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Gilda Radner's Roseanne Roseannadanna And Baba Wawa Will Never Be Forgotten

Icons | December 21, 2017

Gilda Radner as Roseanne Roseannadanna, Jane Curtin as herself (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Hilarious Gilda Radner of Saturday Night Live fame lived a life that was prematurely shortened by ovarian cancer. That's the bummer of it. But though she left us at age 42, her contributions to comedy continue to loom large. As Roseanna Roseannadanna, Baba Wawa, Emily Litella and Lisa Loopner, Gilda Radner showed us a comedic talent that could sculpt vivid and laugh-inducing characters out of thin air.

The cast of the first season of Saturday Night Live included Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, and Chevy Chase, three actors considered cornerstones of the SNL pantheon. That's fine, and true, but guess who was the first cast member selected for the show. It was Gilda Radner, whose natural comedic shops blew show creator Lorne Michaels away.

On Saturday Night Live, Gilda Radner hit the ground running and was all for pushing the limits of television boundaries at the time. She was one of three funny and talented women on the regular cast (the others were Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman). 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.

Roseanna Roseannadanna: A Pioneer Of Giving Too Much Information

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…”

Lisa Loopner Was An Early Example Of Nerdus Americanus

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: Wevealing And Wefweshing Weportage

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 Said 'Never Mind'

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.”

Radner On The Road

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.

Comedy's First Couple

Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner in November 1984 at the Festival de Deauville in France. Photo by Micheline PELLETIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Radner demonstrated a tendency to become romantically involved with co-workers -- first having a relationship with castmate Bill Murray, and in 1980 marrying guitarist G.E. Smith, who was part of her 1979 Gilda Live Broadway show. But without a doubt, the relationship she's best remembered for was her romance with Gene Wilder. They met on the set of the film Hanky Panky, and Radner recalled their sudden chemistry as "love at first sight." Their mutual attraction was undeniable -- Radner was still married to Smith at the time, but knew it was ending. The courtship was stop-and-go, with Wilder pulling back from the overenthusiastic Radner. Recalling those early years in his memoir, Wilder wrote, "We didn’t get along well, and that’s a fact. We just loved each other, and that’s a fact."

The two were married in 1984, shortly after shooting The Woman In Red, which featured Wilder as director and star, and Radner in a supporting role. Friends say that, at that point, it really was a storybook existence -- while it lasted. Radner's health started to fail in 1986. She lost precious time on misdiagnoses, but was eventually diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer, and she died in 1989.

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, but she left us all with a legacy of laughter.

Tags: Bill Murray | Gene Wilder | Gilda Radner | Saturday Night Live | What They Are Known For

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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.