Helen Hanft

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Helen Hanft
Born(1934-04-04)April 4, 1934
DiedMay 30, 2013(2013-05-30) (aged 79)
OccupationActress
Years active1960–2013

Helen Hanft (April 4, 1934 – May 30, 2013) was an American actress

Acting career[edit]

Hanft was born in the Bronx, the eldest of three daughters born to Esther and Benjamin Hanft. Her father was a prominent public relations executive for several national Jewish organizations. Her father persuaded her to audition for the High School of Performing Arts, now part of Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, and she was admitted.[1]

She started her theatrical career in the early 1960s in the experimental theater movement at Off-Off-Broadway venues like La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club and Caffe Cino. She quickly became known as "the Ethel Merman of off-off-Broadway" for her comedic performances.[1] Hanft often played eccentric, raunchy characters, and was featured in many plays by Tom Eyen, including:

  • My Next Husband Will Be a Beauty! (1964[2])
  • Frustrata (1964,[3] 1965[4])
  • The Demented World of Tom Eyen (1965[5])
  • Why Hanna's Skirt Won't Stay Down (1965,[6] 1971,[7] 1981[8])
  • The White Whore and the Bit Player (1965;[9] she also appeared in the Cannon Films adaptation)
  • Sarah B. Divine! (1967[10])
  • Who Killed My Bald Sister Sophie? (1969[11])
  • What is Making Gilda So Gray? (1970[12])
  • Women Behind Bars (1975)
  • The Neon Woman (1978; co-starring Divine)[1]
  • Give My Regards to Off Off Broadway (1987[13])
  • Areatha in the Ice Palace

She performed in David Rabe's In the Boom Boom Room at Joseph Papp's Public Theater, John Patrick Shanley's Italian American Reconciliation, and multiple plays by Stephen Holt, including Reety in Hell.[14] Hanft also appeared in the following productions at La MaMa during the 1960s and 1970s:

  • Merrill Williams' At the Corner of Popcorn Alley and the 21st of September Street (1965[15])
  • H.M. Koutoukas' Omy Queen of the Fairies and Tidy Passions, or, Kill Kaleidascope Kill (1965[16])
  • Paul Foster's The Madonna in the Orchard (1966[17]) directed by Tom O'Horgan
  • Howard Greenberger and Robert Reinhold's Our Play on the Future Has No Name (1970[18])
  • Stephen Holt's The Kitty Glitter Story (1974[19])
  • Jeff Klayman's Density 1.33 (1976[20])
  • Holt's O My Rosey Dreams (1983[21])

Additionally, she appeared in Stoop; Bambi Levine, Please Shut Up!; and as Judy Garland dying in her bathroom in London Loo. She appeared as herself in two documentary features: Beautiful Darling, about Candy Darling; and I Am Divine, about Divine.

In the mid-1970s, Hanft began appearing in movies, sometimes in cameo roles. Her film credits include the Woody Allen films Manhattan, Stardust Memories, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and Allen's segment in New York Stories. She was also a favorite of Paul Mazursky, who cast her in Next Stop, Greenwich Village and Willie & Phil. Other film appearances include Arthur, Honky Tonk Freeway, Moonstruck, License to Drive, Coming to America, and Used People. In the late 1990s, she began appearing on episodes of Law & Order, and continued to make occasional stage appearances in New York City.

Personal life[edit]

Her husband, William Landers, predeceased her, as did her younger sister, Alice. She is survived by her other sister, Sarah Comma.

She died in Manhattan on May 30, 2013, of a post-surgical intestinal blockage.

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1976 Next Stop, Greenwich Village Herb's Wife
1979 Manhattan Party Guest #3
1980 Willie & Phil Used Cars Salesperson
1980 Stardust Memories Vivian Orkin
1981 Arthur Perry's Wife
1981 Honky Tonk Freeway Bag Lady
1985 The Purple Rose of Cairo Movie Audience
1986 9½ Weeks Flea Market Shawl Seller
1986 Off Beat Waitress
1987 Moonstruck Lotte
1988 Coming to America Subway Lady
1988 License to Drive Miss Hellberg
1989 New York Stories Citizen (segment "Oedipus Wrecks")
1989 Identity Crisis Hag
1989 Fear, Anxiety & Depression Roz
1990 Betsy's Wedding Fitter
1991 The Butcher's Wife Molly
1992 Used People Aunt Ruthie
1994 North Operator
1994 I.Q. Rose
1996 The Associate Mrs. Cupchick
1997 Mr. Jealousy Millie
1999 Trick Greasy Spoon Waitress
1999 Fever Louisa
2002 Dummy Mrs. Gurkel
2006 Puccini for Beginners Old Lady At Cinema
2007 Noise Forceful Juror
2009 When the Evening Comes Rose Bushman (final film role)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Vitello, Paul (June 5, 2013). "Helen Hanft, Master of Camp Way Off Broadway, Dies at 79". The New York Times. Retrieved June 7, 2013.
  2. ^ La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: My Next Husband Will Be a Beauty! (1964)". Accessed July 16, 2018.
  3. ^ La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: Frustrata (1964)". Accessed July 16, 2018.
  4. ^ La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: Frustrata (1965)". Accessed July 16, 2018.
  5. ^ La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: Demented World of Tom Eyen, The (1965)". Accessed July 16, 2018.
  6. ^ La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: Why Hanna's Skirt Won't Stay Down (1965)". Accessed July 16, 2018.
  7. ^ La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: Why Hanna's Skirt Won't Stay Down (1971)". Accessed July 16, 2018.
  8. ^ La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: Why Hanna's Skirt Won't Stay Down (1981)". Accessed July 16, 2018.
  9. ^ La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: The White Whore and the Bit Player and Why Hanna's Skirt Won't Stay Down (variations on a theme) (1965)". Accessed July 16, 2018.
  10. ^ La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: Sarah B. Divine! (1967)". Accessed July 16, 2018.
  11. ^ La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: Moments from Why Hannah's Skirt Won't Stay Down, Who Killed My Bald Sister Sophie?, and The Four No Plays (1969)". Accessed July 16, 2018.
  12. ^ La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: What Is Making Gilda So Gray? (1970)". Accessed July 16, 2018.
  13. ^ La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: Give My Regards to Off Off Broadway (1987)". Accessed July 16, 2018.
  14. ^ Simonson, Robert (June 2, 2013). "Helen Hanft, Brassy Actress of Early Off Off-Broadway Scene, Dies at 79". Playbill. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  15. ^ La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: At the Corner of Popcorn Alley and the 21st of September Street (1965)". Accessed July 16, 2018.
  16. ^ La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: Cafe La MaMa Experimental Theater Presents H.M. Koutoukas' Omy Queen of the Fairies and Tidy Passions, or, Kill Kaleidascope Kill (1965)". Accessed July 16, 2018.
  17. ^ La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: Madonna in the Orchard, The (1966)". Accessed July 16, 2018.
  18. ^ La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: Our Play on the Future Has No Name (1970)". Accessed July 16, 2018.
  19. ^ La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: Kitty Glitter Story, The (1974)". Accessed July 16, 2018.
  20. ^ La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: Density 1.33 (1976)". Accessed July 16, 2018.
  21. ^ La MaMa Archives Digital Collections. "Production: O My Rosey Dreams (1983)". Accessed July 16, 2018.

External links[edit]