It’s Kazan — as in Lainie, not Elia!



Multi-medium artist poised for third visit to Feinstein’s


Everybody has a mother. Or had one.

Lainie Kazan’s mother, when she learned that her daughter was about to fill in briefly for an ailing Barbra Streisand as the Fannie Brice of “Funny Girl” at the Majestic Theatre, made sure that a few key members of the press be apprised of the day and date.

And you can be sure that when — 45 years later — that same Lainie Kazan (star of stage, screen, nightclub, concert hall, and television) makes her third visit to Feinstein’s at the Regency, her repertoire will include a couple of songs from the “Funny Girl” that launched her non-stop career. 

There’ll be other songs too, of course — “songs I’m passionate about, am attracted to, songs that tell the story of my life,” the congenitally passionate Brooklyn-born Ms. Kazan says over long-distance from the office in her home in Los Angeles. 

Well, she was Lainie Levine in the Brooklyn days. And no, she didn’t borrow the name Kazan as some sort of tribute to Elia Kazan. 

“He was Greek Armenian, I’m a Spanish Russian Jew. And I never worked for him, though we were in the Actors’ Studio at the same time, and used to get each other’s mail.” 

There is one other oddball Kazan/Kazan link that Lainie — we may as well just call her Lainie — vividly remembers. It was when, in 1999, that other Kazan — the man who had reshaped and liberated all American stage and movie acting for all time (but had also gone before the witch hunters of HUAC in 1952 to name the names of old friends and onetime associates) — received a much disputed long-delayed Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement. 

As the 89-year-old white-haired onetime fireball stood unsurely between Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro to deliver his thanks for everything, there were some mutterings and painful silences among the hundreds of stars out front. In short order — a brilliant double entendre that put the kibosh on any possible disturbance. 

Three thousand miles away, in her New York City apartment, the phone started ringing from Lainie’s laughing friends across the country, and it would continue to ring all the next day. Come to that, no one has a fuller or heartier lifetime propensity for laughter than Lainie Kazan herself. 

The Laughing Lioness is how I think of her when, at the microphone (or with no microphone), she shakes that full mane of dark hair and hits word and note with almost carnivorous carnality. When called for, that is — not on softer old standards like “Over the Rainbow” or “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” (which will also probably be in her Feinstein’s repertoire). 

Back at Hofstra University, the future Playboy undressed person was indeed often baited by her classmates as “Lainie Levine, the sex machine.”

From across the table, fellow drama student Francis Ford Coppola said: “Lainie, why not change your last name to your mother’s maiden name?” — and that’s how “Lainie Kazan” came into the world. 

“That afternoon I went to audition for the Westbury Music Theater, and came away” — like Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester in “A Star Is Born” — “with a new name and an Equity card. In that name.” 

She and Coppola (“He’s much much older than me.”) had worked together in school — she as actress and singer, he as director and actor on all sorts of shows: “Best Foot Forward,” “Of Thee I Sing,” and a play by Coppola called “The Delicate Touch,” in which she appeared as “a wicked lady who ran an orphanage.” 

Two decades later, the world-famous director of the “Godfather” trilogy would cast Lainie Kazan in his 1982 semi-surreal semi-poetic semi-autobiographical “One From the Heart,” a project she would come to think of as “a debacle.” 

Fortunately, that experience — “such a difficult birth” — was immediately followed by a wonderful one — “a fling” — under Richard Benjamin’s direction: the role of the flamboyant Brooklyn mama, Beth Steinberg Carocca, who tries to make the great Peter O’Toole (as an over-the-hill Errol Flynn ham) feel at home in “My Favorite Year.” 

Her performance won Lainie a Golden Globe Best Supporting Actress nomination, and would subsequently win her a Tony nomination when “My Favorite Year” came to the Lincoln Center stage in 1992. 

Before and since “My Favorite Year,” Lainie has been in dozens and dozens of movies and television jobs — the newest TV stint hard upon us as you read this. It is the role of Maxine Rosen, businesswoman and building owner, in ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” (“a kind of evening soap,” says actress Kazan). 

Actress and singer Kazan: It’s odd that my career turned out this way. The kids now mostly know me from movies and television — but a singer first and foremost, that’s who I am.”

Lainie, have you ever been a desperate housewife? 

“No. Not really.” 

Long pause. 

“Well, yeah, I guess I have been, in other ways.” 

Her main man was husband Peter Daniels, now deceased, the associate conductor back there in 1964/65 at “Funny Girl” in the Majestic Theatre. 

Any other guys? 

Her laugh. “Yeah. You’re talking about me!

Not far away from Lainie in Los Angeles are her daughter, Jennifer Bena Davies Armijo, and granddaughter Isabella Blue Armijo, 11 years old ‘”and wonderful.” 

Ms. Kazan will be bringing with her to Feinstein’s “my band” — drummer and conductor Eddie Caccavalle, pianist Bob Kaye, bass player Lew Scott. “Eddie’s been with me 30 years, Bob 15 years, Lew 10 years.” 

Robin Williams, if you happen to be passing through town… 
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