Madeline Kahn

Madeline Kahn


Also Known As
Madeleine Kahn
Birth Place
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
September 29, 1942
December 03, 1999
Cause of Death
Ovarian Cancer


A much-loved comic presence in film and on stage, Madeline Kahn was an Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning actress whose unbridled turns in "Paper Moon" (1973), "Blazing Saddles" (1974) and "Young Frankenstein" (1975) made her a favorite of critics and audiences alike for three decades. She sprang from the Broadway stage to movies in the early 1970s, and quickly established herself with her...

Family & Companions

John Hansbury
Attorney. Born in 1950; together since c. 1989; married on October 10, 1999.


A much-loved comic presence in film and on stage, Madeline Kahn was an Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning actress whose unbridled turns in "Paper Moon" (1973), "Blazing Saddles" (1974) and "Young Frankenstein" (1975) made her a favorite of critics and audiences alike for three decades. She sprang from the Broadway stage to movies in the early 1970s, and quickly established herself with her combination of dizzy comedy and earthy sexiness, exemplified by her marble-mouthed vixen Lili Von Shtupp in "Blazing Saddles." Kahn struggled to maintain her box office status in the 1980s, but found greater success on stage, winning a Tony award for "The Sisters Rosensweig" in 1993. Her death from ovarian cancer in 1999 robbed the entertainment community of one of its most talented and appreciated members.

Born Madeline Gail Wolfson in Boston, MA on Sept. 29, 1942, her parents were Bernard Wolfson, a garment manufacturer, and Paula Kahn, an aspiring actress. The pair were high school sweethearts, and their daughter was born when Paula was only 17. Wolfson left his family shortly after his return from World War II, and Paula Kahn took her daughter to New York, where she pursued her career. Kahn was sent to a boarding school in Pennsylvania, where she developed her own interest in performing. She was soon sent to Martin Van Buren High School in Queens, NY, where she earned a drama scholarship to Hofstra University. There, she continued to act while exploring a number of majors. Warned by an over-zealous professor that her childlike voice would be a hindrance for a professional acting career, she graduated in 1964 with a degree in speech therapy.

She began auditioning for stage roles shortly after leaving Hofstra, and after taking the stage name of Madeline Kahn, she made her debut as a member of the chorus in a revival of "Kiss Me, Kate." However, success eluded her for the next few years; she was written out of "How Now, Dow Jones" and "Promises, Promises" before either show reached Broadway. Undaunted, she was cast in "New Faces of 1968," which became her big break. Buoyed by the positive reviews for her performance, she soon graduated to other stage work, including a special performance of the operetta "Candide" and the off-Broadway revue "Promenade." On stage, she impressed audiences with her comic timing and stunning vocal range, as evidenced in "The Golden Ram," a deliberately silly number from the 1970 musical "Two By Two" which concluded with a jaw-dropping high C note. Despite her on-stage persona, Kahn was reportedly a very shy person, and kept her personal life out of the limelight.

Kahn made her film debut in "De Duve" ("The Dove") (1968), a hilarious parody of director Ingmar Bergman's cerebral dramas that earned an Oscar nomination for Best Short Subject. In 1972, she co-starred in "What's Up, Doc," as Ryan O'Neal's high-strung fiancée, which launched her film career in earnest. She re-teamed with O'Neal for 1973's "Paper Moon," which cast her as a stripper who tags along with O'Neal's grifter and his preternaturally wise daughter (Tatum O'Neal). Her turn, marked by equal parts silliness and sexiness, earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress and set the tone for future film appearances, which found her gleefully subverting her natural comeliness, which one writer described as a Botticelli angel with a malicious grin.

Director Mel Brooks was perhaps the most skilled at exploiting the dichotomy in Kahn's performances; he created the characters that allowed Kahn to stretch the farthest in terms of zaniness. Their first effort together, the outrageous Western parody "Blazing Saddles" (1974), earned her a second Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe nod as saloon singer Lili Von Shtupp, a Dietrich-esque seductress with an impenetrable German accent. Prior to its production, she was cast as Agnes Gooch in the 1974 film version of "Mame" with Lucille Ball, and reportedly left the project or was fired from it in order to appear in "Saddles." Whatever the case, it was a cagey move, as it led to a string of appearances for Brooks that became Kahn's most memorable film roles.

She landed another Golden Globe nomination as Gene Wilder's uptight fiancée in "Young Frankenstein" (1975), who finds fulfillment via his Monster (Peter Boyle), before playing a Kim Novak-esque mystery woman in "High Society" (1977), Brooks' tribute to and parody of Alfred Hitchcock's films. Their final collaboration together was the broad farce "History of the World Part 1" (1981), which cast her as the voracious Empress Nympho. Between projects for Brooks, she played similar roles in films by his frequent collaborator, Gene Wilder, like "Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother" (1975), which made excellent use of her singing voice as an inspiring opera singer, and Neil Simon, who cast her as a femme fatale in his amusing noir parody, "The Cheap Detective" (1978). During this period, Kahn also remained active on stage, landing Tony nominations for David Rabe's "In the Boom Boom Room" in 1973 and "On the Twentieth Century" in 1978. Her stint in the latter show was short-lived; she reportedly left due to damage to her vocal chords, which in turn launched the theater career of her understudy, Judy Kaye.

Kahn found it difficult to find good material for her 1980s-era film roles. Her projects during this period were largely miserable flops, including a ghastly adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's "Slapstick (Of Another Kind)" (1982) with Jerry Lewis and the troubled comedy "Yellowbeard" (1983). Her attempt at a sitcom, "Oh Madeline" (ABC, 1983-84), with Kahn as a bored housewife whose attempts to spice up her life led to frequent slapstick moments, brought another Golden Globe nomination, but disappeared from the airwaves after only one season. A similar fate befell "Mr. President" (Fox, 1987-88), which cast her as the sister of George C. Scott's Commander in Chief, who assumes First Lady status after his wife departs the White House. More successful was a 1987 appearance on an "ABC Afterschool Special" (ABC, 1972-2005) as a lonely mom whose son (Ben Affleck) submits a personal ad in an attempt to find her the perfect mate.

Kahn scored a personal triumph with her performance in the Broadway production of Wendy Wasserstein's "The Sisters Rosensweig" (1993). Her performance as the affluent Gorgeous Rosensweig swept the New York theatrical awards, including the Tonys, Outer Circle Awards and Drama Desk Awards. She later enjoyed a bit part in Oliver Stone's sprawling biopic "Nixon" (1995) as Martha Mitchell, the brittle wife of U.S Attorney General John Mitchell, and was featured alongside Kelsey Grammer, Michael Richards, Patricia Clarkson and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the Neil Simon-penned comedy "London Suite" (NBC, 1996). Kahn was also a regular on "Cosby" (CBS, 1996-2000) as the neighbor to Bill Cosby's grumpy retiree.

After lending her unmistakable voice to a variety of animated projects, most notably the Pixar feature "A Bug's Life" (1999), she made her final film appearance in the indie drama "Judy Berlin" (1999) as the eccentric wife of a small town principal. But that same year, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Despite treatment, the disease progressed rapidly, and on Dec. 3, 1999, Kahn died at the age of 57. Much like fellow comedienne Gilda Radner who was struck down by the same disease, Kahn's loss was felt deeply by both the members and fans of film, stage and television comedy.



Cast (Feature Film)

Judy Berlin (1999)
A Bug's Life (1998)
Ivana Trump's For Love Alone (1996)
Neil Simon's "London Suite" (1996)
Nixon (1995)
Mixed Nuts (1994)
For Richer, For Poorer (1992)
Betsy's Wedding (1990)
My Little Pony (1986)
An American Tail (1986)
Clue (1985)
City Heat (1984)
Slapstick Of Another Kind (1984)
Yellowbeard (1983)
History of the World Part I (1981)
First Family (1980)
Happy Birthday, Gemini (1980)
Simon (1980)
Wholly Moses! (1980)
The Muppet Movie (1979)
The Cheap Detective (1978)
High Anxiety (1977)
Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976)
The Adventure Of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975)
At Long Last Love (1975)
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Young Frankenstein (1974)
From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1973)
Harvey (1972)

Music (Feature Film)

Slapstick Of Another Kind (1984)
Song Performer

Cast (Special)

Intimate Portrait: Phylicia Rashad (1998)
Night of About 14 CBS Stars (1996)
The 48th Annual Tony Awards (1994)
The 47th Annual Tony Awards (1993)
Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall (1993)
Saturday Night Live's Presidential Bash (1992)
Lovelaughs (1991)
Carnegie Hall at 100: A Place of Dreams (1991)
The 3rd Annual American Comedy Awards (1989)
Irving Berlin's 100th Birthday Celebration (1988)
The 2nd Annual American Comedy Awards (1988)
Sesame Street, Special (1988)
Celebrating Gershwin (1987)
Chameleon (1986)
Wanted: The Perfect Guy (1986)
Klein Time (1977)
The George Burns Special (1976)

Music (Special)

Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall (1993)
Song Performer
Irving Berlin's 100th Birthday Celebration (1988)
Song Performer

Cast (Short)

The Dove (1968)

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

The Magic 7 (2004)

Life Events


Briefly worked as a schoolteacher


Professional stage debut as a chorus member in a revival of "Kiss Me, Kate"


Film debut in a short, an Ingmar Bergman spoof, "The Dove"


Broadway debut, "New Faces of '68"


Had featured role as one of Noah's daughters-in-law in "Two by Two", starring Danny Kaye


Was a regular performer on the summer variety series "Comedy Tonight" (CBS)


First TV-movie, "Harvey" (NBC)


Feature film debut, "What's Up, Doc?"; played Ryan O'Neal's fiancee and nearly stole the film; first film for Peter Bogdanovich


Earned first Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination as Trixie Delight in "Paper Moon", starring O'Neal and directed by Bogdanovich


Starred as a go-go dancer in David Rabe's play "Boom Boom Room"; earned Tony nomination for the role


Appeared in two Mel Brooks comedy films: as Lili Von Shtupp, a takeoff of Marlene Dietrich, in "Blazing Saddles" and as the title character's fiance in "Young Frankenstein"; received a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination for the former; both films featured Gene Wilder


Co-starred in "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother", helmed by Gene Wilder


Reteamed with Bogdanovich for the ill-fated musical "At Long Last Love"


Returned to Brooks' company of actors for his Hitchcock spoof "High Anxiety"


Was featured in the all-star spoof of films noir "The Cheap Detective", scripted by Neil Simon


Starred opposite John Cullum in the stage musical "On the Twentieth Century"; reportedly fired from production after a few months; received a Tony Award nomination


Once again appeared with Brooks in "The History of the World Part I"


Starred in the short-lived sitcom "Oh Madeline" (ABC)


Began voice work in animated films with "My Little Pony" and "An American Tail"


Replaced Carlin Glinn as the female lead of the Fox sitcom "Mr. President", starring George C Scott


Starred opposite Edward Asner in the Broadway revival of "Born Yesterday"; received a Tony nomination


Co-starred in Alan Alda's "Betsey's Wedding"


Won acclaim for her stage performance as Gorgeous in Wendy Wasserstein's "The Sisters Rosensweig"; received Tony Award


Appeared in Woody Allen's "Shadows and Fog"


Nearly stole the show by performing the patter song "Not Getting Married Today" (from "Company") at "Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall"; performance preserved on a recording and the videotape which aired on PBS' "Great Performances"


Cast as Martha Mitchell in Oliver Stone's "Nixon"


Appeared as the Mayor Cora Hoover Hooper in a special one-performance only production of the Arthur Laurents-Stephen Sondheim musical "Anyone an Whistle"; co-starred with Scott Bakula and Bernadette Peters; show was recorded and released on CD


Played a gossip reporter in the short-lived CBS series "New York News"


Provided the voice of Gypsy in the computer animated "A Bug's Life"


Final screen appearance as a Long Island housewife in "Judy Berlin"


Announced in November that for the past year she had been underoing treatment for ovarian cancer


Movie Clip

Simon (1980) -- (Movie Clip) Epstein, Rats And Chickens Austin Pendleton as Becker leads the team at the comical “Institute For Advanced Concepts” in flattering professor Alan Arkin (title character) into believing he’s being brought on as a colleague, rather than a test subject, introducing Madeline Kahn as Dr. Mallory with a powerful pitch, in writer-director Marshall Brickman’s Simon, 1980.
Simon (1980) -- (Movie Clip) Did You Get The Fluids? Madeline Kahn as scheming Dr. Malllory, with her colleagues at the unglued “Institute For Advanced Concepts” (William Finley, Austin Pendleton, and Wallace Shawn as Eric Van Dongen) confirms she’s collected bodily fluids from Alan Arkin, the unwitting title character, the professor they’re planning to brainwash, who believes he’s conducting his own research, with a sensory deprivation tank, in Marshall Brickman’s Simon, 1980.
Simon (1980) -- (Movie Clip) Institute For Advanced Concepts Opening narration by James Dukas harkens Sleeper, 1973, which writer-director Marshall Brickman wrote with Woody Allen, and introduces Max Wright as Hundertwasser, Wallace Shawn as Van Dongen, Jayant as Barundi, William Finley as Fichlander and Austin Pendleton as the boss Becker, in Simon, 1980, starring Alan Arkin.
Simon (1980) -- (Movie Clip) Massive Anxiety Ensues Neurotic psychology professor Alan Arkin (title character) is explaining to girlfriend Lisa (Judy Graubart from The Electric Company!) about his freelance sensory-deprivation experiment, with help from student Josh (Keith Szarabajka), in writer-director Marshall Brickman’s Simon, 1980.
What's Up, Doc? (1972) -- (Movie Clip) I Don't Think Of You As A Woman In San Francisco for the musicology convention, Howard (Ryan O’Neal) from Iowa prepares with his fianceè Eunice (Madeline Kahn) to meet the philanthropist offering a big research grant, Peter Bogdanovich directing from the screenplay by Buck Henry, David Newman and Robert Benton, in What’s Up, Doc?, 1972, starring Barbra Streisand.
Young Frankenstein (1974) -- (Movie Clip) Give Me A Hand With The Bags Showing up for just her second scene almost 90 minutes into the feature, Madeline Kahn as American fiancè Elizabeth appears still to have Frederick (co-writer and title character Gene Wilder) under her thumb, his Transylvanian aides (Terri Garr as Inga, Marty Feldman as Igor) keeping up in their own way, in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, 1974.
Young Frankenstein (1974) -- (Movie Clip) Not On The Lips! Entirely without introduction, seeing off professor Frederick (Gene Wilder, title character and co-writer with director Mel Brooks), headed to Transylvania to claim his inheritance, at a steamy American train station, Madeline Kahn as fiancè Elizabeth, who has a couple hangups, in the celebrated satire Young Frankenstein, 1974.
What's Up, Doc? (1972) -- (Movie Clip) We've Almost Got That Stammer Cured Already detained by rival Simon (Kenneth Mars), panicked musicologist Howard (Ryan O’Neal) meets Larrabee (Austin Pendleton), provider of the grant for-which they’re competing then, aided by Randy Quaid, finds mischievous Judy (Barbra Streisand) impersonating his fianceè, in What’s Up Doc, 1972.
High Anxiety (1977) -- (Movie Clip) Dedicated To The Master Writer, director and star Mel Brooks establishes from the start that his film is meant as a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, then gets busy on the airplane, then accosted after landing at LAX by a guy in a trenchcoat (Bob Ridgely), in High Anxiety, 1977.
High Anxiety (1977) -- (Movie Clip) You're The Cocker's Daughter? Preparing to address the psychiatric association, afflicted Dr. Thorndyke (writer-director Mel Brooks) is interrupted by the first appearance of Madeline Kahn as Victoria Brisbane, daughter of a wealthy patient, in Brooks' Hitchcock send-up, High Anxiety, 1977.
What's Up, Doc? -- (1972) -- (Original Trailer) Director Peter Bogdanovich joins stars Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neal for this full-on tongue in cheek trailer for the 1972 comedy hit What's Up, Doc?, also the feature debut of Madeline Kahn.
What's Up, Doc? (1972) -- (Movie Clip) There Was A Plaid Overnight Case Opening with the storybook from the screenplay by Buck Henry, Robert Benton and David Newman, we meet Michael Murphy, followed by Phil Roth, then Ryan O’Neal and Madeline Kahn at San Francisco International, then Barbra Streisand, apparently by happenstance, in Peter Bodganovich’s hit rom-com, What’s Up, Doc?, 1972.



Jeffrey Kahn
Survived her.


John Hansbury
Attorney. Born in 1950; together since c. 1989; married on October 10, 1999.