Actress/Singer Lainie Kazan Opens Up and Tells All [Exclusive Interview]

America Ferrera, barbara streisand, desperate housewives, Garlic and Gunpowder, Gigli, Greys Anatomy, Lainie Kazan, Lust In The Dust, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Oy Vey My Son Is Gay, Pixels, Ron Russell, tab hunter, Ugly Betty, Will and Grace, Zohan

Hey, everybody Ron Russell here interviewing one of the most talented, fabulous people in the world, who I also love as a friend, Ms. Lainie Kazan.

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Ron Russell: Hi darling, how are you?

Lainie Kazan: I'm great, Ron. You?

RR: I'm good too. Good, good, good, good to see that you're going to be working soon, I hear-- a little bit of gossip going around that you have something happening. But before we get there, I just want to tell everybody out there my favorite album is Lainie Kazan’s Body and Soul. She sings the song ""Body and Soul"" like nobody does. And then she sings another song ""Little Girl Blue."" And then she sings ""That's Life"" or something about life, which is a beautiful song.

LK: Oh, ""Here's to Life.""

RR: ""Here's to Life."" This album is so incredible. If you don't get it, you're stupid. I would really say get this album. No Lainie, no BS. I really love you and I love your work. I've been an admirer of yours for years. 

LK: Thank you.

RR: We're born the same month, May. I'm May 28, 1940, and you're May--

LK: That's my daughter's birthday, May 28.

RR: Jennifer. Most fabulous people are born on May 28. But anyway, you were born in Brooklyn. I was born in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Your father's name was Ben. My father's name was Ben. Come on, tell us a little bit about Brooklyn and--

LK: Really?

RR: Yeah. Tell us about the early years in Brooklyn. What was it like growing up being a gorgeous girl with a very big rack?

LK: Well, first of all, I loved it because it was an innocent place for me. I lived down a little dead-end street called Beekman Place. Not the Beekman Place, the Beekman place. I had all my friends on that block, and I thought the whole world was Jewish because there was not one person who lived on that block that wasn't Jewish. So I was in shock when I went out to college, and I found myself in the minority. But I had a beautiful, beautiful childhood. We played in the street, and the street was safe, and we built snowmen, and rode our bicycles and our skates, and-- it was just a great time for me. I loved it, I still see some of those people that lived on that block, my childhood friends. I still see them.

RR: I do too. I have one friend that's survived everybody else. Most of my friends died from overdoses of drugs, unfortunately. Drugs hit our neighborhood very badly back in the '70s and '60s. But those that remain are dear friends. Now whatever made you think that you could sing? And boy oh boy, can you ever sing, my sweet lark.

LK: I sang from the time I was three years old. I sang always. And my mom and dad took me to different television shows. I was on the Connie Francis show, and I was on-- I was just on a lot of TV shows, and I did a lot as a young girl. I took dancing lessons and singing lessons and acting lessons, and my mother was kind of a very gentle Mama Rose, and she dragged me from pillar to post learning the arts. And I was very lucky because she loved it, and I was very fortunate to have a mother who was interested. We'd go to the ballet, we'd go to the theater. I remember my first Broadway show was South Pacific. I went when I was a little girl with my mom, my dad, and my sister. I remember when I was walking into the theater, Mary Martin was singing, and I'll never forget it as long as I live. I said, ""This is for me. This is for me."" I knew it, right then and there.

RR: That's how most of us feel. Now, your father was on the other side of the world. My father was a union delegate, Italian Jew from Brooklyn. My father was a Sephardic Jew but never practiced the religion because his mother was Christian and she wanted him to be a priest. And my father grew up all screwed up. He hated the church. He hated the nuns [laughter]. He hated the priest. He hated everybody. But I was basically raised with Jewish philosophy and I feel totally Jewish. I don't have anything Christian in me. Your dad was a bookie.

LK: Yeah, my dad was a bookie. You know, connected with the sellers.

RR: Yeah, my father and your father probably knew the same people.

LK: Until I was about 12, I thought he was in publishing.

RR: [laughter] That is so funny.

LK: I didn't know what a bookie was.

RR: [laughter] I learned very young what that was. My father said, ""Whoever you see in this house and whatever their names are, you never repeat them in the street."" Did you get the same treatment?

LK: Yep. Yeah [laughter].

RR: [laughter] I mean, we had some pretty big names in our house at the time, but of course, I never repeated them, that's why I never remember anybody's name now, because I was trained not to remember names. Okay. So now we are going to talk about your being discovered by Francis Coppola. How was that for great luck?

LK: Well, he and I went to school together. We went to Hofstra University together. And he didn't discover me [laughter]. He and I were very good friends. He wrote plays for me. He put me in different musicals. He was a very big deal at Hofstra. And so I became his leading lady.

Then when I graduated, and years later, he rediscovered me. He called me up and he said-- I was at the Fairmont. I was singing at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, and that's where he lived - and he said to me, ""Why don't you come up to my house? It's in the Napa Valley.""

I had never been to Nappa Valley, and I thought, ""Well, what a great idea."" So of course, I took my daughter, we went up to Napa Valley and he cooked for us, and then he gave me a script and it was called, ""One from the Heart"". It was like my first real movie. I had done two other films before that, but they weren't serious movies and I didn't really know what I was doing. And it wasn't till I got into “One from the Heart” that I took this movie career seriously. I knew very little, and it was like going to school. It was like going to a very intense film course.

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RR: You learned and you learned and you did a good job. Now you're on Broadway understudying Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl.

LK: Right.

RR: Barbra Streisand, as we know, never gets sick. She'd rather die than get sick and let anybody else get a break. But that's Barbra. She's a go-getter, always was, still is, from what I understand from people who know her well. Now one night Barbra, her voice blew, and you went on. Tell me about that.

LK: Everywhere I would go, people would say to me, ""If you ever go on, call me,"" so I had a little list and I wrote everybody's name down. We didn't have computers then. I wrote all the names down and I got the call. It was a year and a half after I was in the show. I was a Ziegfeld showgirl in the show. The next thing I know, I get this call, ""Barbra is very, very ill and you're going on today."" So, of course, I called everybody I knew, everybody who had ever said, ""If you ever go on, call me."" So I did that.

I got to the theatre, it was unbelievable because I didn't know what I was doing. I had never been on stage with the real actors. I'd only been on with the understudies, in the understudy rehearsals. And finally I went on, I was ready to go on. I was standing in the wings. By the way, everybody showed up. Everybody I ever invited showed up and so did Barbra [laughter]. She walked right on the stage and was in the show and I was standing there in the wings waiting to go on. It was devastating. I was devastated. I climbed the three flights of stairs to the chorus dressing room and cried my eyes out.

The next day, it's not over. The next day, when I woke up in the morning, it was all over the newspapers, ""Show goes on but Lainie doesn't. It ain't funny girl."" I sheepishly walked to the theatre and everybody was standing outside the theatre, the producer, and the director, and they said, ""Look, you're going on but you cannot call a soul"", and I said, ""Can I at least call my mother?"" She had a duplicate list, and she called everybody back, and they came.

RR: [laughter] That's wonderful. I love that story. It's funny. I'm laughing. This is in print by the way, so nobody hears us laugh, but that's laughter. Let me tell you something my sweet Lainie Kazan, Barbra Streisand is wonderful, she has a gorgeous voice, but she sings at you. Now Lainie Kazan, on the other hand, has a magnificent voice but she sings to you and that's why I love your--

LK: Oh.

RR: --oh no, darling, that's why I love your album Body and Soul. I feel like you're in my living room singing to me personally. You connect with my ears.

LK: Aren't you sweet.

RR: No, it's not sweet. I don't BS anybody. That's the truth. I'm famous by the way for my television show. Ron Russell blows smoke up no one's ass. Ron Russell tells the truth or he doesn't talk at all. That's what's made me the best celebrity interviewer I guess going on in television now, hahaha, blow my own horn. But anyway now, let's skip a little forward. Barbra, she did it. You got pregnant in those days, oh my God Peter Daniels was a Broadway musical-- what was it, director?

LK: Musical director.

RR: Musical director. And that wonderful daughter Jennifer--

LK: He was the associate musical director.

RR: Okay. And then that wonderful Jennifer who I met at the Mexican restaurant 20 years ago with you, and Perry Winkler. So Jennifer is born and then you marry. But the marriage didn't last long. Was it a marriage just to give Jennifer a name or was it a marriage that you really cared?

LK: Oh, we really cared. We were together from the first day of rehearsal of Funny Girl. We were together for 10 -12 years.

RR: Right. You never married again?

LK: No, but I lived with a couple different people for 10, 12, 15 years [laughter].

RR: Listen, everybody out there, girls, ladies, eat your hearts out, you dated Frank Sinatra for three months. How is that going for a biggie [laughter]?

LK: Yeah, I did and it was….

RR: Now Jane Russell, who you know was my best friend. She's my sister, my girlfriend, my mother, my wife, everything - I adored my Jane - told me that-- she knew Frank very well. They were on the radio together for years singing, and then they made a movie together, and she said to me that Ava Gardner was nuts, really a crazy bitch. And that Frank Sinatra would never love anybody again but Ava Gardner till the day he died. Now you're dating him for three months. How did you feel about that kind of a memory that he had?

LK: I never met her. But once she was living in Florida in the hotel that he was staying at. She came to dinner one night and she was so beautiful. I can't tell you how beautiful she was. But used up looking. She was kind of tired looking. But he loved her. He loved her all those years and he took care of her in the end. He took care of her. He paid for everything. He loved her.

RR: That's the truth.

LK: I thought that was wonderful.

RR: That's what Jane said. And Jane told me that she used to brutalize Frank Sinatra. Frank Sinatra, tough guy, wise guy, he beat up anybody. Frank was from Jersey, which is unfortunate that he wasn't from Brooklyn. But if you're not from Brooklyn, Jersey is okay too.

LK: Okay [laughter].

RR: He was a tough guy. But Ava Gardener threw a lamp at him. She threw ashtrays at him [laughter]. She used to punch him in the face. No, Jane told me, she would punch him in the face. I mean she was one crazy broad. But he loved it. He loved the fact that she was magnificently gorgeous and the hottest thing around. But here you are, just as beautiful. I mean, built like a brick shithouse.

LK: Oh, thank you.

RR: Oh no, lady, lady, lady, I have pictures of you young. You were a drop-dead knockout. That's why you did Playboy Magazine. Give me a break. Ugly women don't get in Playboy. All right? And why did you do Playboy? Tell me.

LK: No, you're sweet. Thank you.

RR: Tell me, why did you do Playboy?

LK: Playboy in 1971, I think it was. I was very young [laughter].

RR: And very crazy. Then you even though I'm with Hugh Hefner and you opened up Lainie West and Lainie East, the two nightclubs that you performed in. Then you went, I think with Playboy if I remember, that's when I came on the scene, you were a playboy bunny dressed up or something from what I remember.

LK: No, I wasn't a playboy bunny. I was Hefner's partner. I ran two nightclubs for him called Lainie’s Room East and Lainey's Room West and I did that for five years.

RR: Well that's when I fell in friend with you, in love with you. I believe that's where I went and saw you performing. I was the same age as you are so, whatever age you were, I was. I'm a few days younger than you but anyway, I thought, ""My God, what a voice. What a voice. Can this broad sing? What a voice. What a voice."" Now you decide that you're going to do movies. Now you and I shared a dear friend Tab Hunter? I loved Tab.

LK: I loved him, oh God.

RR: I loved him. I made a movie with him in 1959 with Sophia Loren called That Kind of Woman and Tab and I were touch and go friends for 50,000 years. I saw him two weeks before he passed away. I'm heartsick still. I'm still heartsick. The sweetest. Now tell me about Tab? You know what he's all about. Confirm what I say.

LK: Oh my God, he was just a wonderful guy. He was warm and sensitive and funny. He just had it all together. He knew what he always wanted to do and he did it.

RR: I loved him.

LK: Me too. Me too.

RR: When I interviewed him, I said, ""Tab, I know you a 1,000 years already and I want you to kiss me on the lips,"" this is on television in a television interview, I said, ""Because I want to be the first man to kiss you on the lips"". He said, ""You won't be."" I said, ""Who else did it?"", he said, ""Divine."" [laughter] Divine was the first one to kiss him on the lips. Now you were in that fascinating, funny, tits-for-days all over the place movie, oh my God, is that a funny film. You want to tell us about it?

LK: Yeah [laughter].

RR: It's a riot.

LK: I was in my house and the phone rang and somebody said, ""Lainie, honey, Tab Hunter's on the phone for you"", I said, ""Tab Hunter. Are you kidding me?"" So he told me he had this script, Lust in the Dust.

RR: Lust in the Dust, that's right.

LK: He wanted to meet with me so I said, ""Sure."" I mean it was Tab Hunter. I met him at this restaurant, it doesn't exist anymore. It was on Sunset. We met and it was right before, not Thanksgiving, but the Jewish holidays, Passover, and he gave me some tapes and he said, ""Look at these tapes and if you like what you see, call me, and we'll make a deal."" I watch these tapes with my family and they were called scratch and sniff tapes and, oh my God, little by little, my family started walking out of the room--

RR: It was horrible.

LK: Disgusting, but hysterical.

RR: Disgusting isn't the word. But I know John, John Waters, and John is a darling guy. I've interviewed John Waters and he's fabulous.

LK: Yeah, but John didn't direct that movie. It was Paul Bartel.

RR: Oh that's the one where Divine eats the dog poop?

LK: No, no.

RR: Oh, okay. So now let's move it on. So then you did that, Lust in the Dust. You did a lot of other movies. My favorite movie-- and I think it's wonderful because I'm a gay man, is, ""Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay!!""  That film is a riot. You are a riot. I mean, you are by far one of the most flexible actresses. You can do drama-comedy. Now, I'm going to do this really quick, okay? So sit back and listen, and see if I screwed anything up: My Favorite Year, Lust in the Dust, Journey of Natty Gann, The Delta Force, Harry and Hendersons, Medium Rare, Out of the Dark, Beaches, Eternity, 29th Street, I Don't Buy Kisses Anymore, The Cemetery Club, Love Is All There Is, Movie Money Murder, The Associate, Allie & Me, The Big Hit, Permanent Midnight, The Unknown Catalyst, Kimberly, Mike & Spike Movie, What's Cooking?, Bruno, The Crew, The Dress Code, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which was absolutely, spectacularly wonderful. And you, my dear, cleaned that movie up. You were the superstar.

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Eight Crazy Nights,  Broadway: The Golden Age, Legends Who Were There, A Good Night to Die, Gigli, Red Riding Hood, Whiskey School, Bratz: The Movie, Beau Jest, You Don't Mess With The Zohan, Expecting Mary, Divorce Invitation, Finding Joy, Growing Defiant, Pearly Gates, Pixels, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, and oy vey, am I tired [laughter].

Woo, I'm exhausted reading those titles. How the hell did you do all of that? Not finished yet. What about television? Car 54, Where Are You?, Ben Casey, The Dean Martin Show 26 times, The Bobby Vinton Show, Columbo, A Cry For Love, Sunset Limousine

LK: Oh my, stop it, I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted.

RR: Wait, this is good. The Jerk, Obsessive Love, The Paper Chase, Tough Cookies,” Karen's Song, Hägar the Horrible, Earthday Birthday, Beverly Hills 90210, The Nanny, oh, with Frannie. Safety Patrol, Prince for a Day, Will & Grace, Returning Lily, My Big Fat Greek Life, The Engagement Ring, The King of Queens, Boston Legal, Medium Rare, 'Til Death, Desperate Housewives, Medium -- I want to get to the one where you got an award. Grey's Anatomy, RuPaul's Drag Race? Oh wow. Young & Hungry. I'm out of breath [laughter]. Now tell me about when you got your-- oh also, you got the B'Nai B'rith of, I think it was Georgia. This was a special award. Did I get that right?

LK: Well, I got nominated for My Favorite Year.

RR: Right, which I love that--

LK: I got nominated for, yeah. I got nominated for an Emmy for, what was it? Oh, it was St. Elsewhere.

RR: Right.

LK: With that beautiful man. What's his name? You know, big star. With a D.

RR: How do I know? You and I, look, at 78 we don't look--

LK: Denzel Washington. Denzel Washington.

RR: Okay.

LK: Then I got an ACE award for Paper Chase, and I think that's it. I got People's Choice Awards for the Zohan--

RR: See that. So for those of you out there, you young jerks that don't know who Barbra Streisand is, Jane Russell or Tab Hunter. And many do not. Many young people say, ""Huh? Who?"" I have to tell them who. Lainie Kazan has worked forever. Now let's do a little bit of her Broadway stage work. Leave It to Jane, The Happiest Girl in the World, Bravo Giovanni, Funny Girl, Man of La Mancha, Seesaw, Show Boat, Gypsy, My Favorite Year, The Government Inspector, Rags, Bermuda Avenue Triangle. This woman doesn't stop working. She will never stop working until she explodes.

LK: Oh sweetheart, thank you. You know what? I love what I do.

RR: It shows.

LK: Besides all that, I sang in every major hotel all over the world. Every nightclub. And I've been all-- seriously every country, everywhere in the world I've sung. So I sang in all the major states. New Orleans, New York, everywhere.

RR: You just don't stop. But I would like to thank you on behalf of all the gay people in the world, not just our country--

LK: No--

RR: But the world. No, no, no, we want to thank you, for understanding us, for loving some of us, and for standing by us. And you do, my dear, so all the gay people out there love this lady, because she loves us. Lainie, what's in store for you?

LK: I am now a professor at UCLA. I teach Acting for the Singer. That's where I'm going to work now, that's why I have to get off the phone. But I am a very fulfilled artist. I love what I do, I love teaching. It's my way of giving back. It's a great, great feeling, and it's a great responsibility, and I love it. So, I'm doing that. I'm also singing. I've just started singing again. I recently sang in Palm Springs.

RR: Which was a sold-- hang on, hang on-- which was sold out, and everybody's still talking about it, they want you back.

LK: Aw, thank you. Well, I loved it. And I'm now going into Catalina. And the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood. And I am going to open on the 25th and 27th of October. And that's what I do, I'm going to Philadelphia to sing, I'm going to New York to sing. So I'm singing again, I haven't sung in two years. But I decided it was time to go back to singing.

RR: Well I heard you singing, I was in New Hope when you were performing. Remember that night? I don't know if you remember, we were trying to--

LK: Oh sure.

RR: We were out in the lobby carrying on like crazies, we had no lights to shoot it. But anyway I heard you sing-- no listen, sweetheart, I heard you sing. And I don't have to kiss your ass or make you feel good, you know what I mean? I don't care for that kind of Hollywood, ""Darling, let's do lunch"" BS. In honesty, a woman of your age, which is 78 years old, sings like a 25-year-old girl. Your vocals are still wonderful. Beryl Davis, who was my dearest friend in the world, and Jane Russell, were singing at 84 and she started to get sort of an old lady voice. You do not have a mature woman voice. You still sound like Lainie Kazan, beautiful, wonderful--

LK: Oh, you're so sweet.

RR: No, stop it, stop it, stop it. When you see me you won’t even like me again [laughter]. You won’t even remember me, you'll go, ""Who?"" No wait a minute. W,hen I sit there listening to you sing, as the old word, you send me. Remember that expression, you send me?

LK: You send me.

RR: Send me. That's it. And you certainly do. Lainie, my darling Lainie Kazan, when you come to Palm Springs you must call me. You'll come over--

LK: I promise.

RR: We'll have some people over-- wait a minute, I'll cook the most gorgeous Italian-Jewish meal. I'll make my father's recipe.

LK: I'm coming over.

RR: Great, my father used to make pizza into matzah [laughter], he made pizzas out of matzah dough. No, don't laugh it's-- no because seriously, it's delicious. You never had a crust on the pizza like pizza into matzah. It's fabulous. It's a Jewish-Italian pizza.

LK: Will you stop it.

RR: I'm not lying. I'm serious, I'll make it for you.

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LK: I adore you. Thank you so much for this interview. I have to go to work. So I've got to get off the phone.

RR: Go to work, honey bunch. Go to work my sweetie pie. And I hope to see you soon. It's been a long time.

LK: And I do too. Thank you so much.

RR: You're welcome, my dear.

LK: And hello out there, everybody. I send you all my very, very best.

RR: And everybody was so excited for this interview. My email was filled with people screaming, ""Oh I'm so excited, I'm so excited."" So thank you Lainie Kazan, for making all of my four and a half million viewers/ listeners and readers happy people. Take care, darling, be healthy.

LK: Thank you. Thank you so much.

RR: Stay well, sweetheart. Bye-bye.

LK: You too, Ron. Bye.

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