Page 4-Sunday, March 26, 1978-The Michigan Daily
The Michigan Daily-Sund<
A hometown girl nam edGdaf n st e ims
Gid id the time
prime to make
One of her greatest disappointments, she recalls, was not
being cast for a production of Troilus and Cressida in Men-
Realizing that her destiny did not encompass the
Shakespearean stage, Radner veered off into children's
"I used to have the loudest voice, so I was always the wit-
ch in the play," she says.
She was busy with other productions, too-plays like
Camelot, Lysistrata and She Stoops to Conquer.
"I mention it a lot because I value that experience," she
says. "Coming to where I am now, I've sat in a costume
room . . . and sewed a rolled hem on a chiffon skirt. You
know, the most boring thing . . . Which means I can now
remember to appreciate the people who are doing it for me.
"It's those years that make me feel like I kind of paid my
Radner was so busy with children's theater, in fact, that
she missed out on many of the campus activities which
epitomized the '60s.
"Most of my friends were in journalism and political
science," she says, pausing to sip from her can of Tab.
"And when I'd be going off to do a children's show, they'd
be going off to protest at some radical political meeting. I
was always feeling guilty about not going their way."
But that guilt has disappeared now that Radner is on a
show which, through parodies and satire, is politically
vocal. "I find it interesting now," she says, "But as guilty
as I felt then about not being politically active when so
many of my friends were ... I'm able to reach more people
now than was ever done back in college."
Radner didn't stick out her stay at the University. (She
never finished Hebrew school, either.) With one semester to
go, she left for Canada because, she says with a dreamy
smile, "I fell in love."
There, she landed a part in the Toronto Company's
production of Godspell, and tried to earn her diploma-first
through a correspondence course with the University of
Wisconsin, and then night classes at the University of
Toronto. Michigan, however, didn't accept her credits. "I
have all the education," she beams, "but no diploma."
Meantime, Radner did some National Lampoon shows
and latched up with a Chicago-based improvisational group
called Second City, where many of the Prime Time Players
honed their comedy skills. The producer of Saturday Night
Live, who knew her work, asked her to join the show. She
* * * * *. r
SO HERE'S GILDA today, sitting in her dressing
room with her Tab, her crackers and a well-
deserved respite from the insanity which reigns
outside the door. Thursdays, Fridays and Satur-
days are ridiculous on the- set of Saturday Night
Live-people work late into the evening-and performers
like Radner must savor those moments when they can
cloister themselves from stage directions, script changes
and cue cards.
In this sense, it's just a job as far as Radner's concer-
ned-analogous, she says,, to working in a deli. Sure she
'What I do
like - the stuff
By Jay Levin
O N THIS PARTICULAR Friday, little Gilda has
plopped herself on a pink shag rug; stuffed toys
and dollhouses at her fingertips. She is playing
with her Looking For Mr. Goodbar Sleepytime
Playset, and an impish grin of delight crosses her face as
she dances her Diane Keaton doll around an imaginary
singles bar with a plastic businessman.
But little Gilda misses the point of this game. Rather
than have her dollies boogie the night away, Gilda is told
that the object is for Diane Keaton to pick up as many
strange men as possible before being killed.
So after a few Tequila Sunrises, Gilda guides Diane
Keaton and the plastic businessman to Diane's singles
apartment. There, pony-tailed Gilda has a real neato night
in store for her friends. They'll make cookies and toast and
have lots and lots of fun.
Little Gilda, however, is informed that the night's agen-
da is much too mild to merit Judith Rossner's raunchy
Photos by Joan A des
novel. So with a momentary glimmer in her eye, Gilda
picks up her plastic businessman and wrecks havoc on
the defenseless body of Diane Keaton.
"I'm big and I'm strong and I'm gonna kiss you all over
with my big, fat slimy lips." Then, with an angellic look,
she inquires, "Did I win yet?"
No, Gilda is told, you did not win. You don't win 'til
Diane Keaton loses.
"Now take Diane back to the singles bar and pick up
your psychotic blonde homosexual."
Gilda obliges and grasps her psychotic blonde
homosexual. But once again, a confused look clouds her
face and, ever so innocently, she asks: "What's a psychotic
This is a rehearsal on the set of NBC's Saturday Night'
Live, and little Gilda is Gilda Radner-a once obscure
weathergirl for Ann Arbor's WCBN who is now a somewhat
obscure TV crack-up. Unless you watch Saturday Night
Live, you probably haven't the foggiest who Gilda Radner
is. If that's the case, then you've probably never heard of
Emily Letella, Rhonda Weiss, Roseanne Rosannadana, Lisa
Leubner and Baba Wawa. Gilda Radner is all those people.
But, more than anything else, Gilda Radner is your lit-
tle sister, or the nerdy girl down the aisle in Hebrew School
or the funny kid with the big mouth.
She's well past her adolescense but, like a child waiting
impatiently for her next birthday, she measures her age in
Jay Levin is a former co-editor of the Sunday
"I never grew up," she explains.
If that's true, then you can reckon Gilda Radner is the
first person to ever make her career by not growing up.
* * * * *
T'S A MADHOUSE this Friday on the eighth floor of
New York's towering NBC Building. Performers and
stagehands and producers are running around with
props and scripts and directions in preparation for
the next day's show. Inside the studio, its stage and sets
bathed in light, workmen are hammering away at
makeshift wooden scenery and performers are practicing
their skits with help from big white cue cards.
Somewhere in this melange is Gilda Radner, and a lot of
people want to know where she is. A small, frail-looking
woman with a smooth, porcelain complexion and brown
hair tied back in a pony tail, she looks more like a Campfire
Girl than a member of the Not Ready for Prime Time
Players, the troupe of young comics without whom there'd
by no Saturday Night Live. She has just returned from Lon-
don, where she taped a guest spot on the Muppets Show, and
she looks worn and jet-lagged. Be brief, we're told, and
concise. Gilda's busy and tired.
Inside the small, spartan dressing room that she shares
with fellow Prime Timers Jane Curtin and Laraine New-
man, Radner curls up on a sofa and reaches for a tray of
cheese and crackers. She lights up a Virginia Slim. She
offers her guests Tabs. And she commences to tell how a
pudgy Detroit girl-a University of Michigan drop-out, no
less-has managed to establish herself as a cult heroine
among late-night TV addicts.
Much of what she does, Radner says, is drawn from her
"What I do in comedy I call bedroom comedy," she says.
"It's like the stuff you did in your bedroom with your
girlfriends during a slumber party. I also used to shut
myself in my brother's room and pantomime to records and
do stuff in the mirror."
By her own accounts, Radner had an exceptional
childhood. Born in 1946 and named for a Rita Hayworth
movie that year, she lived in the Palmer Park section of
Detroit. A plump, ungainly girl, Radner recalls spending
many an hour glued to the TV set, delighting to the antics of
Lucille Ball, Steve Allen, Pinky Lee and the folks on Your
Show of Shows.
"I'm a child of television," she says, "I ate all my meals
in front of the television. As a kid I'd pack a lunch in a
brown paper bag from the kitchen and go eat it in front of
That probably didn't help her weight problem any, but
Radner says those early television shows influenced the
course of her comedy.
When she wasn't watching television, Radner spent her
time tagging along with Mrs. Gillies, a nursemaid who
cared for Gilda during most of her childhood._
"I grew up with her, spent every minute with her. It was
me and somebody fifty years older, and we had tea parties
together and I'd go with her on her day off and visit her
"And that was my whole growing up," she adds. "More
than having friends my own age, she was my best friend."
In fact, Mrs. Gillies, now 84, eventually became Emily
Letella, the misconstrued dodo who rebuts editorials and
has become one of Radner's most popular characters.
Radner broadened her horizons after coming to the
University. Spurned by Northwestern because of low board
scores, she majored in theater, landed her first job as WC-
BN's weathergirl and moved into an Alice Lloyd triple with
Alice and Barbara. ("I hated it.") She was even picked up
for disorderly conduct one day for singing and dancing on
the bank of the Huron River.
gets sick of it, Radner says, but just like the guy who slices
pastrami, she's got a job to do: she's a working actress on a
top rated show and that's that.
It's late afternoon and Radner is called back into the
studio to rehearse the Looking For Mr. Goodbar skit. Under
the glare of lights and the scrutiny of about a dozen people,
she sheds her 31 years and becomes the little girl with the
confused, angellic grin. For more than 30 minutes, she
rehearses her lines, switches props, suggests changes in the
script, is told to move over, or repeat something, or cut
such and such from her monologue. Afterwards, she de-
parts to fetch a tray of food from the NBC cafeteria. Gilda's
going to eat dinner and rest now, we're told. She'll see you
again later. Just be patient.
Everything Radner does during the week is in
preparation for the 90 minute show broadcast live Saturday
nights at 11:30. "I think of it as an opening night," she says
of the actual show, one of the only live programs left on
network TV. "Each show is like the opening night of an un-
der-rehearsed Off-Broadway show.. . and we're never get-
ting to do it again."
She credits her stage experience with preparing her for
the rigors of Saturday Night Live. And she credits Saturday
Night Live with preparing her for what lies ahead in her
"Before I did this show I never performed alone, I always
performed in groups," she says. "Now I have monologues
and characters that work alone. I cannot believe it, but I
have enough material now that I do by myself that I can
now go (somewhere else) and do it."
What will you be doing at age 41, Gilda? Stage? Perhaps.
Like a preoccupied child, she has no idea where she'll be
ten years from now.
But, she says, she'll always be in show business. "I have
no fears of being unemployed," she says confidently.
Even back in her college days,,.Radner thought she'd en-
ter the business-either as a theater teacher or at the civic
Her Mom, however, had charted for Radner a different
"She wanted three things out of me-to get my teaching
certificate, to get married and to give her grandchildren."
Did you do any of that, Gilda?
"I didn't do ANXTHING!"
But Mom is learning to accept her daughter's career.
"She just last week gave me some credibility," says
Radner. "She sent me a letter telling me a bunch of friends
were requesting autographed pictures, and she wrote,
'Well, I guess you've reached stardom.'
Though Radner says si
stardom, she admits ha
"I never thought this w
remember coming down th
saying to my boyfriend a
kings and princesses.' I did
And kings and princess
sweat, Gilda enjoys a goc
shots. Rubbing elbows witt
guest host each week. An o
"I even met a Beatle," s
of a teenager crashing the
George-and he knew who
Undoubtedly. Gilda's g(
good places like New Time
not-so-good places like tl
posure is threatening to
secret. Because of the sh
young viewership, Radne
the older set and the earl,
she can roam her adopted
splashy magazine cove
"Darling of Saturday Nigh
For one thing, Radner s
with Chevy Chase. Chevy
the comedian who struck
Night Live, enjoyed med.
"The media divided hin
made him leave too soon,
parison, but the thing is. I
let (the press) divide me fr
Radner says she's work
too long to let the media sir
"I can never feel like a s
I do," she say
acting is to m
Video Vixens, a punk rock
that I was Patti Smith an
sing and that I'm hot and
see the tapeback, and it's
do, it may be because
So today, Gilda Radner
pretending for her guests