Madeline Kahn: Being the Music, A Life

Madeline Kahn: Being the Music, A Life

by William V. Madison


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Best known for her Oscar-nominated roles in the smash hits Paper Moon and Blazing Saddles, Madeline Kahn (1942-1999) was one of the most popular comedians of her time—and one of the least understood. In private, she was as reserved and refined as her characters were bold and bawdy. Almost a Method actor in her approach, she took her work seriously. When crew members and audiences laughed, she asked why—as if they were laughing at her—and all her life she remained unsure of her gifts.

William V. Madison examines Kahn's film career, including not only her triumphs with Mel Brooks and Peter Bogdanovich, but also her overlooked performances in The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother and Judy Berlin, her final film. Her work in television—notably her sitcoms—also comes into focus. New York theater showered her with accolades, but also with remarkably bad luck, culminating in a disastrous outing in On the Twentieth Century that wrecked her reputation on Broadway. Only with her Tony-winning performance in The Sisters Rosensweig, fifteen years later, did Kahn regain her standing.

Drawing on new interviews with family, friends, and such colleagues as Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett, Gene Wilder, Harold Prince, and Eileen Brennan, as well as archival press and private writings, Madison uncovers Kahn's lonely childhood and her struggles as a single woman working to provide for her erratic mother. Above all, Madison reveals the paramount importance of music in Kahn's life. A talented singer, she entertained offers for operatic engagements long after she was an established Hollywood star, and she treated each script as a score. As Kahn told one friend, her ambition was "to be the music."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781617037610
Publisher: University Press of Mississippi
Publication date: 05/01/2015
Series: Hollywood Legends Series
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 847,454
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

William V. Madison, New York, New York, is a former producer at CBS News and a former associate editor of Opera News; he was the lone production assistant on the Broadway musical Rags in 1986. A graduate of Brown University and of Columbia's School of Creative Writing, he is a native Texan.

Table of Contents

Introduction 3

Part I 1942-69 7

1 Childhood 9

2 A Shoeshine and a Smile: Bernie Wolfson 12

3 The Manumit School (1948-53) 14

4 Life with Stepfather: Hiller Kahn (1949-58) 17

5 Hofetra (1960-64) 25

6 The Graduate: Green Mansions (1964) and Upstairs at the Downstairs (1965-66) 32

7 Pink-Slipped: How Now, Dow Jones (1967) 41

8 We've Never Seen You: New Faces of 1968 43

9 Cigars and Lavaliers: De Düva and Candide (1968) 47

10 Only Make-Believe: Promenade and Show Boat (1969) 54

Part II The 1970s 59

11 "Educated Shrieks": LaBohème (1970) 61

12 The City Slickers' Goodtime Hour: Comedy Tonight (1970) 64

13 The Man Who Came to Dinner: Two by Two (1970-71) 66

14 The Eunice Burns: What's Up, Doc? (1972) 73

15 Bon Voyage: Missing Candide (1971) 79

16 Honky-Tonk Parade: Paper Moon (1973) 83

17 Gooch's Lament: Mame and Other Curiosities (1972-73) 90

18 It's Twue: Blazing Saddles (1973-74) 95

19 The Half-Vision of What I Might Be: Boom Boom Room (1973) 99

20 Sweet Mystery: Young Frankenstein (1974) 103

21 Down in the Dumps in the Hollywood Hills: At Long Last Love (1975) 109

22 If You Loved as I Do: The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975) 119

23 What a Dog: Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) 124

24 Live from New York: Saturday Night Live (1976) 128

25 So Glad We Had This Time Together: The Carol Burnett Show (1976) 131

26 Prelude to a Train Wreck: Marco Polo Sings a Solo and She Loves Me (1977) 135

27 The Drug Rumor 140

28 Dames in Distress, Pigs in Space: High Anxiety, The Cheap Detective, and the Muppets (1977-78) 143

29 Train Wreck: On the Twentieth Century (1978) 150

Part III The 1980s 173

30 Annus Horribilis: Simon; Happy Birthday, Gemini; Wholly Moses!; and First Family (1980) 175

31 It's Good to Be Somebody's Mother: A Little Off-Broadway and History of the World, Part I (1980-81) 181

32 Slipshod: Slapstick (Of Another Kind) (1982-84) 185

33 The Safe Place: Santa Fe (1982-83) 189

34 Madness and Mourning: Yellowbeard (1983) 195

35 Breaking into Television: Scrambled Feet (1983) 197

36 A Banana Boat to Nicaragua: Oh Madeline (1983-84) 202

37 Aftermath: City Heat, Ludlam, and Beyond (1984-85) 214

38 The Black Widow: Clue (1985) 219

39 You'd Be Surprised: Chameleon (1986), "Wanted: The Perfect Guy" (1987), and Mr. President (1987-88) 224

40 Back to Broadway: Born Yesterday (1988-89) 233

41 At First Glance: John Hansbury 241

Part IV The 1990s 243

42 The Trouble with Auteurs: Betsy's Wedding (1990) and Shadows and Fog (1992) 245

43 An International Guest Star: Avonlea (1991), For Richer, for Poorer and Lucky Luke (1992), and Monkey House (1993) 249

44 Calling on Dolly: Hello, Dolly! (1992) 253

45 Simply Gorgeous: The Sisters Rosensweig (1992-93) 259

46 The Mother of All Lawsuits (1993) 270

47 Mixed Bags: Mixed Nuts (1994) and Anyone Can Whistle (1995) 272

48 Idle Tongues: New York News, Saturday Night Live, For Love Alone, and London Suite (1995-96) 275

49 Do You Love Me, Pauline?: Cosby (1996-99) 281

50 Enlightenment in the Dark: Judy Berlin (1999) 289

51 Loving Madeline 297

Epilogue 303

Acknowledgments 308

Notes 311

Stage, Screen, and Television Roles and Recordings 324

Index 329

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Madeline Kahn: Being the Music, A Life 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
GretchenK More than 1 year ago
I have only gotten up to the part where Madeline is just about to start filming "Paper Moon," but so far the book is FANTASTIC! Madeline has been one of my favorite actors for as long as I can remember. Which is probably about the year when Blazing Saddles was first aired on regular television, back in the day when we had 7 channels at best...
Anonymous 6 months ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So this book was ok it just it was not as good some of the other books that I have readed ok I say some a lot of the the books that I have readed where so much better books bit this book and this is just ,e to the book was not a veary good book at all mot one thing about the book was veary . Ps.if I heart anyones feelings I am veary sorry it,s just that the book was nota very good book at least it was not a veary good book and that was just me.