Pixie-like in both frame and voice, Oscar-nominated actress Carol Kane's offbeat turns in films like "Hester Street" (1975), "Annie Hall" (1977), "Addams Family Values" (1993) and the series "Taxi" (ABC/NBC, 1978-1983) made her an endearing go-to actress for quirky parts in film and on television. Though her helium-high voice and talent for accents made her a natural for comedy - most notably as Andy Kaufman's equally unintelligible wife on "Taxi," which earned her two Emmys - she could be an intense presence in dramas like "Carnal Knowledge" (1970), "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975) and "Trees Lounge" (1996). Still, it was the roles with a tinge of fantasy, like her Madame Morrible in the musical "Wicked," that had the most resonance for audiences, and she happily obliged in a wide variety of projects that made use of her unique talents.
Born Carolyn Lynn Kane on June 18, 1952, she traveled extensively throughout her childhood due to her father, Michael, who was an architect who worked for the World Bank. After jaunts to Africa, the Caribbean and Europe, the Kanes settled in New York, where their daughter announced her intention to become an actress. Mother Joy had some experience in this arena, having been a jazz singer, dancer and pianist, and enrolled Kane in the Professional Children's School of Manhattan. By the time she was 14, she was already a professional performer thanks to her stage debut in a production of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" with Tammy Grimes.
She became a regular on stage throughout her teenage years, appearing opposite her future "Taxi" co-star Christopher Lloyd in "Macbeth" and Joseph Papp's 1974 production of "The Tempest" with Christopher Walken and Sam Waterston. At 19, she made her feature debut in Mike Nichols' "Carnal Knowledge" (1970) as a hippie girlfriend cast aside by Art Garfunkel. The role set the tone for many of her subsequent appearances - she was a teenaged girl married off to her abusive father's drunken friend in "Wedding in White" (1972) and a terrified bank teller in Sidney Lumet's "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975) - but she was equally skilled at playing characters with grit; most notably in her Oscar-nominated role in "Hester Street" as Gitl, a young Jewish émigré who overcomes both her husband's infidelity and the challenges of surviving in turn-of-the-century New York. Kane's knack for accents and foreign languages was established with this film, which required her to speak much of her dialogue in Yiddish.
The award quickly elevated Kane to major features, but she seemed to prefer character roles with an edge, such as Alvy Singer's politically inclined girlfriend in "Annie Hall" (1977) or the deranged artist obsessed with apes, death and her own sister in the bizarre "Mafu Cage" (1978). There were also parts that played to her offbeat, ethereal allure, like the unfulfilled wife in "Norman Loves Rose" (1982) and a terrific performance as a babysitter terrified by phone calls from a psychopath in "When a Stranger Calls' (1979). For the most part, she strayed from the typical Hollywood material; TV made excellent use of her theatrical training in literary adaptations like "The Girls in Their Summer Dresses and Other Stories by Irwin Shaw" (PBS, 1981) or "The Greatest Man in the World" (PBS, 1980), based on the story by James Thurber.
Her greatest exposure during the early 1980s was on "Taxi" as Simka Dahblitz, wife and protector of Andy Kaufman's simple immigrant, Latka. Kane's skill with accents was a key component of her performance, as it allowed her to not only approximate Kaufman's baffling, semi-European voice, but also produce a stream of babble in their "native tongue" as complex and nonsensical as Kaufman's. However, the role was more than simply the voice; she brought a sweetness that balanced Kaufman's alien portrayal, and a genuine grit in scenes where she was required to stand up to Danny DeVito's heel of a dispatcher, Louie De Palma. Kane won two Emmys for her performance on the series, and received a Golden Globe nomination as well. In 1999, she played herself and Simka in the Kaufman biopic, "Man on the Moon."
The success of her turn as Simka meant that Kane was a go-to for eccentric roles for much of her career in the 1980s and beyond; among her more memorable turns in this regard was as the decrepit wife of Billy Crystal's schticky magician, Miracle Max, in "The Princess Bride" (1986), the pregnant, mashed potato-devouring mother of Corey Haim in "License to Drive" (1988), a Ghost of Christmas Past who delights in physically abusing Bill Murray's heartless TV exec in "Scrooged" (1988), and the crone-like Grandmama Addams in "Addams Family Values" (1991). No less than five sitcoms tried to capitalize on her Emmy wins by casting her as comic foils, including "All is Forgiven" (NBC, 1996) and "Pearl" (CBS, 1996-1997), with Rhea Perlman. Between these assignments was a wealth of supporting turns in features and TV movies, some exceptional - "Trees Lounge" (1996), "Office Killer" (1997) - and some that simply marked time, like "My Blue Heaven" (1990) and "Big Bully" (1996).
In 2005, Kane won a new legion of fans by playing the Machiavellian Madame Morrible in the Tony-winning musical "Wicked." The headmistress of Crage Hall in the production's fictional Shiz University, Morrible's machinations were in part responsible for the rebellion of Elphaba, later known as the Wicked Witch of the West. Kane played the role on the show's first national tour before reprising it on several occasions, most notably for the 2006 Broadway run and productions in Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2007 and 2009, which made her the record holder for most performances in that particular role.
While maintaining a steady career in TV guest roles, Kane appeared in the Vin Diesel comedy "The Pacifier" (2005), the Jennifer Aniston romantic action comedy "The Bounty Hunter" (2010), and Mike Birbiglia's autobiographical romantic comedy "Sleepwalk With Me" (2012). Returning to steady TV work, Kane had a recurring role on the Batman origin story "Gotham" (Fox 2014- ) and co-starring in the Tina Fey comedy "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" (Netflix 2015- ) as a no-nonsense landlady.
Cast (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Professional theatre debut in the off-Broadway and national touring company productions of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie"
Film debut, "Carnal Knowledge"
Broadway debut, "Ring 'round the Bath Tub"
First starring film role, "Hester Street"; received a Best Actress Oscar nomination
Cast in "Dog Day Afternoon," based on the true story of Sonny Wortzik(Al Pacino) who robbed a bank in the summer of 1972
Co-starred with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in the comedy "Annie Hall," also written and directed by Allen
Began recurring guest-starring role as Simka Gravis on hit TV sitcom, "Taxi"; won Emmy for the part
Cast as regular on the NBC sitcom "All Is Forgiven"
Cast in the Comedy "Jumping Jack Flash," which starred Whoppi Goldberg
Cast as the Ghost of Christmas Present, opposite Bill Murry in "Scrooged"
Starred as Lilian Abernathy on TV sitcom, "American Dreamer"
Began recurring guest-starring role as Sylvia on the acclaimed TV drama, "Brooklyn Bridge"
Cast as Grandma in "Addams Family Values"
Provided character voice for animated series "Aladdin"
Returned to series TV co-starring in the CBS sitcom "Pearl"
Had featured role in the Showtime series "Beggars and Choosers"
Made cameo appearance in the film "Jawbreaker" playing a school guidance counselor
Had supporting role in romantic comedy "The Shrink Is In" starring Courteney Cox and David Arquette
Landed role in FOX comedy series "The Grubbs"
Cast in the teen comedy "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen"
Cast as Madame Morrible in the stage production of the Tony awarding winning musical "Wicked" at the Pantages theatre in Hollywood
Played recurring role of Gertrude Kapelput, Penguin's mother, in Fox's Batman spinoff, "Gotham"
Co-starred in Netflix series "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"