Near Greatness

Live from the Ladies' Room

The memory of my brief encounter with Gilda Radner at a Stevie Wonder concert was so sweet, and then it became bittersweet

Gilda and Steve Martin dancing in the dark.

In the fall of 1983, I managed to score great seats to a Stevie Wonder concert at Radio City Music Hall. During intermission, I found myself in the never-ending line to the ladies' room. Standing behind me was a young woman who was literally squealing with delight. I turned around to look at her. She was a little taller than me and much thinner, but we sort of resembled each other, with our thick dark hair and prominent features. She looked at me for a moment and smiled.

"We could be sisters!" she exclaimed. "Can you believe we're here seeing Stevie Wonder?"

"It's pretty incredible," I replied.

"I'm so excited," she said, jumping up and down to illustrate the point.

Her enthusiasm was contagious, and pretty soon I was jumping up and down too. Then she hugged me and I hugged her right back.

"I'm so rude," she said. "My name is Gilda."

"Yeah, I kinda knew that," I confessed. "I've seen you on 'Saturday Night Live.' I'm Debra" I held out my hand.

"Oh, we're way past the hand-shaking phase," she said with a laugh, grabbing me in her skinny arms and hugging me again.

As I told her how talented I thought she was, she quietly beamed. I asked her what she was doing these days, and she said that she was in a movie that Stevie Wonder was writing a song for called "The Woman in Red." When we finally reached the inner sanctum of the bathroom, I let her go in first. After all, she was Rosanne Roseannadanna.

Only a few years later, I heard the sad news that Gilda had died. It was on the finale of "Saturday Night Live" in 1989 when Steve Martin, in tears, introduced an old clip where he and Gilda are dancing. It still stands up as one of the greatest things I've seen on the show. Everything about Gilda — her brilliant comic timing, her sweetness, her sexiness, her radiance, her boundless enthusiasm — was on full display in those sublime five minutes. I remember sitting in the dark watching them dancing in the dark (which, I believe is the name of the sketch) and I was laughing and crying and thinking, "That's Gilda."

Steve Martin's SNL tribute to Gilda Radner from Karen on Vimeo.