Monday, May 4, 2009

Who Is That: Madeline Kahn

Name: Madeline Kahn
Occupation: Actress
Genre: Film/Stage
Born: September 29, 1942
Died: December 3, 1999

An absolutely astounding, Tony Award winning, Emmy Award winning, and Academy Award nominated, comedic actress of stage and screen who made famous the song "I'm Tired" from Mel Brooks' classic film Blazing Saddles and who brought deadpan to a whole new level with her portrayal of Mrs. White in one of my all-time favorite films Clue. To this day, I hear people quoting the "flames on the sides of my face" line which she so brilliantly delivered.

Born in Boston and primarily raised in New York, Kahn graduated from Martin Van Buren High School in Queens and went on to obtain a degree in Speech Therapy from Hofstra University. According to Kahn, "I was going to get my doctorate but acting got in the way. Pity, I always thought I'd like to do something dignified."

She also studied operatic singing which lead to her roles in the operetta Candide as well as the musicals Two by Two (starring Danny Kaye and with music by Richard Rodgers) and Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1968, among others.

Her film career launched with a bang in 1972 when she was cast in the Peter Bogdanovich comedy What's Up Doc? alongside Barbra Streisand. The following year she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her second film Paper Moon.

In 1974 she was released from her role in the musical film Mame to do the Mel Brooks film Blazing Saddles, in which she portrayed the character Lili Von Shtupp and garnered another Academy Award nomination. This would be the first of four films in which she was directed by Brooks. The others would be Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, and History of the World, Part I.

Kahn also did some well-loved voice over work for the Don Bluth classic An American Tail and later for the Disney/Pixar film A Bug's Life.

The first time I personally became aware of the greatness of Madeline Kahn was in the 1985 film Clue in which she portrayed Mrs. White. That movie, along with its brilliant ensemble cast, was one of my biggest inspirations and has remained at the top of my list ever since.

Kahn won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Gorgeous Teitelbaum in the Wendy Wasserstein play The Sisters Rosensweig in 1993. She also won a Daytime Emmy Award for her work in the ABC television movie Wanted: The Perfect Guy. She also appeared in the films The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother, The Muppet Movie, Mixed Nuts, City Heat, Betsy's Wedding, and Nixon.

Madeline hosted "Saturday Night Live" three times and also appeared on several memorable episodes of both "Sesame Street" and "The Muppet Show".

She also had a recurring role on the sitcom "Cosby", as Pauline the eccentric neighbor, and won some of the best reviews of her career for her turn as Alice Gold in the film Judy Berlin, which would be her last.

In December of 1999, just two months after marrying her longtime companion John Hansbury, Madeline lost her battle against ovarian cancer. She passed away at the age of 57.

I remember living in Chicago when the news of Kahn's untimely death reached me. At that time, Judy Berlin, was playing in a movie theater down the street. I looked at the poster as I walked past and immediately felt my eyes begin to well.

I was and am, to say the very least, a big fan of hers. To this day I miss her dearly.

Mel Brooks said of her: "She is one of the most talented people that ever lived. I mean, either in stand-up comedy, or acting, or whatever you want, you can't beat Madeline Kahn."

Below is a wonderful moment from the televised celebration of Irving Berlin's 100th Birthday in 1988. Kahn sings the song "You'd Be Surprised". She always did and always will bring me great joy.

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