- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Gilda Radner, the subject of the doc Love, Gilda, opening Sept. 21, was the first performer chosen for NBC’s Saturday Night Live back in 1975. Lorne Michaels said he picked her because “she had a goodness which came through whatever she was doing.”
She arrived in New York via Detroit (her father owned the Seville Hotel, a favorite for performers) and Toronto, where she was a member of the Second City comedy revue.
“Gilda was a chubby little girl who loved making people laugh,” says Love, Gilda director Lisa D’Apolito. “She’d gone to an all-girls school, where she was in plays, and the University of Michigan, where she joined an improv comedy group. By the time she’d moved to Toronto in her early 20s, she’d had lots of experience. It’s also where she first met Lorne Michaels.”
Her five-year stint on SNL made her famous and earned her an Emmy for her breakout work playing Barbara “Baba Wawa” Walters and Roseanne Roseannadanna, a loudmouthed news commentator. Radner’s run at SNL lasted until 1980, when Michaels quit for five years — and she, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi and others left with him. At the time, THR quoted a source saying “these great performers were working at NBC for peanuts.”
In her love life, she was drawn to other entertainers. She married SNL musical director G.E. Smith in 1980 and divorced him two years later. Then she fell in “love at first sight” with Gene Wilder, her co-star in the 1982 romance caper Hanky Panky. They married in 1984 and paired again for the 1986 horror comedy Haunted Honeymoon.
That year she was diagnosed with stage-four ovarian cancer, which she chronicled in her book It’s Always Something. Radner succumbed to the disease in 1989 at age 42. “Gilda went on a mission to bring awareness and even went on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show making cancer jokes,” says D’Apolito. “She could find humor in anything.”
This story first appeared in the Sept. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day
We Are Lady Parts
Behind The Screen