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Gilda was about so much more than this movie portrays
Like the rest of America in the 1970s and 80s, I loved Gilda Radner. Every Saturday night, there we were glued to our televisions, sometimes past our bed times, to watch SNL. Gilda was the crown jewel amongst precious gems in this wonderful show.
And, like the rest of America, I also agonized with her during her battle with cancer. But there was so much more to Gilda than just that disease. So, when I read that there was to be a movie on ABC about her life, I was undecided about whether to watch or not. I was afraid that this movie, The Gilda Radner Story: It's Always Something, would focus mainly on the end of her life rather than on the Gilda we all knew and loved. And, sadly, it turns out I was right.
While the movie did go through the natural timeline of her childhood, rise to comedic stardom first in Toronto, and arrival in New York and so on, there was always a foreshadowing present in, it seemed, every scene about the cancer that was to finally appear in her thirty-ninth year of life. We saw Gilda smoking, eating red dye number whatever, using saccharine, being bulimic and/or anorexic, drinking alcohol, etc., etc. And, of course, there were extensive references to her family's history of cancer (her father died of a brain tumor, her mother fought, and survived, breast cancer).
I mention it was her thirty-ninth year because she spent less than ten percent of her life being ill, yet it seems that eighty per cent of this movie is about what was to come at the end. I don't think Gilda would have liked that very much. I read her book and, believe me, it was NOT all about carcinogens and disease! True, she did have a difficult time dealing with her father's death when she was only a young girl. True, she did mention many of the things touched on again and again in the movie. But she also told some wonderful stories that were cut from this script! And, aside from the book, I remember many other wonderful Gilda stories.
When Gilda and Gene Wilder married (weren't we all entranced by such a wonderfully funny and loving couple?), they lived in Connecticutt. Before she became ill, I remember that she appeared on a popular late night show. Crazy person that she was, she took her entire neighborhood with her to New York for that appearance and brought them all on stage! Who has ever done such an outrageous thing? Yet that was not documented in the movie. Nor were so many other things that would have given a much truer, and lighter, picture of who Gilda Radner really was. Certainly, there could have been so many more scenes highlighting her life with Wilder, which must have been really wonderful. That was what I'd hoped the movie would be about. I mourned the absence of such scenes not only for myself, but for the benefit of the generation who does NOT remember who Gilda Radner really was.
Gilda was about living, loving, laughing, giving, and so much more. She died of cancer, but she was not about cancer.
Jamie Gertz did a fine job of portraying Gilda Radner. The actor who portrayed Gene Wilder was on the mark. Brilliantly cast, as well, were those who portrayed Bill Murray, Jane Curtain, Larraine Newman, John Belushi, and all the others who played such significant roles in Gilda's life. But I have a suggestion for all those who saw the movie and think they now know Gilda. Watch old SNL on late night TV, and rent her movies. Read her book upon which the movie is based. You will come away knowing a lot more about who the real Gilda was than if you just watch this movie.
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