‘Love, Gilda’ captures the genius of Gilda Radner

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“Love, Gilda,” a documentary about comedian Gilda Radner, returns to the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center this weekend. The film was part of the fourth annual Documentary Week during the end of July.

Radner is best known for her “Saturday Night Live” performances, where she wrote comedy sketches and played a host of characters, including Baba Wawa, a parody of broadcast journalist and TV personality Barbara Walters. After Radner’s death in 1989, Walters said Radner was the first to poke fun at news anchors.

Radner made her acting debut in a 1972 production of “Godspell,” then joined Toronto’s Second City comedy troupe. From there, she joined the “National Lampoon Radio Hour,” along with John Belushi, Chevy Chase, and Bill Murray. In 1975, she became the first performer cast for “Saturday Night Live.” She co-wrote much of the material she performed, in addition to creating characters like Emily Litella, a half-deaf misinformed editorialist on “Weekend Update.” She did parodies of Lucille Ball, Patti Smith, and Olga Korbut. She won an Emmy award in 1978 for her appearances on “Saturday Night Live.”

When she was a child, Radner’s mother chided her for being overweight, and she suffered from bulimia as an adult. She chose not to host a variety show offered by NBC president Fred Silverman, but instead appeared on Broadway in th successful one-woman show “Gilda Radner — Live from New York” in 1979. Director Mike Nichols filmed the show, and made it into a movie and soundtrack album. Neither was successful.

Radner’s second marriage was to Gene Wilder, and it lasted until her death from ovarian cancer in 1989. She starred with him a series of films, including “Hanky Panky,” “The Woman in Red,” and “Haunted Honeymoon.” After going into remission, she wrote “It’s Always Something,” a memoir in which she shared details of her struggle with cancer. Radner’s cancer psychotherapist, Joanna Bull, started a group of clubhouses called Gilda’s Club for people living with cancer. They are still active around the country.

The film uses audiotapes, diary entries, and home movies to illustrate Radner’s life. She had a close relationship with her father, and she was devastated by his death. Her legacy as a performer is exemplified by the many comedians who call her their inspiration. The film pays tribute to her and her many comic performances.

For more information and tickets for “Love, Gilda,” and other Film Center, Strand, and Capawock films, visit mvfilmsociety.com.