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Madeline Kahn

From Academic Kids

Madeline Kahn (September 29, 1942December 3, 1999) was an American actress of movie, television, and theater.

Kahn was born in Boston, Massachusetts, as Madeline Gail Wolfson. Her mother, Paula, was 17 when Kahn was born. Although Kahn's parents were high-school sweethearts, they divorced when she was 2. After the divorce was finalized, Kahn and her mother moved to New York City. A few years later, her mother remarried and this union gave Kahn two half-siblings (Jeffrey and Robyn). In 1948, Kahn was sent to a progressive boarding school in Pennsylvania and stayed there until 1952. During that time, her mother pursued her ambition as an actress. Ironically, Kahn soon began acting herself and performed in a number of school productions. In 1960, she graduated from the Martin Van Buren High School in Queens, NY where she earned a drama scholarship to Hofstra University. At Hofstra, she studied music, drama, and speech therapy and also performed in several campus productions. After changing her major a number of times, Kahn graduated in 1964 with a degree in speech therapy.

Kahn began auditioning for professional acting roles shortly after her graduation from Hofstra; on the side, she briefly taught public school in Levittown, NY. Just before adopting the professional name of Madeline Kahn (Kahn was her stepfather's last name), she made her stage debut as a chorus girl in a revival of Kiss Me Kate which led her to join the Actors' Equity. In 1968, she earned her first break on Broadway with New Faces of 1968 and then performed her first lead role in the musical Candide. She debuted in the movies that same year with a role in De Düva: The Dove. Her most famous roles followed in the 1970s: she appeared in What's Up, Doc? (1972), Paper Moon (1973), Young Frankenstein (1974), Blazing Saddles (1974), and High Anxiety (1977). The final three films were all directed by Mel Brooks, who many Hollywood observers claimed was able to bring out the best of Kahn's comic talents. For her work in Paper Moon and Blazing Saddles, the young comedienne received nominations for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Kahn's roles were primarily comedic rather than dramatic. After her success in Brooks's films, she played in a number of less successful films in the 1980s. At the end of her career, she returned to the stage and won a Tony Award for her role in The Sisters Rosensweig, a play by Wendy Wasserstein. In the final years of her life, she played a major role on the sitcom Cosby and voiced Gypsy the moth in A Bug's Life, before succumbing to ovarian cancer on December 3, 1999. She was only 57 years old. She is survived by her husband (John Hansbury), mother (Paula Kahn), brother (Jeffrey Kahn), and niece (Eliza Kahn).

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