April 4, 1934|
The Bronx, New York, U.S.
|Died||May 30, 2013
New York, New York, U.S.
Life and career
Hanft was persuaded by her father 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 won admission.
Hanft started her theatrical career in the early 1960s during the Golden Age of experimental theater at such venues as La MaMa E.T.C. and Caffe Cino, and in a few years she became known as "the Ethel Merman of off-off Broadway" for her comedic talent. She often played eccentric, flamboyant, raunchy characters in many successful plays like Tom Eyen's Why Hanna's Skirt Won't Stay Down, The White Whore and the Bit Player (she also appeared in the Cannon Films version of the play), Areatha in the Ice Palace, My Next Husband Will Be a Beauty, Give My Regards to Off Off Broadway, Women Behind Bars, Italian American Reconciliation, and The Neon Woman (the last co-starring Divine). She had great success in the David Rabe play In the Boom Boom Room at Joseph Papp's Public Theater. She appeared in many Off-Off Broadway plays by Tom Eyen. and Stephen Holt. She appeared in "The Dirty Little Girl with the Paper Flower in Her Hair Is Demented", "Who Killed My Bald Sister Sophie", "Reety in Hell", "The Kitty Glitter Story", "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 Darlng, and I Am Divine, about the life of the performer Divine.
In the middle 1970s Hanft began appearing in movies, sometimes in cameo roles, including the Woody Allen films Manhattan (1979), Stardust Memories (1980), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) and Allen's segment from New York Stories (1989). She was also a favorite of Paul Mazursky, who cast her in Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976) and Willie & Phil (1980). Other film appearances include Arthur (1981), Honky Tonk Freeway (1981), Moonstruck (1987), License to Drive (1988), Coming to America (1988) and Used People (1992). In the late 1990s she began appearing on episodes of Law & Order, while continuing to make the occasional stage appearance in New York City.
Her husband, William Landers, predeceased her, as did her younger sister, Alice. She is survived by her other sister, Sarah Comma.
Helen Hanft died on May 30, 2013 of a post-surgical intestinal blockage, in Manhattan.
- Vitello, Paul (June 5, 2013). "Helen Hanft, Master of Camp Way Off Broadway, Dies at 79". The New York Times. Retrieved June 7, 2013.
- Notice of death of Helen Hanft at age 79, The New York Times, June 6, 2013]
- Death of Helen Hanft, playbill.com