Radner forever tied to ‘Saturday Night’

Boulder City has a strong tie to NBC’s television show “Saturday Night Live,” which is now in its 44th season. Earlier this month I had the pleasure of meeting SNL’s Finesse Mitchell in the green room of a local television station. He was promoting his comedy tour in support of his Showtime special, “The Spirit Told Me to Tell You,” while I was helping to promote the Dam Short Film Festival.

Mitchell and I conversed about our common writing tie to SNL and he spoke about visiting Boulder City and Red Rock National Conservation Area when touring Nevada. At the time, Mitchell thought he may have been the only tie between SNL and Boulder City — that is until I did some digging and discovered our city also is linked to SNL alumni Gilda Radner.

Desi Arnaz Jr. is one of Boulder City’s more famous residents. His parents, the late Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, maintain their icon status to this day. Tourists can find many “I Love Lucy” branded treasures at local stores Goatfeathers and Sherman’s House of Antiques. Arnaz owns and runs the historic Boulder Theatre on Arizona Street, which is where the annual Dam Short Film Festival is held.

Arnaz was featured in a 1976 episode of “Saturday Night Live” that was hosted by him and his father. It was during the Season 1 episode 14 show that Arnaz spoofed his father’s “I Love Lucy” character Ricky Ricardo opposite of Radner, who played Lucy. The audience ate it up and clips of the sketch can be viewed via YouTube and IMDb.com.

Radner’s life on “Saturday Night Live,” and her battle with anorexia and cancer, was recently featured on CNN in a documentary created by Magnolia Pictures. Titled “Love, Gilda,” the documentary is an interesting look into Radner’s personal life and her time on SNL. My favorite part of this is the time she spent documenting her love affair with actor Gene Wilder. He gave Radner a sense of family and normalcy, filling a void in her life and teaching her how to speak French. Radner portrayed many sloppy, loud and childlike characters while on “Saturday Night Live” but in real life she was insecure, sometimes shy and battling her own demons.

Radner’s last movie was made in 1986. In “Haunted Honeymoon” she plays Vickie Pearle alongside her husband, Wilder, who also wrote the movie’s script. Ironically, Wilder wrote the script for “Haunted Honeymoon” in 1976, while making another movie titled “Silver Streak,” which was partially filmed in Boulder City. It was also a featured flick at the Boulder Theatre.

“Haunted Honeymoon” was overthought, unfunny and tanked at the box office. In the documentary “Love, Gilda” one comes to discover that during the filming of the movie, Radner was suffering from extreme leg pain and was seeking medical attention. Shortly after the movie wrapped, the actress was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Sadly, Radner passed away in May 1989 and is buried in Stamford, Connecticut, not far from the home she shared with Wilder.

“Saturday Night Live” seems to bring out the best in comedians while the cameras are on, but when the cameras are off the pressure of being timely with their writing and competing for air time with creative characters can take its toll. The show can make or break a career for actors and writers — even for featured hosts.

For Mitchell, he was one of the actors and writers who made it. He has composed books, written for Essence Magazine, and has been featured on “Today” as a guest correspondent. For Radner, however, the pressures of SNL didn’t make her who she was. The show didn’t have to. As seen in the documentary, Radner put enough pressure on herself. In fact, the cultural consensus is Radner was the one who put SNL on the map and not visa versa.

My Throwback Thursday recommendation today is “Haunted Honeymoon” and “Love, Gilda,” both of which are available as digital downloads on Amazon.com. Wilder’s 2005 book, “Kiss Me Like A Stranger: My Search for Love and Art,” is also a great read for anyone interested in “Saturday Night Live,” acting, writing or in need of a great love story.

Tanya Vece is a ghostwriter and independent marketing specialist. She can be reached on Instagram @TanyaLVece.

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