Geek Book Review: “Madeline Kahn: Being The Music, A Life”

Madeline Kahn book cover

Designed by Peter D. Halverson

Madeline Kahn: Being The Music, A Life

By William V. Madison
University Press of Mississippi
Jackson, 2015
(336 pages (approx.), 6 x 9 inches, 48 b&w photographs, filmography, index
9781617037610 Cloth $35.00)
Found wherever fine books are sold

Review by Kitty Drexel

(Boston, MA) Madeline Kahn: Being the Music, A Life is distinct for being one of the only in print books devoted to Kahn’s life. A notoriously private woman, she kept her personal secrets close. Rather, she was known for her stage and screen capacity for uproarious humor, and striking beauty. She was less known for her demons and deep insecurities.

This biography by William V. Madison catalogs her ascent to stardom from her birth in Boston, her childhood in New York City, and her adult life everywhere else. It details her work in Mel Brook’s movies, and her ongoing partnership with director Peter Bogdanovich. She was nominated for Academy Award for Blazing Saddles, and also for her vulnerable performance as Trixie Delight in Paper Moon. She was a Broadway darling of the second degree. Her stage career never reached the heights she had hoped it would. Her life was cut mercilessly short by ovarian cancer in 1999 but this biography lives on to tell her story.

Being The Music is standard biography fare. It is comprised of the usual media resources, glossy photos, quotes from living friends and family, etc. The big takeaways are direct the quotes from Kahn’s personal diaries and journal. This is big news considering how conservative she remained while glistening in the limelight. She took great pains to project a funny, strong persona to her audience but kept more intimate, sensitive details quiet. Madison endearingly reveals them here.

Madison takes great pains to portray Kahn as the woman she was as well as the woman she intended to be for her audience. The aforementioned quotes aid this endeavor. The “Notes” section in the back of the book is rich with sources and research: newspaper and magazine articles, reviews, transcriptions from interviews, wire reports. He left no stone unturned. His is a tribute to a shy woman who would have appreciated Madison’s kind albeit relative objectivity.

Being The Music has a lot of heart. It tells a good story. Madison is clearly devoted to Kahn’s memory. Yet, as a biography, this book will not please everyone. Admirers of Kahn, lovers of Hollywood gossip, and big readers will enjoy this book. Those less inclined towards raw fact or long reads, will not.

Includes notable snippets from Gene Wilder, Jeffrey Kahn, Mel Brooks, Peter Bogdanovich, Bill Cosby (for better or for worse), Barbara Streisand, Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett, Harold Prince, Eileen Brennan and oh so many more.

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