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Kahn as Mrs. White in Clue, 1985
|Born||Madeline Gail Wolfson
September 29, 1942
|Died||December 3, 1999
New York City, New York
Cause of death
|Occupation||actress, singer, comedian|
(October–December 1999; her death)
Kahn made her Broadway debut in Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1968. She received Tony Award nominations for the 1973 original Broadway production of Boom Boom Room and the 1978 revival of On the Twentieth Century. On screen, she became known for her comedic roles in films directed by Peter Bogdanovitch and Mel Brooks, including What's Up, Doc? (1972), Paper Moon (1973), Blazing Saddles (1974), Young Frankenstein (1974), High Anxiety (1977) and History of the World, Part I (1981). For Paper Moon and Blazing Saddles, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She won a Daytime Emmy Award in 1987 for ABC Afterschool Special, received a third Tony nomination for the 1989 revival of Born Yesterday, and won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for the 1993 original production of the comedy The Sisters Rosensweig. Her other films included The Cheap Detective (1978), City Heat (1983), Clue (1985) and Nixon (1995).
Kahn was born Madeline Gail Wolfson in Boston, the daughter of Bernard B. Wolfson, a garment manufacturer, and his wife, Freda (née Goldberg). She was raised in a non-observant Jewish family. Her parents divorced when Kahn was two, and she and her mother moved to New York City. In 1953, Freda married Hiller Kahn, who later adopted Madeline; she eventually changed her name to Paula Kahn. Kahn had two half-siblings: Jeffrey (from her mother's marriage to Kahn) and Robyn (from Bernard Wolfson's second marriage).
In 1948, Kahn was sent to a progressive boarding school in Pennsylvania. During that time, her mother pursued her acting dream. Kahn soon began acting herself and performed in a number of school productions. In 1960, she graduated from Martin Van Buren High School in Queens, and then earned a drama scholarship to Hofstra University on Long Island. At Hofstra, she studied drama, music, and speech therapy. Kahn graduated from Hofstra in 1964 with a degree in speech therapy. She was a member of a local sorority on campus, Delta Chi Delta.
When asked on television by Kitty Carlisle and Charles Nelson Reilly how she began the opera aspect of her career she said, "It's so hard to determine exactly when I began or why, singing. The Muse was definitely not in attendance. I'll tell you exactly." She was a singing waitress at a Bavarian restaurant called Bavarian Manor, a Hofbräuhaus in upstate New York, while she was a college student, to earn money. She sang musical comedy numbers during shows.
There was a really important customer there, a big Italian man, who shouted out to me, 'Sing Madame Butterfly,' and of course he didn't mean the whole opera. He meant that one very popular aria, 'un Bel Di'. So if I was to come back the next summer to earn more money during the next year I'd better know that aria. You know, and I didn't know anything about it; I just learned that one aria and a few others and then one thing led to another and I studied that, and I discovered that I could sing that, sort of, that way. But my first actual thing that I did was Candide for Leonard Bernstein's 50th birthday at Philharmonic Hall - at the time that's what it was called. And I don't know if that was an opera but it was very hard to sing. I actually have done 'Musetta' in La Bohème a long time ago in Washington DC. I mean, utterly terrifying. I mean basically I feel as though I was asked to do it and I did it.
Kahn began auditioning for professional acting roles shortly after her graduation from Hofstra; on the side, she briefly taught public school. Just before adopting the professional name Madeline Kahn (Kahn was her stepfather's surname), she made her stage debut as a chorus girl in a revival of Kiss Me, Kate, which led her to join Actors' Equity. Her part in the flop How Now, Dow Jones was written out before the 1967 show reached Broadway, as was her role as Miss Whipple in the original production of Promises, Promises. She made her Broadway debut in 1969 with Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1968. In 1968, she also performed her first professional lead in a special concert performance of the operetta Candide in honor of Leonard Bernstein's 50th birthday. In 1969, she appeared off Broadway in the musical Promenade.
She appeared in two Broadway musicals in the 1970s: a featured role in Richard Rodgers' 1970 Noah's Ark-themed show Two by Two(singing a high C) and a leading lady turn as Lily Garland in 1978's On the Twentieth Century. She left (or, reportedly, was fired from) the latter show early in its run, yielding the role to her understudy, Judy Kaye. She also starred in a 1977 Town Hall revival of She Loves Me (opposite Barry Bostwick and original London cast member Rita Moreno).
Kahn's film debut was in the 1968 short De Düva (The Dove). Her feature debut was as Ryan O'Neal's hysterical fiancée in Peter Bogdanovich's screwball comedy What's Up, Doc? (1972) starring Barbra Streisand. Her film career continued with Paper Moon (1973), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Kahn was cast in the role of Agnes Gooch in the 1974 film Mame, but star Lucille Ball fired Kahn due to artistic differences. (Note: several of Ball's biographies claim Kahn was eager to be released from the role so that she could join the cast of Blazing Saddles, a film about to go into production; however, Kahn stated in a 1996 interview with Charlie Rose that she had indeed been fired from Mame.)
A close succession of Kahn comedies — Blazing Saddles (1974), Young Frankenstein (1974), and High Anxiety (1977) — were all directed by Mel Brooks, who was able to bring out the best of Kahn's comic talents. Their last collaboration was 1981's History of the World, Part I. For Blazing Saddles, she was again nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. In the April 2006 issue of Premiere magazine, her performance as Lili von Schtüpp in Saddles was selected as #74 on its list of the 100 greatest performances of all time. In 1978, Kahn's comic screen persona reached another peak with Neil Simon's The Cheap Detective (1978), a spoof of both Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, directed by Robert Moore.
1970s and 1980s
Kahn's roles were primarily comedic rather than dramatic, though the 1970s found her originating roles in two plays that had both elements: 1973's In the Boom Boom Room on Broadway and 1977's Marco Polo Sings a Solo Off-Broadway. After her success in Brooks' films, she played in a number of less successful films in the 1980s. She played Mrs. White in 1985's Clue. Other roles included First Lady Mrs. Link in the 1980 spoof First Family, The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975) opposite Gene Wilder, the animated film My Little Pony: The Movie (1986), the holiday farce Mixed Nuts (1994) and a cameo in 1979's The Muppet Movie. She voiced the character
"Gussie Mausheimer" in the animated film An American Tail. She was cast because, according to the animator Don Bluth, "hoping she would use a voice similar to the one she used as a character in Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles.
In 1983, she starred in her own short-lived TV sitcom, Oh Madeline, which ended after only one season due to poor ratings. In 1986 she starred in ABC Comedy Factory's pilot episode of Chameleon, which never aired on the fall schedule. In 1987, Kahn won a Daytime Emmy award for her performance in the ABC Afterschool Special Wanted: The Perfect Guy.
Later in her career, she played Dr. Gorgeous in Wendy Wasserstein's 1993 play (on Broadway), The Sisters Rosensweig, a role which earned her a Tony Award, Actress in a Play.  Kahn played Molly Ringwald's mother in the 1990 film Betsy's Wedding. Kahn played the corrupt mayor in a benefit concert performance of Anyone Can Whistle in 1995.  She appeared in Nixon as Martha Beall Mitchell (1995). She participated in a workshop reading of Dear World at the Roundabout Theatre Company in June 1998, reading the part of Gabrielle.
In the early 1990s, Kahn recorded a voice for the animated movie The Magic 7. Her most notable role at that time was on the sitcom Cosby (1996–1999) as Pauline, the eccentric neighbor. She also voiced Gypsy the moth in A Bug's Life (1998). Kahn received some of the best reviews of her career for her Chekhovian turn in the 1999 independent movie Judy Berlin, her final film.
Illness and death
Kahn developed ovarian cancer in 1998. She underwent treatment and continued to work on Cosby and married John Hansbury in October 1999. The disease spread rapidly, and she died on December 3, 1999. Her body was cremated. A bench dedicated to her memory was erected in Central Park by her husband John Hansbury and her brother Jeffery Kahn.
|De Düva (The Dove)||1968|
|What's Up, Doc?||1972|
|From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler||1973|
|At Long Last Love||1975|
|The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother||1975|
|Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood||1976|
|The Cheap Detective||1978|
|The Muppet Movie||1979|
|Happy Birthday, Gemini||1980|
|History of the World, Part I||1981|
|Slapstick of Another Kind||1982|
|My Little Pony: The Movie||1986 (voice)|
|An American Tail||1986 (voice)|
|Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book||1992 (Narrator)|
|A Bug's Life||1998 (voice)|
|The Magic 7||2009 (voice - produced 1990-1993 - unreleased)|
|Kiss Me, Kate||1965|
|Just for Openers (Upstairs at the Downstairs)||1965|
|Mixed Doubles (Upstairs at the Downstairs)||1966|
|Below the Belt||1966|
|How Now, Dow Jones||1967 (replaced by Brenda Vaccaro prior to opening)|
|Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1968||1968|
|Two by Two||1970|
|In the Boom Boom Room||1973|
|She Loves Me||1977|
|On the Twentieth Century||1978|
|Hello, Dolly! (tour) ||1992|
|The Sisters Rosensweig||1993|
|Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall (Concert at Carnegie Hall)||1992|
|Anyone Can Whistle||1995|
|Dear World||1998 (workshop)|
|Show||Year / Episode|
|The Carol Burnett Show||Guest star: 1975|
|Saturday Night Live||Three episodes hosted: 1976, 1977 and 1995|
|The Muppet Show||Episode 209 1977|
|Sesame Street||Episode 1112 1978|
|Sesame Street||Episode 1576 1981|
|Comedy Factory CTV (1985–86)||Season 2, Episode 6:Chameleon 1986|
|Road to Avonlea||Episode 211 1991|
|Monkey House ||1993 (canceled after 7 episodes)|
|Lucky Luke||1992 (canceled after 8 episodes)|
|Sesame Street||Episode 3136 1994|
|New York News||1995 (canceled after 13 episodes)|
|London Suite ||1996|
|Cosby||cast member 1996–1999|
|Little Bill||1999, dedication|
Awards and nominations
- 1984 People's Choice Awards for Best Actress in a New Television Series for Oh Madeline, ABC
- 1987 Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Performer in Children's Programming for ABC Afterschool Special
- 1993 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for The Sisters Rosensweig
- 1974 Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for Paper Moon
- 1973 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Paper Moon
- 1974 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Blazing Saddles
- 1974 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for In the Boom Boom Room
- 1975 Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for Young Frankenstein
- 1978 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for On the Twentieth Century
- 1984 Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress In A Television Series - Comedy Or Musical for Oh Madeline
- 1989 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for Born Yesterday
- "Madeline Kahn".
- William V. Madison (June 13, 2012). "Billevesées: Progress Report 14: When Hiller Met Paula". Retrieved April 26, 2013.
- Specter, Michael (April 8, 1993). "AT HOME WITH: Madeline Kahn; Funny? Yes, but Someone's Got to Be". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
- Biography tvguide.com, accessed February 16, 2015
- "Kahn Biography" masterworksbroadway.com, accessed February 13, 2015
- "1960 Martin Van Buren Yearbook". classmates.com. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
- Madeline Kahn on her opera career on YouTube (video clip)
- Online programme Candide Nov 10, 1968  retrieved Oct 17,2013
- audio clip Philharmonic Hall performance, Nov 1968 Video on YouTube retrieved Oct 17,2013
- "Kahn Milestones" tcm.com, accessed February 13, 2015
- Mandelbaum, Ken. Not Since Carrie August 15, 1992, Macmillan,ISBN 1466843276, p. 201
- New Faces Production playbillvault.com, accessed February 13, 2015
- Promenade Production lortel.org, accessed February 13, 2015
- " What's Up, Doc? Production" tcm.com, accessed February 14, 2015
- "An interview with Madeline Kahn". Charlie Rose. Retrieved 2012-05-04.
- "Kahn Biography" tcm.com, accessed February 13, 2015
- "The 100 Greatest Performances of All Time". Premiere Magazine. 2006-03-27.
- In the Boom Boom Room Production playbillvault.com, accessed February 13, 2015
- Marco Polo Sings a Solo Production lortel.org, accessed February 13, 2015
- Maslin, Janet. "Review, 'Clue' " The New York Times, December 13, 1985
- 'http://www.henson.com/muppets_content.php?content=muppetmovie henson.com, accessed February 14, 2015
- Cawley, John. " An American Tail, The Animated Films of Don Bluth" cataroo.com, accessed February 14, 2015
- Born Yesterday Production playbillvault.com, accesed February 13, 2015
- "Madeline Kahn, Credits and Awards" playbillvault.com, accessed February 13, 2015
- " "Anyone Can Whistle' Concert, 1995" sondheimguide.com, accessed February 13, 2015
- Nixon Cast nytimes.com, accessed February 13, 2015
- " Dear World Reading" roundabouttheatre.org, accessed February 14, 2015
- A Bug's Life Cast nytimes.com, accessed February 13, 2015
- Holden, Stephen. Judy Berlin Overview nytimes.com, accessed February 13, 2015
- Variety, p. 7, December 6, 1999.
- Honan, William H. (December 4, 1999). "Madeline Kahn, Comedian Of Film Fame, Dies at 57". The New York Times. Retrieved May 14, 2010.
- "Kahn Filmography and Biography" The New York Times, accessed February 14, 2015
- "Kahn Broadway List" playbillvault.com, accessed February 14, 2015
- "Kahn Off-Broadway List" lortel.org, accesed February 14, 2015
- "Kahn Theatre Credits" broadwayworld.com, accessed February 14, 2015
- [ http://www.lortel.org/LLA_archive/index.cfm?search_by=show&id=3924 Production] lortel.org, accessed February 13, 2015
- Production lortel.org, accessed February 13, 2015
- " Hello, Dolly!, TOur" ovrtur.com, accessed February 14, 2015
- "Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall" sondheimguide.com, accessed February 14, 2015
- " Dear World 1998 Workshop Cast" broadwayworld.com, accessed February 14, 2015
- "Kahn Filmography and Biography" The New York Times, accessed February 14, 2015
- "Kahn Credits" tvguide.com, accessed February 16, 215
- Garlen, Jennifer C.; Graham, Anissa M. (2009). Kermit Culture: Critical Perspectives on Jim Henson's Muppets. McFarland & Company. p. 218. ISBN 078644259X.
- Goudas, John N. A Look Inside Vonnegut's 'Monkey House'" LA Times, February 21, 1993
- Monkey House Cast and Episodes" imdb.com, accessed February 14, 2015
- " Lucky Luke Cast" imdb.com, accessed February 14, 2015
- Koehler, Robert. "NBC Puts 'London Suite' Through a 'Seinfeld' Filter" LA Times, September 14, 1996
- Kahn list hfpa.org, accessed February 15, 2015
- Kahn listing awardsdatabase.oscars.org, accessed February 15, 2015
- "Theater honors put women in the spotlight". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved February 12, 2014.
- Madeline Kahn at the Internet Broadway Database
- Madeline Kahn at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Madeline Kahn at the Internet Movie Database
- Madeline Kahn at TV Tropes
- Madeline Kahn, a retrospective