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Happy Birthday, Gilda: She wants us to laugh...and live!

Gilda Radner Saves Lives." Nobody would have gotten as big a laugh out of that line as Gilda herself.

By giving life to such heart-breakingly lovable characters as Roseanne Roseannadanna (where did she get those clothes?), to the adorably annoying Emily Litella, or the ridiculously earnest Baba Wawa, Gilda created such ultimately sweet women that, reversing the history of comedy, she made us cry till we laughed.

My personal favorite however is not usually mentioned in a Gilda send-up. “Oh, TODD!” the adenoidal and bespeckled Lisa Loopner gushes at her nerdy beau played by Bill Murray, in a spray of orthodontics-induced saliva. Unforgettable: Dan Ackroyd aka the refrigerator repairman (he of the ever-present tushie crack) paying a visit to Lisa’s kitchen … imagine if you dare the mincemeat the duo makes of him. Thank Heavens for reruns and Youtube.

Yes, her whole reason d’etre was to make us laugh, not send us to the doctor’s office for a blood test.

But in a strange twist of destiny, since she left us in 1989 Gilda, who would have turned 66 this week, has seen her name tied to a distinctly unfunny cause: Raising awareness and finding a cure to hereditary cancers.

In the years since, doctors have begun to flag the records of women with a family pattern of breast and/or ovarian cancer and recommend testing. Did you know that women of Ashkenazi descent are as much as 40 percent more likely than other folks to test positive for BRCA-1 or BRCA-2, genetic anomalies few people had ever heard of even a decade ago? Today these are terms –– and harsh realities––that many Jewish families wrestle with.

Including my own.

But these ticking genetic time bombs do more than keep us up at night. Increasingly more women are making the tough decisions to go for prophylactic mastectomies and ooforectomies (ovary removal). For young women, these preventative measures can come at a high cost: never being able to breastfeed their babies or, in some cases, never having those babies in the first place.

It’s our friend whose name continues to remind us of the lives that can be saved. The Gilda Radner Hereditary Cancer Program out of Cedars-Sinai and the Gilda Radner Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry out of the Roswell Park Institute are in business to put such genetic curses at BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 out of business. And Gilda Radner Syndrome is now a term that tells listeners you’re talking about genetic breast-ovarian cancer risk.

This way-serious use of her name must be no small source of heavenly humor to the angel who’s flitting around up there, her halo a bit askew.

But Gilda we have learned wasn’t only funny. She was above all very, very wise. Twenty-three years after she left us, Gilda wants us not only to laugh, but also to live.  

For more, check out how Gilda taught one young blogger how to love her nose, her feature in This Week In History, and her spotlight in Jewish Women In Comedy as part of the JWA's film Making Trouble. Lastly, to perk up your day go here for some excellent Gilda video clips.


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This lilting blog was really an extension of Gilda. It reawakened old memories of her characters, each crafted to bring us humor and understanding. This blog jogged those sweet memories for a mom whose 2 daughters succumbed to Bracha1 but with the same courage and good nature that Gilda personified. Thanks, JWA!

Gilda herself would have been proud of this piece, which fuses the sadness and joy/humor that her name evokes so very eloquently

Wow! A stunning and emotional portrayal of a beautiful soul. May she be a role model to all of us Jewish ladies!

Gilda Radner's Hollywood Star
Full image
Gilda Radner's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Courtesy of Meredith P/Flickr.
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How to cite this page

Raub, Deborah Fineblum. "Happy Birthday, Gilda: She wants us to laugh...and live!." 2 July 2012. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 23, 2019) <>.


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