life, work, and personal struggles, including those with the illness. Her widower, Gene Wilder, carried out her personal wish that information about her illness would help other cancer victims, founding and inspiring organizations that emphasize early diagnosis, hereditary factors and support for cancer victims. She was posthumously awarded a Grammy Award in 1990. Radner was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1992; and she posthumously received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003.
Radner was born in Detroit, Michigan, to Jewish parents, Henrietta (née Dworkin), a legal secretary, and Herman Radner, a businessman. Through her mother, Radner was a second cousin of business executive Steve Ballmer. She grew up in Detroit with a nanny, Elizabeth Clementine Gillies, whom she called "Dibby" (and on whom she based her famous character Emily Litella), and an older brother named Michael. She attended the exclusive University Liggett School in Detroit. Toward the end of her life, Radner wrote in her autobiography, It's Always Something, that during her childhood and young adulthood, she battled numerous eating disorders: "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 she took me to a doctor who put me on Dexedrine diet pills when I was ten years old."
Radner was close to her father, who operated Detroit's Seville Hotel, where many nightclub performers and actors stayed while performing in the city. He took her on trips to New York to see Broadway shows. As Radner wrote in It's Always Something, when she was 12, her father developed a brain tumor, and the symptoms began so suddenly that he told people his glasses were too tight. Within days, he was bedridden and unable to communicate, and remained in that condition until his death two years later.
In Ann Arbor, Radner dropped out in her senior year to follow her boyfriend, Canadian sculptor Jeffrey Rubinoff, to Toronto, where she made her professional acting debut in the 1972 production of Godspell with future stars Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Victor Garber, Martin Short, and Paul Shaffer. Afterward, Radner joined The Second City comedy troupe in Toronto.
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, Chevy Chase, Richard Belzer, Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Rhonda Coullet.
Saturday Night Live
Radner gained name recognition as one of the original "Not Ready for Prime Time Players", the freshman group on the first (1975) season of Saturday Night Live. She was the first performer cast for the show, co-wrote much of the material that she performed, and collaborated with Alan Zweibel (of the show's writing staff) on sketches that highlighted her recurring characters. Between 1975 and 1980, she created characters such as obnoxious personal advice expert Roseanne Roseannadanna after NY local female reporter Rose Ann Scamardella and "Baba Wawa", a parody of Barbara Walters. After Radner's death, Walters stated in an interview that Radner was the "first person to make fun of news anchors, now it's done all the time."
She also played the character Emily Litella, an elderly, hearing-impaired woman who gave angry and misinformed editorial replies on Weekend Update. Additionally, Radner parodied celebrities such as Lucille Ball, Patti Smith, and Olga Korbut in SNL sketches. She won an Emmy Award in 1978 for her work on SNL. In Rolling Stone's February 2015 appraisal of all 141 SNL cast members to date, Radner was ranked ninth in importance. "[Radner was] the most beloved of the original cast," they wrote. "In the years between Mary Tyler Moore and Seinfeld's Elaine, Radner was the prototype for the brainy city girl with a bundle of neuroses."
Radner battled bulimia while on the show. She had a relationship with fellow SNL and National Lampoon castmate Bill Murray, which ended badly. Few details of their relationship or its end were made public. In It's Always Something, this is the one reference 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 ..."
In 1979, incoming NBC President Fred Silverman offered Radner her own primetime variety show, which she turned down. That year, she was a host of the Music for UNICEF Concert at the United Nations General Assembly.
Alan Zweibel, who co-created the Roseanne Roseannadanna character and co-wrote Roseanne's dialogue, recalled that Radner, one of three original SNL cast members who stayed away from cocaine, chastised him for abusing it.
Radner had mixed emotions about the fans and strangers who recognized her in public. She sometimes became "angry when she was approached [by strangers in public], and upset when she wasn't", according to the book by Hill and Weingrad.
Work in theater, a record album and her first movie
In 1979, Radner appeared on Broadway in a successful one-woman show, Gilda Radner – Live from New York. The show featured material that was racier than NBC censors would allow on Saturday Night Live, such as the song "Let's Talk Dirty to the Animals". The same year, shortly before Radner's final season on Saturday Night Live, her Broadway show was filmed by Mike Nichols and released with the title Gilda Live, co-starring Paul Shaffer and Don Novello. It screened in theaters nationwide in 1980, but achieved poor box-office results. A soundtrack album was also unsuccessful. During the Broadway production, Radner met her first husband, G. E. Smith, a musician who worked on the show. They were married in a civil ceremony in 1980.
In the fall of 1980, after the departure of all the original SNL cast members from the show, Radner began working with actor Sam Waterston in the Jean Kerr play Lunch Hour. They played two people whose spouses are having an affair, and in retaliation begin a relationship of their own consisting of trysts during their lunch hour. The show ran for more than seven months in various theaters in the United States, including the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Newspaper critics, including Tom Shales, praised the play and Radner's performance.
Newman laments that Radner's movie career suffered because directors and producers did not know how to cast her in roles where her talents could best shine. "The specific nature of her talent was she did characters, and she would probably have been better served if she had taken part in writing the things that she did," Newman asserts. "But I don't think it occurred to her. If she and Alan Zweibel had collaborated on a feature, it might have been a whole different thing."
After breaking up with Jeffrey Rubinoff, Radner had an on-again-off-again relationship with Martin Short while both were appearing in Godspell. Radner had romantic involvements with several male Saturday Night Live castmates, including Bill Murray (after a previous relationship with his brother Brian Doyle-Murray) and Dan Aykroyd. Radner's friend Judy Levy recounted Radner saying she found Ghostbusters hard to watch since the cast comprised so many of her ex-boyfriends - Aykroyd, Murray, and Harold Ramis. Radner was first married to musician G. E. Smith after they met while working on Gilda Radner – Live from New York; they divorced in 1982.
Radner met actor Gene Wilder on the set of the Sidney Poitier film Hanky Panky (released in 1982), when the two worked together making the film. She described their first meeting as "love at first sight". After meeting Wilder, her marriage to Smith deteriorated. Radner made a second film with Wilder, The Woman in Red (released in 1984), and their relationship deepened. The two were married on September 18, 1984, in Saint-Tropez. They made a third film together, Haunted Honeymoon, in 1986 and remained married until her death in 1989.
Details of Radner's eating disorder were reported in a book about Saturday Night Live by Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad, which was published and received much media coverage during a period when Radner was consulting various doctors in Los Angeles about symptoms of an illness she was suffering that turned out to be cancer.
In 1985, Radner was experiencing severe fatigue and suffered from pain in her upper legs on the set of Haunted Honeymoon in the United Kingdom. She sought medical treatment, and for a period of 10 months, various doctors, most of them in Los Angeles, gave her several diagnoses that all turned out to be wrong because she continued to experience pain.
During those 10 months, she faced hardships such as the publication of Hill and Weingrad's highly publicized book about Saturday Night Live, which provided many details about her eating disorder as well as the financial failure of Haunted Honeymoon, which grossed only $8,000,000 in the United States, entering the box office at number 8, then slipping to 14 the following week. As Radner wrote in It's Always Something:
On July 26 , Haunted Honeymoon opened nationwide. It was a bomb. One month of publicity and the movie was only in the theaters for a week – a box-office disaster.
Finally, on October 21, 1986, Radner was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer. She immediately underwent surgery and had a hysterectomy. On October 26, surgeons removed a grapefruit-size tumor from her abdomen. Radner then began chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatment, as she wrote in It's Always Something, and the treatment caused extreme physical and emotional pain.
After her diagnosis, the National Enquirer ran the headline "Gilda Radner In Life-Death Struggle" in its following issue. Without asking for her comment, the editors of the publication asserted that she was dying. Radner wrote in It's Always Something:
They found an old photo of me looking frightened from a 'Saturday Night Live' sketch and blew that up to make the point. What they did probably sold newspapers, but it had a devastating effect on my family and my friends. It forced Gene [Wilder] to compose a press release to respond. He said that I had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, had surgery, and my prognosis was good. The Enquirer doesn't like good news, so the Gilda Radner story stopped running.
Four months after her ordeal with the National Enquirer, Radner saw her Saturday Night Live castmates one last time at Laraine Newman's 35th birthday party (in March 1987). According to Bill Murray when he heard she was leaving the party, he and Dan Aykroyd carried her around the Los Angeles house where the party was held, repeatedly saying goodbye to everyone.
After Radner was told that she had gone into remission, she wrote It's Always Something (a catchphrase of her character Roseanne Roseannadanna), which included details of her struggle with the illness. Life did a March 1988 cover story on her illness, titled "Gilda Radner's Answer to Cancer: Healing the Body with Mind and Heart." In 1988, Radner guest-starred on It's Garry Shandling's Show on Fox TV, to critical acclaim. When Shandling asked her why she had not been seen in public for a while, she 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 treatment for whatsoever." She repeated on-camera Mark Twain's apocryphal saying, "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." Radner planned to host an episode of Saturday Night Live that year, but a writers' strike caused the delay of the network television season.
Relapse, death, and SNL response
In September 1988, after tests showed no signs of cancer, Radner went on a maintenance chemotherapy treatment to prolong her remission, but three months later, in December, she learned the cancer had returned. She was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on May 17, 1989, to undergo a CT scan. She was given a sedative and went into a coma during the scan. She did not regain consciousness and died three days later, from ovarian cancer on May 20, 1989; Wilder was at her side.
News of Radner's death broke as Steve Martin was rehearsing to act as the guest host for that night's season finale of Saturday Night Live. The show's performers and crew, including Lorne Michaels, Phil Hartman, and Mike Myers (who had, in his own words, "fallen in love" with Radner after playing her son in a BC Hydro commercial on Canadian television and considered her the reason he wanted to be on SNL), had not known how grave her situation was. Martin's planned opening monologue was scrapped; in its place a visibly upset Martin introduced a video clip of a 1978 sketch in which he and Radner had parodied Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in a well-known dance routine from The Band Wagon (1953). After the clip, Martin said it reminded him of "how great she was and of how young I looked. Gilda, we miss you." G. E. Smith, Radner's former husband and Saturday Night Live bandleader, wore a black armband throughout the episode.
Wilder established the Gilda Radner Hereditary Cancer Program at Cedars-Sinai to screen high-risk candidates (such as women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent) and to run basic diagnostic tests. He testified before a Congressional committee that 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 all died of ovarian cancer, and therefore they might have attacked the disease earlier.
Radner's death helped raise awareness of early detection of ovarian cancer and the connection to familial epidemiology. The media attention in the two years after 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). In 1996, Gene Wilder and Registry founder Steven Piver, one of Radner's medical consultants, published Gilda's Disease: Sharing Personal Experiences and a Medical Perspective on Ovarian Cancer.
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 by Joanna Bull, Radner's cancer psychotherapist, along with Radner's widower, Gene Wilder (also a cancer survivor) and broadcaster Joel Siegel (who later died after a long battle with cancer). The first club opened in New York City in 1995. The organization took its name from Radner's comment that cancer gave her "membership to an elite club I'd rather not belong to". Radner's story can be read in her book, It's Always Something.
Many Gilda's Clubs have opened across the United States and in Canada. In July 2009, Gilda's Club Worldwide merged with The Wellness Community, another established cancer support organization; the name Cancer Support Community (CSC) was legally adopted in 2011 by the merged organization. As of 2012, more than 20 local affiliates of Gilda's Club were active. Although some local affiliates of Gilda's Club and The Wellness Community have retained their names, many affiliates have adopted the name Cancer Support Community following the merger.
In 2002, the ABC television network dedicated a three-hour block of programming to Radner. The evening kicked off with a one-hour special, "Gilda Radner's Greatest Moments." Hosted by Saturday Night Live alumna Molly Shannon, the special featured highlights from her career and appearances by friends and co-stars Victor Garber, Kermit the Frog, Eugene Levy, Steve Martin, Paul Shaffer, Lily Tomlin and Barbara Walters. It was followed by a television movie about her life: Gilda Radner: It's Always Something, starring Jami Gertz as Radner.
In 2007, Radner was featured in Making Trouble, a film tribute to female Jewish comedians, produced by the Jewish Women's Archive. Radner makes two comic book appearances. DC Comics Young Love #122 in 1976 and Marvel Team-Up #74 from 1978.
Awards and honors
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. She posthumously won a Grammy Award for "Best Spoken Word Or Non-Musical Recording" in 1990.
In 1992, Radner was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame for her achievements in arts and entertainment. Through the generosity of many who participated in the 2002 ABC special, "Gilda Radner's Greatest Moments," including Lynda Carter, Victor Garber, Eric Idle, David Letterman, Eugene Levy, Peter Mann, Steve Martin, Mike Myers, Paul Shaffer, Lily Tomlin and The Jim Henson Company, producer/actor James Tumminia spearheaded a campaign to dedicate a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to Gilda. On June 27, 2003, Gilda received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6801 Hollywood Blvd. Saturday Night Live alumna Molly Shannon (and the host of the ABC special) served as Master of Ceremonies at the induction ceremony at which Laraine Newman, Gilda's Club founder Joanna Bull and Gilda's brother Michael F. Radner appeared to present the honor.
Parts of West Houston Street in New York City, Lombard Street in Toronto, and Chester Avenue in White Plains, New York, have been renamed "Gilda Radner Way". The private road off Kirk Road in Warminster Township, Pennsylvania leading to the Cancer Support Community Greater Philadelphia (formerly Gilda's Club Delaware Valley) is also thus named.
|1973||The Last Detail||Nichiren Shoshu Member||One spoken line|
|1978||All You Need Is Cash||Mrs. Emily Pules||TV movie, cameo|
|1979||Mr. Mike's Mondo Video||Herself|
|1980||Animalympics||Barbara Warbler / Brenda Springer / Coralee
Perrier / Tatiana Tushenko / Doree Turnell / The Contessa
|TV film, Voice|
|1980||Gilda Live||Herself / Various Characters||Also writer|
|1980||First Family||Gloria Link|
|1982||Hanky Panky||Kate Hellman|
|1982||It Came from Hollywood||Herself|
|1984||The Woman in Red||Ms. Milner|
|1985||Movers & Shakers||Livia Machado|
|1986||Haunted Honeymoon||Vickie Pearle|
|2018||Love, Gilda||Herself||Documentary, (archive footage)|
|1974||Jack: A Flash Fantasy||Jill of Hearts|
|1974||The Gift of Winter||Nicely / Malicious / Narrator||Voice|
|1974–1975||Dr. Zonk and the Zunkins||—||Voice|
|1975–1980||Saturday Night Live||Various Characters||107 Episodes; Also Writer|
Primetime Emmy Award for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program
|1978||The Muppet Show||Herself||1 episode|
|1978||Witch's Night Out||Witch||Voice|
|1979||Bob & Ray, Jane, Laraine & Gilda||Herself|
|1985||Reading Rainbow||Herself||Voice only; 1 episode|
|1988||It's Garry Shandling's Show||Herself||1 episode, (final appearance)|
|1978||Emmy Award||Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in Variety or Music||Saturday Night Live||Won|
|1990||Grammy Award||Best Spoken Word or Non-musical Recording||It's Always Something||Won|
|1992||Michigan Women's Hall of Fame||Entertainer||Won|
|2003||Hollywood Walk of Fame||Television||Won|
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- on YouTube
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- Hischak, Thomas S. (2001). American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1969–2000. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-512347-0.
- Shales, Tom (October 3, 1980). "Good as Gilda". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved January 30, 2018.
- Fox, Michael (September 20, 2018). "'Love, Gilda' reveals the pain and persistence behind the laughter". The Jewish News of Northern California. Retrieved March 9, 2020.
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- "Bio". May 13, 2010.
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- Wilder, Gene. "Why Did Gilda Die?" People Magazine, June 3, 1991.
- Squires, Sally. "Fighting Ovarian Cancer: Doctors Don't Know Who Is At Risk and Why", Washington Post, May 30, 1989.
- Gilda Radner Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry website; accessed March 19, 2015.
- "Gilda's Club Twin Cities: Who We Are". Website. gildasclubtwincities.org. Archived from the original on March 20, 2015. Retrieved November 28, 2012.
- "Wellness Community & Gilda's Club May Merge". Oncology Times vol 31, Issue 7. pp. 8–10. Retrieved November 28, 2012.
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- Deming, Mark (2012). "Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. Archived from the original on August 26, 2012. Retrieved April 14, 2012.
- Friends of Gilda and Gilda's Club Worldwide