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The Many Faces of Gilda Radner

Icons | December 21, 2017

Gilda Radner in ski cap and sequined dress having fun in the limousine; circa 1970; New York. (Photo by Art Zelin/Getty Images)

Funny girl, Gilda Radner, got her start on and was probably best known, for being one of Saturday Night Live’s (SNL) original cast. She hit the ground running and was all for pushing the limits of television boundaries at the time. During the time she spent on SNL, Radner was one of three funny and talented women on the regular cast. Her lighthearted personality endeared her to audiences.

Some of the more memorable characters she portrayed were Roseanne Roseannadanna, Lisa Loopner, Baba Wawa and Emily Litella. Her characters usually parodied real-life people and/or their occupations. If you remember Baba Wawa, you know that this character, in particular, was Radner’s take on Barbara Walters, complete with a speech impediment.

Roseanne Roseannadanna would appear on the SNL's Weekend Edition news skit. She would start out by attempting to respond to a viewer’s letter. Ironically, it was always the same guy… “A Mr. Richard Feder.” Mr. Feder would write into the show to ask a valid question. Roseanne would begin her response to the subject but somewhere along the line, her commentary would take a “turn” and soon she would be talking about disgusting bodily functions, poor hygiene or something else equally unpleasant. When the host would attempt to put a stop to her ranting, she would always reply with, “Well, it just goes to show you, it’s always something…”

Nerdy, teenager Lisa Loopner was another one of Radner’s characters. She was socially awkward but had still managed to land a boyfriend, Todd. Lisa lived with her mother, a widow, and whenever he late father’s name was mentioned, they would pause and say, “God rest his soul”. The late Mr. Loopner’s death was attributed to the fact that he was born without a spine. They claimed that it was always, “just a matter of time”. Lisa and her equally nerdy boyfriend were together by default. Neither of them appealed to anyone else; although according to Todd, he could have any girl he wanted and Lisa was “saving herself” for Marvin Hamlisch. The couple would regularly trade insults, after which Todd usually gave Lisa a noogie.

Baba Wawa was a spoof on Barbara Walters, the famous journalist. As you may know, Walters has a small problem pronouncing her “r’s”. That was all the fuel Radner needed to make this character a success. Of course, she overemphasized the speech impediment which made it all the more memorable.

Emily Litella, on the other hand, was a sweet, little, old lady who would also appear in the Weekend Edition skit. Her problem though was that she was hard of hearing. She would appear in order to give her opinion on a certain subject but was never able to clearly hear the topic. Before long, she would get herself all worked up on the subject and adamantly declare how terrible it was. When there was finally a break in her monologue, the news anchor would point out that she had misheard the question. Her response was always, “Never mind.”

Later on, Radner took her show on the road, literally, and performed on Broadway. She starred in a one-woman show wherein she portrayed her most memorable acts from SNL.

Gilda Radner was a naturally talented comedian. She was a funny, fearless force to be reckoned with. Her talent was ultimately rewarded with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and rightfully so. Unfortunately, she died much too soon, due to ovarian cancer in 1989. It was a huge loss to her fans, but she left us all with a legacy of laughter.

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.