Madeline Kahn, 57, Tony-Winning Comedienne
Madeline Kahn, one of Broadway and Hollywood's brightest queens of comedy, died in Manhattan, Dec. 3, of ovarian cancer. She was 57. Kahn received four Tony nominations: for her performance in: David Rabe's 1973 drama "In the Boom Boom Room," where she played a troubled stripper; for her 1978 diva turn in the musical "On the 20th Cen-tury"; as the ditsy Billie Dawn in the 1989 revival of "Born Yes-terday" opposite Ed Asner; and in 1993 as the Jewish mat-ron Gorgeous Teitelbaum in Wendy Wasserstein's "The Sisters Rosensweig," for which Kahn finally won her Tony.
The diminutive redhead also received back-to-back Academy Award nominations: one for her brilliant and memorable Dietrich sendup as Lili von Shtupp in Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles," and as Trixie Delight in Peter Bogdanovich's "Paper Moon" opposite Ryan and Tatum O'Neal. Kahn also appeared in Bogdanovich's movie musical "At Long Last Love" with Cybill Shepherd, and his comedy "What's Up, Doc" with Barbra Streisand. Kahn's more recent film appearances include "A Bug's Life" and "Nixon." Her last film, "Judy Berlin," will be released theatrically next year.
Kahn made her stage debut in the 1964 City Center revival of "Kiss Me, Kate." She got her Broadway break in Leonard Stillman's "New Faces of 1968," and used her trained coloratura to maximum effect opposite Danny Kaye in the Broadway production of "Two By Two," where she played a sacrificial golden girl in the Richard Rodgers/Martin Charnin musical.
Early in her career, Kahn, a Boston native, also performed in an improv group with Peter Boyle, with whom she later co-starred in Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein," where she spoofed Elsa Lanchester's dramatically coiffed Bride of the Monster. Kahn and Brooks worked together frequently. In addition to "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein," the actress can be seen in "High Anxiety" and "History of the World, Part One."
Kahn had her own sitcom, "Oh, Madeline!" in 1983; starred opposite George C. Scott in the 1987 sitcom, "Mr. President"; and most recently co-starred as Pauline on the CBS sitcom, "Cosby."
"She is one of the most talented people that ever lived," Brooks once said of Kahn. "I mean, either in stand-up comedy, or acting, or whatever you want, you can't beat Madeline Kahn."
Mike Ockrent, 53, B'way/West End Director
Two-time Tony-nominee Mike Ockrent, a British director who found a niche on Broadway, died Dec. 2, at age 53, from leukemia.
Ockrent arrived at his career in the theatre obliquely, having been a university-trained physicist. He made his directing debut at a small theatre in Perth, Scot-land, where the 27-year-old's award-winning production of "Hedda Gabl-er" led to a position as artistic director of the respected Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh.
His London directing credits include "Once A Catholic," "Passion Play" and "Educating Rita," but the breakthrough that would make him an international name came with "Me and My Girl," a little-known 1937 musical comedy that Ockrent helped resurrect with the actor-playwright Stephen Fry. The award-winning show transferred from the West End to Broadway in 1986, garnering 13 Tony nominations, including three for Ockrent. Ockrent won a Drama Desk award for his work on the show.
In 1992, Ockrent helmed "Crazy for You," which won the Tony for best musical that season, as well as gaining Ockrent another nomination for his direction of the Gershwin tuner. "Crazy for You" 's choreographer, Susan Stroman, later became Ockrent's wife. They were married New Year's Day, 1996. Ockrent and Stroman collaborated on other ventures, including the Broadway musical "Big" and "A Christmas Carol," which is currently in its sixth season at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Ockrent also found the time to direct two BBC films ("Dancin' Thru the Dark," which won an award at the Venice Film Festival; and "Money for Nothing," featuring Martin Short), and pen a satirical novel, "Running Down Broadway." His most recent directing venture was Manhattan Theater Club's "La Terrasse" last spring. Ockrent was also in pre-production on two Broadway-bound musicals: "The Night They Raided Minsky's," in collaboration with Susan Birkenhead and Charles Strouse; and a stage adaptation of the Mel Brooks film farce, "The Producers."
Joey Adams, 88, Borscht-Belt Comic
Joey Adams, who spent six decades telling jokes, mostly one-liners, and who was a goodwill ambassador for five American presidents, died Dec. 2, at St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan. Adams was 88. Born Joe Abramowitz, the son of a Brooklyn tailor, Adams changed his name in 1930 when he started to make a name for himself in vaudeville. Although he frequently cut his City College classes to make stage appearances, and left the school just three months shy of graduation, the college awarded him an honorary "Doctor of Comedy" degree some two decades later.
His first break came in 1941 at Leon & Eddie's nightclub on 52nd street in Manhattan. After that, Adams began taking film roles, appearing as-what else-a nightclub comedian in "Singing in the Dark" and "Ringside." Adams also appeared in an Off-Broadway production of "Guys and Dolls" with Vivian Blaine. He considered himself the adopted son, prot g , and mascot of New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia, whom Adams credited with teaching him "a lot of philosophies that he followed in life."
Adams wrote more than 40 books, had a show on WEVD radio in the 1970s and '80s, on which he interviewed celebrities and world leaders; and for years, wrote the syndicated column "Strictly for Laughs" that appeared in The New York Post. Adams also served as president of the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA).
In 1952, he married celebrity gossip columnist Cindy Adams on the condition "that I get custody of all her material." His 80th birthday party in 1991 was attended by a Who's Who of notorious femmes, including Imelda Marcos, Bess Myerson, and Leona Helmsely, prompting the birthday boy to remark, "If you're indicted, you're invited."
The chapels at Riverside Memorial were packed on Dec. 6, with such celebrity mourners as New York State First Lady Libby Pataki, actors Alan Alda, Anthony Quinn, Ernest Borgnine, former New York State Governor Mario Cuomo, and, yes, Imelda Marcos. Mayor Giuliani delivered the eulogy.
Gene Rayburn, 81, Emmy Nominee/NY AFTRA President
Gene Rayburn, perhaps best-known for his hosting of several popular game shows, died of congestive heart failure, Nov. 29, at his home in Beverly, Mass. He was 81.
Rayburn received five Daytime Emmy nominations for his work as the host of the "Match Game" shows, in which guests tried to match answers to (often) double-entendre questions with celebrity panelists. Rayburn also hosted "Play Your Hunch" and "Tic Tac Dough."
The Chicago-born son of Croatian immigrants who allegedly selected his American name by opening a phone book and pointing at a random surname, Rayburn came to New York to become an opera singer, but began his show business career as a tour guide and page for NBC. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps and during WWII Rayburn was a pilot, bombardier, and instructor. He returned stateside to a radio career in upstate New York. Later, his WNEW show "Rayburn & Finch," where he partnered with Dee Finch, helped popularize the idea of morning drive time. They boosted the career of singer Teresa Brewer and wrote some novelty tunes, including "The Hopscotch Polka." Rayburn later hosted WNBC's "Monitor" a weekend radio news broadcast; and was often a guest host on "Today," subbing for then-host John Chancellor. Rayburn was the "Tonight Show" announcer when Steve Allen hosted the nightly TV show in the 1950s.
Rayburn was also an actor in summer stock, in several television dramas, including the "Kraft Theatre," toured with the national company of "Come Blow Your Horn," and in 1961 took over the leading role from Dick van Dyke in the Broadway musical, "Bye, Bye, Birdie."
Rayburn served as the New York Local President of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), where he worked to improve performers' pensions. The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences recently presented him with a lifetime achievement award.
John Berry, 82, Actor-Director
John Berry, the theatre and film director whose career was interrupted by the McCarthy blacklist, died Nov. 29, in Paris, after a bout with pleurisy. He was 82.
Born Jak Szold in the Bronx, the son of an actress and a successful restaurateur, Berry appeared in several of Orson Welles' and John Houseman's Mercury Theater productions and was Welles' assistant and editor on the lost 16mm film that was part of the show "Too Much Johnson." In 1941, Berry, who considered Welles his "spiritual father," stage managed and appeared in Welles' Broadway production of Richard Wright's "Native Son" with Canada Lee. Welles subsequently entrusted Berry with directing the national touring company of the show.
Berry moved to Hollywood where he worked with Billy Wilder. Houseman hired him to replace director Harold Clurman on "Miss Susie Slagle's" with Lillian Gish and Veronica Lake. He was about to team with John Garfield on "The Man With the Golden Arm" in 1951, when his 16mm documentary on "The Hollywood Ten" brought Sen. Joseph McCarthy's men to his door.
Allegedly, Berry had to climb out the back window of his Los Angeles home to avert the federal agents arriving to question him. Leaving his wife and children behind, he fled to France with $800 in his pocket. Expecting to stay only a few months in France, Berry remained there for 11 years, directing several films.
After staging theatre productions in London in the early 1960s, Berry returned to New York where he re-staged Athol Fugard's "Boesman and Lena" at Circle in the Square with James Earl Jones and Ruby Dee. Berry won an Obie Award for his direction. He then staged "The Crucible" at Lincoln Center, and "Othello" with James Earl Jones in Los Angeles in 1971, and returned to film directing in 1974 with "Claudine," starring Jones and Diahann Carroll. Berry's final film, a screen adaptation of "Boesman and Lena" with Angela Bassett and Danny Glover, is due to premiere next spring.
Anne Francine, 82, Cabaret Singer-Actress
Anne Francine, the Philadelphia mainliner who became part of Manhattan's caf society in the 1940s and 50s, died Dec. 3, after suffering a stroke. She was 82. Francine, in addition to her stage and screen credits, was known as a nurturer of young cabaret talent, spending her summers as a master teacher at the Eugene O'Neill Center in Waterford, Conn. She made her Broadway debut in 1945 in "Marriage Is for Single People." Other Broadway appearances include Vera Charles in the 1966 production of "Mame" opposite Angela Lansbury, and in the 1987 Lincoln Center revival of "Anything Goes." Her film work includes "Crocodile Dundee," "Harper Valley P.T.A.," and Fellini's "Juliet of the Spirits."
Joe Pichette, 58, Actor-Singer
Actor-singer Joe Pichette died suddenly of a heart attack, in New York City, on Dec. 2. The Wilmington, Del. native who studied voice and composition at The Juilliard School, appeared on Broadway in "The Pirates of Penzance" and "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." Off-Off-Broadway, he created leading roles for such playwrights as Robert Patrick, William M. Hoffman, Jeanine O'Reilly, Roslyn Drexler, Ken Bernard, and Robert Heide. Pichette starred in Patrick's "Kennedy's Children" on London's West End, where he also appeared in "The Haunted Host" opposite Ned Van Zandt. A memorial service will be held at 7 pm, on Mon., Dec. 13 at La MaMa E.T.C. on East Fourth Street in Manhattan.