Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Talking about Madeline at the 92nd Street Y

Madeline as Trixie Delight, the film role of which she was proudest —
until she played Alice Gold in Judy Berlin.


On Monday, January 25, at noon, I’ll be at New York City’s 92nd Street Y to join interviewer extraordinaire Valerie Smaldone and three sensational actresses to discuss the life and work of Madeline Kahn. Valerie also acts, and I can hardly think of four women I’d rather talk with about the career of an actress — I expect I’ll learn a lot.

Like Madeline, Barbara Barrie was an Oscar and Tony nominee with a lifetime’s worth of credits when she signed on to co-star in Eric Mendelsohn’s Judy Berlin. Working with a young director on his first feature film, in no-frills conditions proved challenging to both actresses. Shooting at night in the cold November weather, Barbara nearly froze: she remembers still shivering even when she got home in the mornings. Her performance went on to earn her an Independent Spirit Award nomination.

Barbara Barrie.

Barbara’s son Aaron plays Madeline’s son in the film — and there’s another family tie, of which I was unaware when I interviewed her for my book: Barbara’s husband, the late Jay Harnick, produced three stage musicals in which Paula Kahn appeared (or claimed to).

Maddie Corman played Madeline’s niece — and George C. Scott’s daughter — in the Fox sitcom Mr. President in 1987–88. As a teenager working with seasoned veterans, she was all eyes and ears on the set, observing and absorbing everything around her. One happy result of her experience: she does a flawless impression of Madeline.

Maddie Corman.

Madeline hadn’t worked with a child actress since Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon, and the working relationship she and Maddie set the tone for later relationships with younger colleagues. Madeline never condescended but approached Maddie as a peer, praising her when she did well, even asking, “How did you do that?” when she admired a particular scene.

Like Maddie, Ally Sheedy was a Madeline Kahn fan even before they worked together, and both began acting when they very young. Ally met Madeline when they co-starred in Alan Alda’s Betsy’s Wedding, and they bonded when bad weather prolonged location shooting in North Carolina. They spent hours talking and taking long walks. The all-star cast of Betsy’s Wedding had opinions on how to do everything, which complicated Alda’s attempts to realize his artistic vision — and probably tried his patience, too.

Ally Sheedy.

The movie marked a reunion for Madeline with Julie Bovasso, who (until she was fired, days before opening) directed her in David Rabe’s Boom Boom Room, for which she received her first Tony nomination. Bovasso was an acclaimed acting teacher, and when Madeline decided to take classes with her, Ally went along — affording her an opportunity to contrast Bovasso’s “huge, volcanic” acting style with Madeline’s more intimate approach.

After the panel discussion, I’ll be signing copies of Madeline Kahn: Being the Music • A Life, and proceeds from book sales will benefit Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. For more information and to order tickets, click here.

Our host, Valerie Smaldone.

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