Lainie Kazan

EDGE Interview: With Vintage Albums Released, Lainie Kazan Looks Back... And Forward with New Gigs

Nicholas Dussault READ TIME: 11 MIN.

Lainie Kazan became a legend the old-fashioned way: a little luck, a lot of talent, persistence, tenacity and time. With more than 60 years in the business it'd be hard to find anyone she hasn't worked with. The Brooklyn-born actress freely admits, "I've done so much television that I can't even remember them all." But if you've watched "Desperate Housewives," "Modern Family," "Grey's Anatomy," "Will and Grace," "Touched by an Angel," "The Nanny," "Ugly Betty," "St. Elsewhere," (Emmy nomination), and many more, there's a real good chance you've seen her.

She's also got impressive film credits that include "My Favorite Year," (Golden Globe nomination), Steven Spielberg's "Harry and the Hendersons," "Beaches," "Delta Force," Adam Sandler's "You Don't Mess with the Zohan," the Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez flop "Gigli," and one of her biggest features "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 1-3," in which she play's the mom of star Nia Vardalos. She also appeared in two cult classics: opposite Divine and Tab Hunter in "Lust in the Dust;" and in Francis Ford Coppola's much-maligned musical, "One From the Heart,"(1982. It was recently re-released in a restored version.

When Kazan repeated her film role in "My Favorite Year" in its musical version in 1992, she received a Tony Award nomination. She studied theater at Manhattan's prestigious HB Studio, before appearing in several Broadway musicals in the early 1960s. She famously understudied Barbra Streisand in "Funny Girl" (1964), which ended when she went on for two performances and left the show. Later she went onto appear in regional theater productions of "A Little Night Music," "Man of La Mancha," "Gypsy," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," "Hello, Dolly!," and "Fiddler on the Roof." But her biggest regret about her theater career, which she expresses in the interview below, was being replaced in the torturous out-of-town tryout of "Seesaw" in 1973.

Lainie Kazan's MGM albums now available to be streamed

This month she treats her fans (and new fans) with the four landmark albums she released for MGM Records in the 1960s: "Right Now!" (1966), "Lainie Kazan" (1966), "The Love Album" (1967), and "Love Is Lainie" (1968). None were released on CD, which has made these original vinyl releases collector items. The four albums have been remastered ed from the original tapes, and are available via Universal Music Group's Republic Records to be discovered by a new generation of music lovers. A deluxe CD set is being planned for next year. For now, listeners can stream and download the albums – "Right Now!","Lainie Kazan", "The Love Album", and "Love Is Lainie" – on Spotify, Apple Music and other digital platforms.

Nor has she stopped singing. She has an upcoming club date at Herb Alpert's LA club Vibrato on Tuesday, May 7. For more information, follow this link.

EDGE had the opportunity to chat with the famed Vegas headliner about her career, her life, running a club with Hugh Hefner, and, yes, that time she was Barbra Streisand's understudy.

Lainie Kazan

EDGE: You really have done it all. Take me back to the beginning.

Lainie Kazan: I have done it all. I don't know how I've had time for everything and everyone, plus raising a family. I started as a child performer. My mother took me to a museum to learn about Chinese theater. She also took me to voice lessons. It was a very nice beginning. I did a few shows like "The Horn and Hardart Children's Show" with Connie Stevens and a couple of others I don't remember, but I wasn't interested in doing anything else.

When I got to Hoffstra University, where I studied acting, I met a lot of people. Francis Ford Coppola and James Caan were classmates. (Coppola) actually convinced me to change my name. I was born Lainie Levine, but I switched to my mother's maiden name, Kazan. The first time I went to an audition with my new name they were calling me and calling me, and I had forgotten that was my name. But eventually I remembered it, did the audition, and I got the job. It was "The Student Prince" with Paul Sorvino.

EDGE: Did you work with Francis Ford Coppola?

Lainie Kazan: Oh I worked with him a lot. I was his leading lady. We did a lot back then. I still see him. He invited me to his screening of "Megalopolis." We got to catch up.

EDGE: How did you get to "Funny Girl?"

Lainie Kazan: After "The Student Prince" and "South Pacific" at the Westbury Music Fair, I was in the road company of "The Sound of Music" with Florence Henderson. When that ended, I did some industrials. I then auditioned for "Funny Girl" and that's where everything broke out. Carol Haney had choreographed a number of my industrials and she then did "Funny Girl." She brought me on board, not as an understudy, but in a role in the show. I played a Ziegfeld girl. About a week into rehearsals, Ray Stark (producer) asked me if I wanted to understudy Barbra (Streisand). I was very young. I told him I don't like what understudies do, there's no creativity. You're doing someone else's role. But he offered me $50 more a week so I took the job.

by Nicholas Dussault

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