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Showing posts with label Comic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Comic. Show all posts


 TOMLIN, LILY (Mary Jean Tomlin) (1939– ) Comic, Actress

Renowned for her inventive comic characters, Lily Tomlin was born Mary Jean Tomlin on September 1, 1939. Growing up in Detroit, Michigan, she often accompanied her alcoholic father to bars, where she amused patrons by imitating their neighbors. Tomlin briefiy attended Wayne State University as a premed student but quit after her performance in a campus play convinced her that she had a fiair for comedy. For several years, she performed on local television and in coffeehouses. To further her career, Tomlin moved to New York City in 1965. Engagements at such clubs as the Improv and Cafe Au Go Go led to a job performing on the nationally televised Garry Moore Show (1958–67). She left after three shows over arguments with the writing staff about the quality of her material.

In 1970, Tomlin returned to television as a regular on the comedy revue  Laugh-In (1968–73). She became instantly famous for her monologues delivered in the voices of various characters. The most popular were Ernestine, a surly telephone operator, and Edith Ann, a five-and-a-half-year old who was wise beyond her years. She showcased these and other characters on several successful comedy albums, including  This Is a Recording (1971), for which she won a Grammy Award. While working her 1972 album  And That’s the Truth, she began writing with playwright Jane Wagner, who has remained a frequent collaborator. A proud feminist, Tomlin refused to perform jokes on Laugh-In that she deemed sexist or racist. She also made news by walking off  The Dick Cavett Show, a television talk show, when a fellow guest, actor Chad Everett, described his wife as his possession. In a 1981 interview, she replied to the question of how feminism had affected her career with, “If it hadn’t been for the women’s movement, people would call it my hobby.” After Laugh-In, Tomlin appeared in a series of television specials that challenged network censors. The most notorious was a one-hour variety show for CBS written by Tomlin and comic Richard Pryor. The network wanted to cut a sketch titled “Juke and Opal,” in which Pryor portrayed a methadone addict. When Tomlin threatened to sue, CBS put the sketch at the end of the special and added an incongruous laugh track to detract viewers from the disturbing material. The special won an Emmy for its writing.

By the mid-1970s, Tomlin was also appearing in films. She made an auspicious debut in a dramatic role in Nashville (1975), in which she subtly portrayed the emotions of a mother of two deaf children drawn into a brief affair with a womanizing pop star. The performance won her a Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. After garnering good reviews in the modern-day noir The Late Show (1977), her film career almost ended with the critical and popular disaster Moment by Moment (1978), a romance costarring John Travolta and written by Wagner. Tomlin scored a much-needed hit two years later with the light office comedy 9 to 5 (1980), which also featured JANE FONDA and  DOLLY PARTON. Most of her subsequent film work has been in supporting roles in fairly insubstantial comedies, including  Big Business (1988), The Beverly Hillbillies (1993), and Disney’s The Kid (2000). Tomlin has found much more success as a stage performer. After winning a special Tony Award for her show Appearing Nitely (1977), Tomlin received the best reviews of her career for The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (1986). This onewoman show, written and directed by Wagner, allowed Tomlin to create an array of unforgettable characters—from the bag lady Trudy to the miserable teen Agnes Angst to the caustic socialite Kate. Using virtually no props or scenery, she transformed from one to the next, employing just her voice and manner to indicate the character she had become. Tomlin and Wagner were hailed for daring to depict with affection characters who often bordered on the grotesque. Tomlin once explained, “I don’t necessarily admire them, but I do them all with love.”Winning a Tony for its original run, Tomlin revived  Search on Broadway in November 2000. Reviewers marveled at the energy Tomlin, at 61, still brought to the demanding show. “It’s exhilarating,” Tomlin told USA Today, adding, “It’s such a joy to perform. . . . It’s fun to play, you know?”

Further Reading
Kaplan, James. “The Search for Lily Tomlin.” US Weekly. January 22, 2001, pp. 58–61.
Sorensen, Jeff.  Lily Tomlin: Woman of a Thousand Faces. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989.
Wagner, Jane. Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.

Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
Nashville (1975). Paramount, DVD/VHS, 2000/1991.
9 to 5 (1980). Twentieth Century-Fox, VHS, 1995.
The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (1992).
Wolfe Video, VHS, 1995.

ROSEANNE (Roseanne Barr, Roseanne Arnold)

ROSEANNE (Roseanne Barr, Roseanne Arnold) (1953– ) Actress, Comic, Talk Show Host

Through her long-running television series, Roseanne injected a dose of reality into the situation comedy genre. Born Roseanne Barr on November 3, 1953, she grew up feeling like an outsider as one of the few Jews in Salt Lake City, Utah. While still in her teens, she survived a nearfatal car accident and a mental breakdown that required months of hospitalization. At 19, Barr moved to Colorado, where she married postal clerk Bill Pentland. While raising their three children, she worked a series of low-paying jobs, living the life of the working poor she later chronicled in her comedy. During the 1970s, she became active in the women’s movement. Her commitment to feminism was at the center of a stand-up act she developed in 1981. Insisting on being called a “domestic goddess” instead of a homemaker, Barr joked about the abuses women suffered at the hands of their selfish husbands and children. The look of her onstage persona was itself radical: She stood before her audiences unabashedly frumpy and overweight, refusing to make quips at the expense of her own appearance, unlike most female stand-ups. After performing at comedy clubs throughout the West, Barr appeared at Los Angeles’s Comedy Club. The gig won her a spot on The Tonight Show in 1983. Barr starred in several HBO comedy specials before being lured to ABC to star in her own situation comedy.

Premiering in 1988, Roseanne softened Barr’s stand-up character and placed her at the center of the Conner family, which included two workingclass parents and their three smart-mouthed children. Although Barr exuded more warmth onscreen than onstage, the show had an edge that distinguished itself from other sitcoms of the time. Rather than painting a idealized portrait of family life, Roseanne looked clear-eyed at the Conners’ constant economic and personal struggles. The show’s comedy arose naturally as these intelligent characters used humor to help them cope. According to Entertainment Weekly, Roseanne quickly emerged as “the finest, truest, most nuanced, and best-acted sitcom about blue-collar people since ‘The Honeymooners.’” The show was an instant hit, even though, behind the scenes, Barr was launching an all-out war for creative control. Midway through the first season, she succeeded in elbowing out Matt Williams, who was billed as Roseanne’s cocreator.

Throughout the show’s nine-year run, Barr would repeatedly fire producers and writers. While she was criticized as a prima donna, some insiders credited her actions with keeping the scripts fresh and innovative. Offscreen, Barr also generated controversy. In 1990, she was asked to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a baseball game at San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium. Singing off-key amidst booing from the crowd, she ended her appearance by grabbing her crotch and spitting in imitation of professional sports stars. What she thought was a comic performance sparked a national debate. Many Americans branded her as unpatriotic, including President George H. W. Bush, who called Barr’s rendition of the national anthem “disgraceful.”

Barr’s massive success continued to inspire increasingly extreme behavior. She had repeated plastic surgeries, claimed to be possessed by 24 different personalities, and revealed that she had been the victim of sexual abuse as a child, a charge her family vehemently denied. Divorcing Pentland, Barr married comic Tom Arnold in 1990 and alienated many of her associates by her vigorous promotion of Arnold as the star of two failed sitcoms, The Jackie Thomas Show and Tom. Calling herself Roseanne Arnold, she stunned her fans by announcing that she and Arnold were “marrying” her young female assistant. By 1994, her relationship with Arnold had ended in an ugly divorce, and she changed her stage name to simply Roseanne. She subsequently married her bodyguard Ben Thomas, with whom she had a son, Buck, in 1995. Roseanne filed for a divorce from Thomas three years later.

While still appearing on her series, Roseanne tentatively started a big-screen career. She performed to lukewarm reviews in She-Devil (1989), Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1994), and Blue in the Face (1995). She had more success providing the voice of a baby girl in Look Who’s Talking Too (1990) and acting in two popular television films costarring Tom Arnold—Backfield in Motion (1991) and The Woman Who Loved Elvis (1993). Roseanne also served as the executive producer of the late-night sketch comedy series Saturday Night Special (1996) and as the guest editor of an issue of The New Yorker magazine in 1995. She made the bestseller list with two autobiographies, Roseanne: My Life as a Woman (1989) and My Lives (1994). In 1997, after a critically savaged final season during which the Conner family won the lottery, Roseanne went off the air. Roseanne returned to television the next year with The Roseanne Show, a syndicated daytime talk show. Although she received her first Emmy nomination for her hosting, the show failed to find an audience and was canceled in 1999. Even the provocateur, she has since announced her intention to appear in a nude centerfold to show off her 75-pound weight loss.

Further Reading
Arnold, Roseanne. My Lives. New York: Baltimore Books, 1994.
Barr, Roseanne. Roseanne: My Life as a Woman. New York: Harper & Row, 1989.

Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
She-Devil (1989). MGM/UA, VHS, 2000.
The Roseanne Barr Show (1987). HBO Home Video, VHS, 1990.
Roseanne Arnold: Live from Trump Castle (1992). Columbia/Tristar, VHS, 1996.
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JOAN RIVERS (Joan Alexandra Molinsky)

RIVERS, JOAN ( Joan Alexandra Molinsky) (1933– ) Talk Show Host, Comic

A seminal stand-up comedian who found her greatest success as a talk show host, Joan Rivers was born Joan Alexandra Molinsky on June 8, 1933. The daughter of a successful physician, she spent her youth in Brooklyn and Larchmont, New York. In 1954, Molinsky graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Barnard College, where she performed in many school productions. Although she craved a show business career, she instead worked in the fashion industry. While a fashion coordinator for the Bond clothing stores, she married her boss’s son, James Sanger. The marriage was annulled six months later.

Against her parents’ wishes, Molinsky quit her job and began performing stand-up comedy in New York clubs under the name Joan Rivers. Supporting herself with secretarial work, she spent seven years on the club circuit with little success. Her big break finally came when she landed a spot on The Tonight Show in 1965. Four months later, she married producer Edgar Rosenberg. They had a daughter, Melissa, in 1968.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Rivers was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show and other variety and talk programs. She helped pioneer the daytime talk show as the host of the short-lived That Show (1968–69). Rivers also tried writing for the stage and screen. She coauthored the unsuccessful Broadway play Fun City (1972) and wrote the television movie The Girl Most Likely o . . . (1973). Rivers and Rosenberg mortgaged their house to help finance Rabbit Test (1978), a film comedy cowritten and directed by Rivers. To her disappointment, the movie received mediocre reviews. She had better luck with the humor book  The Life and Hard Times of Heidi Abromowitz (1984), which became a best-seller. She has since written two well-received autobiographies and several self-help books drawing on incidents in her own life.

In 1983, Rivers became the permanent guest host of The Tonight Show, often drawing better ratings than its regular host, Johnny Carson. She was particularly hailed for her monologues. Early in her career, she relied heavily on self-deprecating humor (“I was such an ugly baby a furrier tried to club me”). As her star rose, she increasingly made the rich and famous the targets of her one-liners. Rivers was especially ruthless in her humorous attack on ELIZABETH TAYLOR’s weight gain (“Mosquitos see her and scream ‘Buffet’”). She once explained her brand of comedy, saying “I am telling the truth in a very angry age. . . . And I succeed by saying what everyone else is thinking.” Lured by a $3 million contract from the fiedging Fox network, Rivers became the host of her own late-night talk show, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, in 1986. The show failed, and soon afterward her husband suffered a nervous breakdown. He committed suicide in 1987. Adding to her sorrow, Rivers found herself nearly broke because of bad investments and watched her relationship with her daughter Melissa deteriorate. She later chronicled this difficult time in the television movie  Tears and Laughter: The Joan and Melissa Rivers Story (1994), in which she and Melissa Rivers played themselves.

Rivers returned to television in the syndicated The Joan Rivers Show (1989–94), for which she won a 1990 daytime Emmy Award as best talk show host. In 1989, she also began designing and selling her own line of jewelry on the QVC cable shopping channel, an enterprise that has greatly improved her financial situation. In the 1990s, Rivers started appearing on E!, a cable entertainment news network. Since 1994, she has hosted E!’s most successful program—a pre–Academy Awards show during which she and Melissa offer humorous remarks about movie stars’ sense of style or lack thereof.

Further Reading
Rivers, Joan, with Richard Meryman. Enter Talking. New York: Delacorte, 1986.
———. Still Talking. New York: Turtle Bay Books, 1991.

Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
Joan Rivers: Abroad in London (1992). Paramount, VHS, 1995.
Joan Rivers ’ Shopping for Fitness (1996). ABC Home Video, VHS, 1996.
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RADNER, GILDA (1946–1989) Comic, Actress

A gifted comedian with a talent for creating lovable characters, Gilda Radner was born into an affluent family in Detroit, Michigan, on June 28, 1946. Her father earned his fortune smuggling alcohol into the United States from Canada during Prohibition. Among his subsequent investments was a hotel popular with performers such as Frank Sinatra and George Burns when they visited Detroit. Gilda had a tense relationship with her mother, especially as she began to gain weight as a young child. At 10, she was given Dexedrine, the first of many diet aids Radner would use during her life.

In 1960, her father died of brain cancer, leaving Gilda a substantial fortune. After high school, she attended the University of Michigan, where she studied drama for six years without graduating. She then moved to Toronto and rifted into a show business career. Radner worked as a children’s clown for several years, before appearing in a production of  Godspell. Also in the cast were Paul Shaffer, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, and Andrea Martin—all of whom, like Radner, would later achieve fame in television sketch comedy.

Radner soon landed a spot in Second City, a Toronto improvisational comedy troupe. Based on her Second City work, Lorne Michaels, the producer of a new, late-night variety series, Saturday Night Live, hired Radner as the show’s first cast member in 1975. After a rocky first season, Saturday Night Live became a solid hit and made Radner a star. Among her most popular characters were Emily Litella, a hard-of-hearing television editorialist; Lisa Loopner, a hopelessly gawky high school nerd; and Roseanne Roseannadanna, a commentator given to making repulsive observations about everyday life. Unlike the often aggressive comedy of male cast members such as John Belushi and Dan Akroyd, Radner’s bits always contained an affection for the characters she portrayed. In addition to her gentle humor, Radner won over audiences with an almost waifiike vulnerability.  Saturday Night Live writer Alan Zweibel once described Radner’s appeal: “You felt like you knew her. She was a star, but she was your sister.”

Radner won an Emmy Award in 1978 for her work on Saturday Night Live. She also appeared in a Broadway show—Gilda Radner Live From New York (1979)—featuring her favorite characters. Radner left the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1980, the same year she married the show’s bandleader, G. E. Smith. They were divorced two years later. Radner tried to make the move from television to movies but had limited success. She appeared in First Family (1980) and  It Came from Hollywood (1982), both box-office failures. On the set of Hanky Panky (1982), she met actor Gene Wilder. The two married in France in 1984 and appeared in two more films together,  The Woman in Red (1984) and Haunted Honeymoon (1986). After feeling ill for nearly a year, Radner was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1986.

Chemotherapy and radiation treatments temporarily put her illness in remission. She wrote of her struggle with cancer in her 1989 autobiography, It’s Always Something, which she described as a “seriously funny” book. She also founded Gilda’s Friends, a support group for cancer patients. In 1988, she made her last onscreen performance playing herself in an episode of  It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, for which she received an Emmy nomination. Gilda Radner died in Los Angeles on May 20, 1989. After her death, Wilder expanded her support group by establishing Gilda’s Clubs, centers offering cancer patients free counseling, throughout the United States and Canada.

Further Reading
Radner, Gilda. It’s Always Something. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989.
Zweibel, Alan.  Bunny Bunny. New York: Villard Books, 1994.

Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
Biography: Gilda Radner (1987). A&E Entertainment, VHS, 1995.
Gilda Live (1980). Warner Home Video, VHS, 1993.


PEARL, MINNIE (Sarah Ophelia Colley, Mrs.Henry Cannon) (1912–1996) Comic

For more than 50 years, Sarah Ophelia Colley charmed listeners of the Grand Ole Opry radio show with her comic character Minnie Pearl. Born on October 12, 1912, Colley grew up in a cultured, wealthy family in Centerville, Tennessee. As a child, she enjoyed vaudeville, but while attending Ward-Belmont College in Nashville, Tennessee, she became enamored with serious theater. Her ambition was to have a theatrical career like her idol, KATHARINE HEPBURN.

After several years of teaching dramatics in Centerville, Colley was hired in 1934 as a director by Wayne P. Sewell Productions. The company staged productions in rural areas to benefit local charities. During one of these shows, Colley boarded with an elderly mother of 16 children in Baileyton, Alabama. The woman amused Colley with old folk stories about the families living on Baileyton Mountain. “After 10 days with her,”Colley later remembered, “I began to quote her and people would laugh.” Incorporating her own experiences in the South, Colley crafted her friend’s tales into a comic persona from Grinder’s Switch, a small, fictional town named after a railroad switching station near Centerville. She named her alter ego “Minnie Pearl” because “there was always an Aunt Minnie or a Cousin Pearl back where I came from.”

Returning to Nashville, Colley auditioned as Minnie Pearl for WSM, the high-watt radio station that broadcast the Grand Ole Opry throughout the South. Though somewhat put off by an educated woman playing a broad country character, the station managers agreed to put her on late in the show. The fan response was so positive that she soon became a fixture on the show. Greeting the audience with “Howdyyy! I’m just so proud to be here,” Minnie Pearl was a cheery, country spinster, full of stories about Uncle Nabob and Aunt Ambrosia and ever on the hunt for a “feller.” The character’s trademark was her flower-covered, dime store hat, with a price tag dangling from its brim. Although Minnie Pearl’s cornball jokes provoked groans as often as laughs, she struck a chord with fans nostalgic for old country ways quickly disappearing in the rural South.

In addition to appearing on the Opry, Pearl toured frequently, often as an opening act for her friend and mentor, musician Roy Acuff. In 1947, she married Henry Cannon, a former army pilot who supported her career by flying Pearl to outof-town engagements. Pearl also recorded comedy records but had only one hit, “Giddyup Go—Answer” (1966). More successful were her television appearances. In the 1970s, she reached an audience that had never heard of the Opry on the nationally syndicated country music variety show Hee Haw. She was a regular on the series for 22 years.

In Nashville, Pearl was revered by country music professionals, especially by the newcomers she often took under her wing. Singers Garth Brooks and Amy Grant both named their daughters after her. She also became one of city’s most prominent civic leaders, a position symbolized by her well-appointed home next to the Tennessee governor’s mansion. After successfully battling breast cancer in the 1980s, Pearl also became an advocate for the American Cancer Society. Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1975, Pearl retired from performing in 1991 following a stroke. She died five years later, on March 4, in Nashville, at the age of 83.

Further Reading
Kenworthy, Kevin, comp. The Best Jokes Minnie Pearl Ever
Told. Nashville, Tenn.: Rutledge Hill Press, 1999.
Pearl, Minnie, with Joan Dew. Minnie Pearl. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980.

Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
The Best of Minnie Pearl. Questar, VHS, 1994.
Minnie Pearl: The Starday Years. Starday, CD set, 1998.
Queen of the Grand Ole Opry. Legacy-DNA, CD, 1993.