MADELINE KAHN Biography - Actors and Actresses


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Name: Madeline Kahn                                                                       
Born: 29 September 1942 Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.                                       
Died: 3 December 1999 New York, New York, U.S.                                             
Madeline Kahn (September 29, 1942 – December 3, 1999) was a two-time Academy             
Award-nominated, four-time Golden Globe-nominated, Tony Award-winning and Emmy             
Award-winning American actress, known primarily for her comedic roles. Director           
Mel Brooks — who directed her in four films — 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".                               
Madeline Kahn was born in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., as Madeline Gail Wolfson           
to Paula and Bernard Wolfson. Her mother was just 17 when Kahn was born.                   
Although Kahn's parents were high school sweethearts, they divorced after her             
father's return from World War II (Kahn was only two years old at the time).               
After the divorce was finalized, Kahn and her mother moved to New York City. A             
few years later, her mother remarried and gave Kahn two half-siblings (Jeffrey             
and Robyn).                                                                               
In 1948, Kahn was sent to a progressive boarding school in Pennsylvania and               
stayed there until 1952. 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, where she             
earned a drama scholarship to Hofstra University. At Hofstra, she studied drama,           
music, and speech therapy. After changing her major a number of times, Kahn               
graduated from Hofstra in 1964 with a degree in speech therapy.                           
Kahn began auditioning for professional acting roles shortly after her                     
graduation from Hofstra; on the side, she briefly taught public school in                 
Levittown, New York. Just before adopting the professional name Madeline Kahn (Kahn       
was her stepfather's last name), she made her stage debut as a chorus girl in a           
revival of Kiss Me, Kate, which led her to join the 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 earned her first break on Broadway with New Faces of 1968. That             
same year, she 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 revue 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 (her silly waltz "The Golden Ram,"         
capped by a high C, can be heard on the show's cast album) and a leading lady             
turn as Lily Garland in 1978's On the Twentieth Century. She left (or was fired           
from) the latter show early in its run, yielding the role to her understudy,               
Judy Kaye, whose career it launched. 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 fiancé 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 note that 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; whether Kahn was fired or left Mame under mutual agreement is                 
A close succession of Kahn comedies — Blazing Saddles (1974), Young Frankenstein         
(1974), and High Anxiety (1977) — were all directed by Mel Brooks, who many             
Hollywood observers claimed was able to bring out the best of Kahn's comic                 
talents. Their last collaboration would be 1981's History of the World, Part I.           
For Blazing Saddles, she was again nominated for Academy Award for Best                   
Supporting Actress. In the April 2006 issue of Premiere magazine, her                     
performance as Lili von Shtupp in Saddles was selected as #31 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, a spoof of                     
Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon directed by Robert Moore. In the film she               
befuddles Peter Falk's gumshoe with an array of fake identities.                           
Kahn's roles were primarily comedic rather than dramatic, though the 1970s found           
her originating roles in two plays that had both elements: 1974's In the Boom             
Boom Room and 1977's Marco Polo Sings a Solo. After her success in Brooks' films,         
she played in a number of less successful films in the 1980s (perhaps most                 
memorably as Mrs. White in the 1985 film Clue). She also performed in the movie           
The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother opposite Gene Wilder.                   
In 1983, she starred in her own short-lived TV sitcom, Oh Madeline, which ended           
after only one season due to poor ratings. In 1987, Kahn won a Daytime Emmy               
award for her performance in the ABC After school special, 'Wanted: The Perfect           
Late in her career, Kahn returned to the stage, first in Judy Holliday's role in           
a 1989 revival of Born Yesterday, then as Dr. Gorgeous in Wendy Wasserstein's             
1993 play The Sisters Rosensweig, a role that gained her a Tony Award. She                 
played the corrupt mayoress (Angela Lansbury's role) in a concert performance of           
Anyone Can Whistle that was released on CD. She also continued to appear in               
movies, including the holiday farce Mixed Nuts and a cameo in the 1978 "The               
Muppet Movie".                                                                             
In the early 1990s, Kahn recorded a voice for the animated movie The Magic 7.             
Her most notable role at that time was her recurring role on the sitcom Cosby as           
Pauline, the eccentric neighbor. She also voiced Gypsy the moth in A Bug's Life.           
Kahn received some of the best reviews of her career for her Chekhovian turn in           
the 1999 independent movie Judy Berlin, her final film.                                   
Kahn was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in early 1999. She underwent treatment             
and continued to work, even continuing her role on Cosby. However, the disease             
progressed rapidly, and on December 3, 1999, Kahn died at the age of 57.                   
Kahn married her long-time companion, John Hansbury, in October 1999.