Lainie Kazan Interview

Lainie Kazan
In show business, you don’t say “good luck,” you say “break a leg.” But one day, when Lainie Kazan was running along the beach with her dog, while taping a TV show, she literally fell and broke her leg. It still turned out to be pretty good luck: The injury brought attention to another critical medical condition: She had deep vein thrombosis.

Still, over the years, the fates have been kind. She made her Broadway debut in 1961, and later served as an understudy to Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. She once posed for a Playboy spread, and gained fame for her appearance in a highly memorable Aqua Velvet after shave commercial. She’s traded wits with the funniest guys in the business, from Dean Martin to Adam Sandler, and remains a sought-after quantity in TV and film. Kazan recently chatted with ABILITY’s Chet Cooper and Thomas Chappell MD.

Chet Cooper: What’s going on with your career these days?

Lainie Kazan: I’m in the Adam Sandler movie, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan. I play his love interest. Other than that, I’m just having fun.

CC: I guess I’m the last person who hasn’t seen Zohan.

LK: It’s about this guy who’s in the Mossad (army) in Israel. He’s like a CIA operative and a superman; he also has sex with every woman on the beach. He’s just, like, out there. And his parents are so proud of him because he’s the best soldier and the best CIA agent. But what he really wants to be is a hairdresser. So he leaves the army and Israel to live incognito in New York, while everybody from home is looking for him. He doesn’t have a place to live or anything to eat, and he meets some guy who brings him home for dinner. I play the guy’s mother, and the next thing you know, I’m Zohan’s muse. He uses me as his model, cutting my hair and coming over every once in a while, so I’m sprinkled throughout. It’s a wonderful part.

Dr. Thomas Chappell: Sounds like it.

LK: I’m also singing all over the country.

CC: I love your voice. I actually was reminded of that recently when I was playing around on YouTube. Have you seen that Dean Martin video where you two are singing together—

LK: Yeah, the one where I play on his lap.

CC: Was that rehearsed?

LK: Only the music was rehearsed; the rest was ad-libbed.

TC: He had such a quick wit.

LK: And he had great affection for me.

CC: It seemed so. (laughs)

LK: As a friend. He was very kind to me, and he had the best sense of humor.

CC: A lot of younger people don’t know who Dean Martin is these days.

LK: That’s pathetic. A lot of these children like things for maybe five minutes, and then they move on. When I was coming up, if we liked someone, we were fans and we followed them from song to song, and from project to project.

CC: That’s the new generation, for you. I was at an event a while back, and Paris Hilton was there. I can’t tell you how many times she got out her make-up kit and checked what she looked like.

LK: Listen, I used to be like that. That hasn’t changed. A woman is a woman is a woman. (laughs) Is and always will be.

CC: For some reason I didn’t see the rest of the crowd doing that.

TC: The rest of the crowd doesn’t look that good.

LK: And the rest of the crowd doesn’t need to look that good. That’s her job.

CC: Well, it was a pretty stellar crowd. I just felt bad for her, thinking that she has to be on all the time.

LK: I was just like that.

CC: Yeah?

LK: Oh, sure. I wouldn’t go out of the house until I looked like my photographs, and I never looked like my photographs, so it was hard getting out of the house.

After I was downed by deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which is when a blood clot develops in the large veins of the legs or the pelvic area, I was on so much medication that performing became a real hazard. But I had to get out there and make a living. It was not a good time for me.

CC: Let’s talk about the DVT. How did you first become aware of it?

LK: It was 73’ or ‘74 and I was running on the beach with my dog. A cameraman was taping it for a television special. But then the dog cut in front of me, and when I tried to avoid him, I tripped on my caftan, breaking my foot.

CC: How was the dog, by the way?

LK: (laughs) So they put a cast on me, and I went back to work. A few days later, I was scheduled to go on a concert tour across Australia. But after I got home, I noticed a pain in my leg, and my foot started to swell and turn blue and green. I ended up missing the plane, and my band members traveled over without me. We called a doctor, and he came over. I remember he looked like a handyman.

CC: Like Tom?


LK: Yeah. He came with pliers and he said, “Oh, let’s just loosen this [cast].” He gave me sleeping pills. He said, “Get on the plane, and you’ll never know you arrived.” And that would have been true, because the blood clot probably would have traveled up from my leg to my lungs and I would have died.

TC: Just for the record: Symptoms of DVT include leg pain and tenderness in the calf muscles, swelling or a change in color of one leg to purple or blue. If the clot breaks loose and travels to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism (PE), symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, rapid pulse or a cough. There may also be a feeling of apprehension, sweating, or fainting. PE can be fatal if not treated immediately.

LK: All true. So during the night I started to feel like I had the flu. That’s when I called my primary doctor and told him, “I have a broken foot. I’ve missed my plane and now I’m supposed to travel in the morning. Could you meet me at the airport and give me a flu shot?” He said, “You know, I’m not going to be responsible for your life unless you come over here before you get on the plane.” He recognized my symptoms, which were really quite advanced, because at that time I don’t think anybody spoke of pulmonary embolisms. After he examined me and x-rayed me, he sent me straight to Cedars-Sinai. I was in the hospital for over a month, and I was on blood thinners. I had to have my cast removed because it reduced my circulation. I couldn’t walk. I missed a lot of work. It was a bloody nightmare. I was in and out of a wheelchair for about two years.

CC: But after that you were free and clear?

LK: Not exactly. Years later, they put me back in the hospital when I had a recurrence of pulmonary embolism about six months into my pregnancy. They told me, “Don’t have your baby, you can’t have your baby.” But I was determined.

CC: And the baby’s fine?

LK: The baby’s 34.

CC: Yeah, but does he know who Dean Martin is?


LK: What I want to say is that I had a hip replacement a few years ago, and I had to take medication before the surgery, since they couldn’t give me a pain blocker during the operation, because of the DVT. As a result, I was in severe pain. DVT is a very, very serious condition. At that time, it was called phlebitis, if you remember.

TC: That means “inflammation in the vein.”..... continued in ABILITY Magazine


ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Lainie Kazan issue include Headlines — Colorful Wheelchairs; Aid For Medical Bills; Senator Harkin — Global Disability Rights; Green Pages — Solar Garden Lighting; Vegan Shoes; Humor — Get Off the Couch and Get a Hobby; Managing Pain — The Latest On Headaches; Mobility Issues? — Try A Trike; Cambodian Sports — Athletes With Disabilities Rule!; Looking For Love? — Try One of These Dating Sites; Spinal Cord Injuries — New Possibilities; Know Your Rights; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; DRLC — Got Cancer?; Events and Conferences...subscribe

More excerpts from the Lainie Kazan 2008 Aug/Sept issue:

Lainie Kazan — Four Decades In the Spotlight

Cambodian — Disability Sport

Martin Klebba — Larger Than Life

Quid Pro Quo — A Film About the “Wannabe” Disabled

Kawasaki Teryx Accessible Fun



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