By Mary Vespa
August 27, 1979 12:00 PM

What’s next? Just possibly playing Olive Oyl to Robin Williams’ Popeye

One of the more interesting things at a certain point in life,” says Mike O’Donoghue, a former writer of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, “is watching your friends being destroyed by money and power—seeing Belushi and Chase go down the dumper.” One never knows when the off-the-wall O’Donoghue is being serious except that he clearly meant it when he got around to Gilda Radner in his update on the cast. “Gilda,” he says, “hasn’t changed. She has used the security and power of the show intelligently. She doesn’t,” he continues, lapsing into classical O’Donoghue, “drive around with a shoebox of cocaine in a limousine. She doesn’t snort a color television set up her nose.”

Otherwise, though, Gilda is currently enjoying one of the highs of her 33 years: headlining her own stage show. “It’s been a dream my whole life,” she tells her audience, “to talk dirty on Broadway.” Actually, the material is not all that much dirtier—or different—from her TV show, but the only SNL regulars present are her own characters (Roseanne Roseannadanna, Judy Miller, Emily Litella, et al) plus Don (Father Guido Sarducci) Novello.

Gilda ends the evening with an affecting song she composed about the lost innocence of high school romance. As she concludes in a tangle of prom-night streamers, she has gotten a standing ovation almost every night since the show opened. Not all the critics were jumping to their feet (some thought she missed her TV bananas), but the show has been SRO all the way. It has already been extended two weeks, and there are plans to take it on the road during SNL breaks this fall and winter. Still to come are her first LP (mostly from the show) in October and a “Gilda Radner Cut-Out Doll Book.” “I’m still amazed,” admits Radner, whose strenuous pre-opening song-and-dance crash course and nightly shows have left her with dark circles under her eyes. “I have been on Saturday Night for four years, but I never put my own name on something. The Gilda Radner industry happened all at once.”

Like SNL colleagues Chase, Belushi and Bill Murray, she is being romanced by Hollywood. Producer Bob Evans offered her the irresistible role of Olive Oyl opposite Robin Williams in Popeye. “It’s very tempting to do Olive Oyl,” says Radner, “because I grew up with her and dress like her. But I really don’t know what to do.” What she won’t do is break her contract with SNL. “It would be like spitting at your parents,” she says loyally.

But that commitment with the Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players ends late next spring and Gilda is anxious over the career crossroads but also relieved. “Television has driven me crazy,” she claims. “I love the constructed schedule of Broadway.”

But whether her name next appears on a Broadway or movie marquee, Gilda won’t be idling. She rents a vacation house in East Hampton and has treated herself to a new co-op in Manhattan’s fashionably antique Dakota. Having ended an office romance with Bill Murray, Radner is soloing through the summer. “This work is my personal life,” she says. “Everything that I do is directed toward the show.”

Gilda’s realization of her lifetime ambition to talk dirty on Broadway has added to the respect of her peers in the business as well as to her fond following. Which is not to say she is treated like Helen Hayes. “People wait outside the stage door, and if I am not tired and cranky sometimes I go outside and sign autographs and stuff. And the other night this tiny kid comes up and gooses me!”

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