May 7, 2015
Madeline Kahn Bio Reveals A
Reserved And Brilliant Actress
By DOUGLASS K. DANIEL
``Madeline Kahn: Being the Music, A Life’’ (University Press of Mississippi), by William V. Madison
She was delightful in ``Paper Moon’’ and ``Blazing Saddles,’’ then uproarious as the monster’s tuneful bride in ``Young Frankenstein.’’ Yet Madeline Kahn often didn’t seem to appreciate her comedic talent, even though it kept her close to the hearts of audiences for three decades.
That’s just one of the many sad notes that arise from William V. Madison’s well-researched and insightful biography of Kahn, once hailed by New York Times critic Vincent Canby as possibly the funniest woman in films. Imagine getting such an accolade if being funny isn’t really your goal.
Performing wasn’t Kahn’s idea of a career anyway, at least not in the beginning. Boston-born and raised in New York City, she discovered theater at the boarding school where her self-centered mother had all but dumped her to pursue her own theatrical ambitions. The stage became little Madeline’s means of self-expression, but her mother pushed voice and music lessons.
Paula Kahn was a manipulative force throughout Madeline’s life. She drove away her daughter’s birth father and later her adoptive father, then relied on Madeline for money.
Gene Wilder & Madeline Kahn in Young Frankenstein
Her daughter the star seldom said no, even when Paula included bills with a birthday card or expected Madeline to finance a one-woman show to display Paula’s talents, such as they were.
Madison connects Kahn’s insecure childhood to her grown-up insecurities onstage and off. ``As an adult, Madeline was often wary of people, and not just in the expected way of a star concerned that others will try to exploit her celebrity,’’ he writes. ``Even with close friends, she could remain guarded, and her romantic relationships were marked by varying degrees of mistrust. She balked at the idea of marriage, almost to the end of her days.’’
Kahn planned to go into teaching. Encouraged by her high school drama teacher, she performed a dramatic monologue as part of an audition for a drama scholarship at Hofstra College. But it was her second monologue, a comic one, that drew a response—laughter— from the professors sitting in the darkened theater.
Her voice had the range for opera, Madison writes, but even with more training it lacked the muscle needed to project in an opera house. Working in stage musicals and at the New York cabaret Upstairs at the Downstairs, Kahn drew positive reviews for sketch work and humorous songs.
She had the good fortune in the early 1970s to work with two filmmakers at their best. She appeared in Peter Bogdanovich’s ``What’s Up, Doc?’’ (1972) and ``Paper Moon’’ (1973) and in Mel Brooks’ breakout hits, ``Blazing Saddles’’ and ``Young Frankenstein,’’ both in 1974. Nominated for supporting actress Oscars for ``Paper Moon’’ and ``Blazing Saddles,’’ she was pegged as a gifted laugh-getter.
Still, vulgar flourishes before the cameras didn’t come easily to Kahn. Naturally reserved, she was bothered that people assumed she was a bawdy, slightly ditzy woman. Brooks tells Madison, ``Intellectually and mentally, she was probably superior to anyone and everyone she worked with, and actually probably had to hide her brilliance a little.’’
She had more than her share of bad luck professionally. Appearing in the Richard Rodgers’ production ``Two by Two’’ in 1970, she watched its insecure star, Danny Kaye, pare down her role. The 1978 musical ``On the Twentieth Century’’ was a legendary Broadway disaster for her _ she left the show two months into its yearlong run at the request of the producers. Mediocre to bad movies and TV shows threatened to overwhelm her credits even as they provided money for her and her mother.
In Madison’s telling, Kahn was full of anxieties when it came to performing and often lacked confidence in her own abilities. A hard worker who could rise above bland material, she performed steadily through the 1980s and 1990s. Her Tony-winning turn in ``The Sisters Rosensweig’’ in 1993 and the little-seen indie movie ``Judy Berlin’’ in 1999 hinted at what else she could do.
Kahn died of ovarian cancer at 57 in 1999. She never had children and married her longtime boyfriend just two months before her death, thus shielding her actors’ pensions from the tax man. People who like to laugh lost a welcome presence in their lives. They will never know how much more Kahn could have given them if she’d had the chance.
Douglass K. Daniel is the author of ``Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks’’ (University of Wisconsin Press).
Wreck Hunters & State Wrangle
Over Blackbeard’s Treasure
Raleigh, NC (AP) Nearly 300 years after the pirate Blackbeard’s flagship sank off the North Carolina coast, a shipwreck-hunting company and the state are battling over treasure linked to the vessel — but they’re fighting with legal filings, not cutlasses, and the treasure is $14 million in disputed revenue and contract violations.
The Florida-based company, Intersal Inc., found little loot when it discovered the Queen Anne’s Revenge almost 20 years ago, but it eventually gained a contract for rights to photos and videos of the wreck and of the recovery, study and preservation of its historic artifacts.
The state, meanwhile, has created a tourist industry around Blackbeard and his ship since the vessel’s discovery in 1996. That includes exhibits at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort, which attracts about 300,000 visitors a year, according to the Queen Anne’s Revenge website. The artifacts, such as a 2,000-pound cannon, also go on tour to other state museums. The state also posts photos and videos on websites and social media sites.
Intersal says the state is violating the contract by displaying media of artifacts from the ship on websites other than its own without a time code stamp or watermark. In its petition in the state Office of Administrative Hearings, the company seeks $7 million for the alleged misuse and $7 million in lost revenue from the state Department of Cultural Resources.
“The actual ship itself, which is the treasure that remains, is now in contention,” said John Masters, chairman of the board of Intersal. “We found a little bit of treasure — gold dust, silver — but the real treasure is the ship itself.”
Research continues on The Queen Anne’s Revenge
A spokeswoman for the state agency declined to comment. In its response to the petition, the state denies Intersal’s allegations. A spokeswoman for the state attorney general said Tuesday the state plans to file a motion to dismiss the petition on jurisdictional grounds.
When Blackbeard captured the vessel in the fall of 1717 in the Caribbean, it was French slave ship called La Concorde. Blackbeard renamed it the Queen Anne’s Revenge and made it his flagship.
Blackbeard, an Englishman whose real name may have been Edward Teach or Thatch, held onto the ship for only a few months.
He was sailing north from Charleston when it went aground in May 1718 in what’s now called Beaufort Inlet. The pirates likely had time to haul away most of the valuables, nautical archaeologists have said. Five months later, members of the Royal Navy of Virginia killed Blackbeard at Ocracoke Inlet.
This marks the second time in two years that the state and Intersal have been at loggerheads. They reached a 15-year agreement in 1998 but ended up in mediation in 2013 before signing another deal.
Now Intersal and the state must return to mediation by June 29.
“We believe this is an important case for the people of North Carolina for us to win because otherwise, it’s going to have a chilling effect on business in North Carolina,” Masters said.
Masters said his father searched for Blackbeard’s ship for 20 years before finding it. While the state and a shipwreck company might typically split the proceeds of a shipwreck, a different deal was reach for Blackbeard’s vessel, which had little monetary treasure.
Instead, the 1998 contract gave Intersal multiple media rights.
Intersal accepted that agreement as part of an overall deal involving another shipwreck, the El Salvador, which sank in a 1750 hurricane. Treasure is thought to remain with that wreck, which likely is spread across the ocean floor, Masters said.
The company’s petition includes complaints about the permit for searching for the El Salvador.
Intersal contends its business has been harmed by the violations, “some of which harm may be irreparable,” says the petition, filed in April.
In its response, the state said it “categorically denies” the allegations and says that it’s legally obligated to “promote and encourage throughout the state knowledge and appreciation of North Carolina history and heritage” through different methods, including the display and interpretation of historical materials.
Masters said the company believes it has suffered $7 million in damages from images that breach the contract, based on $3,000 per violation. It arrived at that valuation based on the 2013 contract, when Intersal’s designated video company received $15,000 for five violations.
It believes it would have received another $7 million from those images plus revenues related to tours of the artifacts recovered from the ship and other commercial ventures.