Gilda Radner is famous for creating her zany, larger-than-life characters on Saturday Night Live, and later, for her own strength of character in her fight against ovarian cancer, which she went public with in her autobiography, It's Always Something. Her Not-So-Ready-for-Prime-Time days earned her the chance to showcase her stuff on Broadway in her own one-person-show, Gilda Radner: Live From New York.
Referred to as the Sweetheart of American Comedy, her characterizations of snot-nosed geek (predecessor to Mary Catherine Gallagher of Superstar fame, most definitely) Lisa Loobner and Weekend News Update correspondent with a famous "hair don't" Roseanne Roseanna Danna remain forever quotable. These and other famous characters in her repertoire (like little old lady Emily Litella and hard rocker Candy Slice) contributed to her attaining an Emmy award in 1978 (she was also nominated in 1977) for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Variety or Musical. Behind the scenes, Radner was rumored to have had an eating disorder during the SNL years, which she later admitted publicly (also in her autobiography). She dated Martin Short for a while, but ended up marrying one of the men from the Saturday Night Live Band for a couple of years.
Upon leaving SNL, she starred her own Broadway production, and following that, another: Lunch Hour, directed by Mike Nichols. Unlike her other female cast members (Jane Curtin, Loraine Newman) on SNL, Radner was launched into a prolific and high-profile (although not exactly blockbuster) film career. She met her second husband, Gene Wilder, on the set of Hanky Panky, which they were both featured in. The two had no children, but a dog, Sparkle, who served as ring bearer at their wedding. Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner went on to work in The Woman in Red (with Kelly LeBrock) as well as Haunted Honeymoon in the '80s. Other films of Radner's include First Family, It Came From Hollywood, and Movers and Shakers.
Ironically enough, Radner's mother named her after the title role of a Rita Hayworth picture from 1946. She was born in Detroit, attended Liggett High School, and dropped out of the University of Michigan. From there she ran away to join the circus (sort of), and made her stage debut in Toronto's production of Godspell in 1972. She made her film debut with The Last Detail in 1973, before becoming part of the original cast of The Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players, which led to Saturday Night Live.
Gilda Radner left behind a legacy of courage and comedy upon her death in 1989. In her honor, Gene Wilder established the first Gilda's Club in New York, a free counseling center for cancer patients and their families, in 1993. Many additional Gilda Clubs sprung up across the United States. ~ Sandy Lawson