Three Dollar Bill: Big Barda

Big Barda

Kazan inspired Jack Kirby's Big Barda

Broadway legend Lainie Kazan is a brassy broad but she says she really ain’t. Then Lainie, who chews up the scenery in the new Hollywood comedy Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay!, tells me, "At first I thought people would be offended by the title [of the movie], so I wanted [the director] to change it to ‘Oh Fuck! My Son’s a Shmuck!’"

Ladies and gentlemen, Lainie Kazan.

Most young people know Kazan as the in-your-face mom in the classic comedy My Favourite Year with Peter O’Toole, or the mom in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, or Bette Midler’s mom in Beaches, and now the mom of a Jewish gay son in Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay!

But Broadway audiences first fell head over heels for Lainie back in 1964 when she was the understudy for Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl at NYC’s Winter Garden Theatre. Fifteen months passed before Lainie, now 69, got her first real shot at the big time and she remembers it like it happened yesterday.

"I knew Streisand had strep throat and so the next morning I got the call," says Kazan, who in turn called every friend and showbiz connection she knew. "So I went to rehearsal, got dressed for the performance, and I was in the wings ready to go on when Barbra walked into the house and did the show. The headline in one paper was, ‘It ain’t funny, girl.’ I was devastated."

Kazan continues, "When I went to the theatre [the next morning], they told me, ‘You’re going on today but you can’t call anyone.’"

Bottom line, the producers were worried about ticket sales. No Streisand, no sell-out.

"But I asked if I could make one call," Kazan says. "So I called my mom who had a duplicate list [of press and showbiz connections]!" says Lainie. "In the wings that night I knew I was okay. I was young. And I’ll never forget stepping out onto that dark stage with the work light and I looked out at the audience and went up to sing my first song and the people were leaving. But when I started singing, they started coming back."

Overnight Kazan literally became the toast of New York.

She appeared in nightclubs coast to coast, guested on The Dean Martin Show 26 times ("We went out – but not drinking") and opened her Lainie’s Room and Lainie’s Room East at the Los Angeles and New York Playboy Clubs.

"The Playboy clubs were a great place to hone my craft and give my musicians steady jobs," says Lainie. "I put their L.A. club in the black in six months. Then I opened the New York club. In Chicago they called me the singing tycoon!"

Ask Kazan to recount any of her hundreds of anecdotes. "One night my bass player and lead singer quit on me, so I went on stage myself!"

She also stripped for a 1970 Playboy spread. "Upset mothers marched on the streets of Las Vegas – Vegas!"

Drag queens loved Lainie because she was such a hoot to impersonate. And Kazan’s favourite drag queen was Ron Alford – a.k.a. Cherie – in Dallas. "He did his show for me once and, oh my God, it was a little too much of me!"

The Tony nominee loves her gay fans right back too: Lainie serves on the board of AIDS Project LA and produced and starred with Bette Midler, Madeline Kahn, Patti LuPone, Elaine Stritch and Andrea Martin in Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly, the Broadway tribute to Ethel Merman and big-ticket benefit for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

Her gay fans are also why Kazan agreed to co-star in director Evgeny Afineevsky’s fab feature film Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay! alongside Montreal native Saul Rubinek, Carmen Electra, Bruce Vilanch, Jai Rodriguez (I sat directly in front of him at the film’s world premiere at the Montreal World Film Festival in August!), Tony award-winner John Lloyd Young and Vincent Pastore of The Sopranos.

With that WFF screening, Oy Vey! – basically a Jewish Mambo Italiano – became an instant camp classic.

"I hope the film will help break down barriers in America," Lainie sighs.

"I [also] think I have a huge gay fan base because for so long gay people suppressed their own feelings and identities," Lainie says. "And me being so bold, I’m not afraid to show mine."

ooo

Essential buttplugs Oy Vey! director Evgeny Afineevsky – who sat on the float jury with me at Montreal’s Pride parade last summer – is attending the Oct. 22 Hollywood premiere of Oy Vey! before he jets to Montreal to attend the film’s Oct. 25 screening at the Imperial Theatre at the Image+Nation film festival.

Also, meet Newfoundland documentary filmmaker Gerry Rogers (My Left Breast) at the Image+Nation screening of her latest award-winning doc, Ferron: Girl on a Road, about lesbian icon singer/songwriter Ferron, Oct. 25 at the Goethe Institute.

For all film fest info, surf to www.image-nation.org.

By the bye, did you know Ferron’s song Girl on a Road is one of PM Stephen Harper’s Top 10 road trip songs? Oy vey!

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