Saturday Night Live before Norm Macdonald

Let’s take a trip in the WABAC Machine (look that up too, kiddies) to the very beginning of SNL, back when I myself was young and hip and stayed up late. I want to put in a small plug for a real comedy pioneer whose talents can still be appreciated, possibly even by some members of the generations who are identified by letters at the end of the alphabet. I want to highlight the late great Gilda Radner. 

Always the pioneer, Gilda died too young before most of the other original “Not Ready for Prime Time Players” except John Belushi who died from a drug overdose in 1982.  By contrast Gilda’s killer was ovarian cancer which took her at age 42.  Her death, for better or worse, raised awareness about this obviously female only type of cancer.

SNL debuted in the 1975-76 TV season and I can still usually recall the names of all the original cast, especially the three women who created so many timeless IMHO characters: Laraine Newman, Jane Curtin and Gilda (As far as I’m concerned she can be recognized with just the one name as long as it’s not confused with the classic Rita Hayworth film and character of the same name – look that up, too). BTW, according to Wikipedia, all three left the show after the 1979-80 season so you young whippersnappers can have a pass if you don’t know them since even your parents may not!

Jane Curtin was the second ever “Weekend Update” anchor, starting in the fall of 1976 as a solo until she of course had to be paired with a male anchor.  Jane held her own over those years against the relatively and almost as enlightened for the time feminists Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray.  Wikipedia notes a frequent feature of “Weekend Update” during this time was “Point/Counterpoint”, a send-up of the then-current 60 Minutes segment of the same name with James J. Kilpatrick and Shana Alexander. SNL‘s version of “Point/Counterpoint” featured Curtin and Aykroyd as debaters, making personal attacks on each other’s positions.  These bits often included Aykroyd spewing the phrase, “Jane, you ignorant slut” with Curtin frequently replying “Dan, you pompous ass”.  Too bad that terminology is still applicable to many today.

Also included in those early “Weekend Updates” was Gilda Radner’s character Emily Litella. Radner’s Litella character was prone to misinterpreting topics (leading her to present editorials on such things as the Eagle Rights Amendment – a malaprop!) and not being aware of her error until Curtin would correct her, after which Litella would cheerfully say “Never mind.”

I just hope, and hope most would agree, that Gilda’s first stereotypical female character is less prevalent today in real life while the latter may still be pretty commonplace. In that case, based on the local TV news I watch now, men have been promoted to consumer reporters. I haven’t seen these reporters refer to bodily functions on camera, but I think SNL still does. Young people can check me here if you want.

In conclusion on the subject of Gilda, ladies please note, again per Wikipedia, in Rolling Stone’s February 2015 appraisal of all 141 SNL cast members to date, Gilda Radner was ranked ninth in importance.

[Radner was] the most beloved of the original cast…In the years between Mary Tyler Moore and Seinfeld‘s Elaine, Radner was the prototype for the brainy city girl with a bundle of neuroses.

See what I mean when I call her a pioneer?

Author: hbsuefred

Here you'll find an old fart of a Baby Boomer who is trying to start her life over. She has been many things to many people in the past and is now once again trying to find herself here in the 21st century. Check out my thoughts, opinions and lessons learned. Add your own, if you dare!

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