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Overview for Lainie Kazan
Lainie Kazan

Lainie Kazan


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Also Known As: Lanie Levine Died:
Born: May 15, 1940 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: Cast ... actor singer nightclub owner


Tall, high-energy nightclub chanteuse and actress who in the 1980s concentrated on a successful feature film and TV acting career. A little bit manic, sometimes sultry, typically frizzy-haired, Kazan received her big break, when, as Barbra Streisand's understudy in the Broadway musical "Funny Girl," she got to go on for one matinee and one evening performance. Her forceful singing and performing style received some notice, and within several years, Kazan had an album, a TV special, and several feature roles to her credit. She wasn't typical leading lady material and her films were largely unworthy of her; "Dayton's Devils" (1968), for instance, was distinguished largely by her rendition of "Sunny." For a number of years, she concentrated on her singing, and in the late 1970s, successfully opened cabarets, Lainie's Room and Lainie's Room East, in Los Angeles and New York, respectively.

In 1980, Kazan began focusing on acting work. College classmate Francis Ford Coppola cast her in his unsuccessful "One from the Heart" (1982), but she had better luck as a classic Jewish mother in "My Favorite Year" (1982), a role she would dynamically reprise a decade later in the Lincoln Center stage musical version. A spirited camp, Kazan had little success with two tries at TV sitcom ("Tough Cookies" 1986, starring Robbie Benson; "Karen's Song" 1987, as Patty Duke's pal) but has done rather well as supportive chum and boisterous earth mother types in films ranging from the misfire Western spoof "Lust in the Dust" (1984) to the female bonding drama "Beaches" (1988), the Chuck Norris actioner "Delta Force" (1987) and the family comedies "Harry and the Hendersons" (1987) and "29th Street" (1991).

Kazan's career continued in that vein throughout the '90s with a succession of B-level movies and the occasional standout role, but in 2002 she appeared in the film that would likely define her late-life acting career, playing Nia Vardalos' food-pushing, marriage-minded, oh-so-traditional Greek mother Maria Portokalos in the unexpected smash hit comedy "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," a role that made the most of her comedic gifts playing pushy, domineering matriarchs who are nonetheless lovable and often wise. Kazan would reprise the role for the brief, troubled CBS sit-com spin-off "My Big Fat Greek Life" (2003) and appeared briefly as Ben Affleck's (you guessed it) mother in "Gigli" (2003).

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