Lainie Kazan

Active - 1968 - 2019  |   Born - May 15, 1940 in New York, New York, United States  |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Romance

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Hofstra-educated singer/actress Lainie Kazan became a celebrity by indirection. In 1964, Kazan was engaged to understudy Barbra Streisand in the Broadway production of Funny Girl; the disappointed boos and catcalls that often greeted Kazan when she subbed for Streisand were generally dissipated by the standing ovations she'd receive at performance's end. In 1966, Kazan was hired for her first weekly-TV stint on The Dean Martin Summer Show, exhibiting a keen sense of comic timing in the presence of such funsters as Dom DeLuise and Rowan & Martin. A firmly established nightclub star by 1980, Kazan made her official screen bow in 1980's One From the Heart (her actual screen debut in an obscure 1968 film was passed over in the studio publicity). In 1982, she essayed her most memorable screen role, as the brash, blunt Brooklynite Bella Carroca in My Favorite Year; she would repeat this role many years later in the Broadway musical version of that film. She had a memorable turn in the weepie Beaches, and appeared in a variety of projects including Honeymoon in Vegas and Love Is All There Is. Kazan had the biggest movie success of her career at the beginning of the 21st century when she was one of the leads in the indie smash My Big Fat Greek Wedding, setting in motion a career resurgence that included the short-lived TV spinoff of that movie as well as Gigli, Red Riding Hood, and the Adam Sandler movie You Don't Mess With the Zohan.

Kazan's series-TV assignments included the role of Rita in the 1986 Robby Benson detective series Tough Cookies, the "best friend" part of Claire Steiner in the Fox Network Patty Duke sitcom Karen's Song, and recurring appearances in the hospital drama St. Elsewhere. Few of these appearances, however were of the zany calibre of Kazan's outrageous portrayal of an Italian-accented fairy godmother in Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre's version of "Pinocchio." Still a top attraction on the supper-club circuit, Lainie Kazan has opened two cabarets bearing her name in New York and Los Angeles.

Movie Highlights

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  • Was Barbara Streisand's understudy in the Broadway musical Funny Girl.
  • Appeared on The Dean Martin Show 26 times.
  • Spent a month in the hospital receiving treatment for deep-vein thrombosis in the 1970s. The condition was discovered after she fell over her dog while on a photo shoot for Playboy magazine.
  • Was the inspiration for the comic-book character Big Barda.
  • Has served on the advisory board of her alma mater, Hofstra University.
  • Was concerned that her birth name sounded more like a stripper than an actor, so her classmate Francis Ford Coppola suggested she take her mother's maiden name professionally. 
  • Appeared in the October 1970 edition of Playboy magazine and ran successful Playboy cabaret clubs in New York and Los Angeles.
  • Established the Lainie Kazan Endowed Scholarship at Hofstra University, which is annually awarded to outstanding students majoring in Music or Drama.