Hofstra graduate Madeline Kahn was trained for an operatic career, but found her most gainful employment in musical comedy and revue work. While reducing audiences to tears of laughter as a member of New York's Upstairs at the Downstairs satirical troupe, Kahn made her first appearance in the short-subject Bergman lampoon The Dove (1968). She was "officially" discovered for films by director Peter Bogdanovich, who cast her as Ryan O'Neal's frowsy fiancee in What's Up Doc (1972). Kahn was nominated for Academy Awards for her portrayals of Southern doxy Trixie Delight in Bogdanovich's Paper Moon (1973) and Dietrich-like chanteuse Lilly Von Schtupp ("Oh, it's twue, it's twue, it's twue!") in Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles (1974). Kahn went on to co-star in Brooks' Young Frankenstein (1974) and High Anxiety (1975), and made a return trip to the Bogdanovich fold in the disastrous At Long Last Love (1976) Her manic comedy style could be appealing, but, to paraphrase the late film encyclopedist Leslie Haliwell, it became a quickly overplayed hand. On Broadway, Kahn co-starred with Danny Kaye in Two by Two and was starred in the musical version of Twentieth Century, a grueling experience that all but destroyed her singing voice. She won a Tony award for her non-musical performance in Wendy Wasserstein's The Sisters Rosenzweig in 1992. Kahn's TV projects include the 1983 sitcom Oh, Madeline (based on the British series Pig in the Middle), a single season as George C. Scott's virago sister-in-law in Mister President (1987) and Cosby, the most recent project of comedian Bill Cosby, a sitcom that premiered in 1996. In 1995, Madeline Kahn was superbly cast as Martha Mitchell in Oliver Stone's Nixon and as a vituperative gossip columnist on the TV series New York News.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Began singing and acting when she attended boarding school as a child.
- Earned a drama scholarship to Hofstra University, participated in an opera workshop while there, and graduated with a speech-therapy degree in 1964.
- Worked briefly as a schoolteacher.
- Made her feature-film debut as high-strung Eunice Burns in the 1972 screwball comedy What's Up, Doc?
- Worked several times with director Mel Brooks, including on Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.
- Received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the Boston Conservatory.
- Married longtime companion John Hansbury in October 1999; died at the age of 57 from ovarian cancer less than two months later.