Lunch with Lainie

When I first moved to California in the late 1970s, I worked briefly for a screenwriter who had an office next door to Lainie’s office, so we first “met” back then. Several years later, when I was publicist for Joe Williams, our paths crossed again — though perhaps not in person — when Joe worked in Lainie’s Room and Lainie’s Room East, night spots in the Playboy Clubs in Los Angeles and New York, respectively. During those early publicity years I was also friends with another publicist who was a good friend of Lainie’s and talked about her a lot – still no person-to-person meetings. So here we are, twenty-five-plus years later, having a bite to eat and chatting away like old friends

Lainie Kazan is a multi-award winner in film, television and on stage, but she exhibits none of the kiss-kiss Hollywood bs. She’s warm, funny, and down to earth. It has been written (here) that she “began her career as Barbra Streisand’s understudy in the Broadway production of Funny Girl and soon thereafter became the “chanteuse” of her native New York, appearing in nightclubs and as a guest on virtually every top variety and talk show on television.” But she actually had two shows under her belt before Funny Girl. First she played Theodora in The Happiest Girl in the World at the Martin Beck Theatre (4/3/1961 – 6/24/1961), and almost a year later she appeared at the Broadhurst Theatre as La Contessa in Bravo Giovanni (5/19/1962 – 9/15/1962), which is where she first met Luther Henderson. Luther was the dance arranger collaborating with choreographer Carol Haney. I haven’t researched this yet, but I suspect that when Haney was hired to do Funny Girl (her credit for that show reads “Musical Staging by Carol Haney”) it was she who suggested (or perhaps insisted) on hiring Luther to do the dance arrangements.

For those of you under a certain age, you may remember Lainie better from the 1982 movie My Favorite Year starring Peter O’Toole who played a bad-boy movie star (the story was loosly based on Errol Flynn’s appearance on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows). And if you’re too young to remember that, think Toula’s mom from the romantic comedy movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Or if you’re a tv buff, you may have seen Lainie on lots of programs including Will & Grace, Touched by an Angel, Veronica’s Closet, and The Nanny (she played the recurring role of Aunt Frieda).

I’ve been having a blast interviewing all kinds of people who worked with Luther in one capacity or another. So far everyone has been really nice, and each and every person seems to have adored Luther. Next I’m looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with Ken Page, one of the original actors in the Broadway musical Ain’t Misbehavin’. I’ll tell you more about Ken next week.