by | Jan 2, 2011 | Past Celebrity Honorees

Lainie Kazan is the embodiment of the word entertainer — and artist who has reached the pinnacle in virtually every area of performance. She has come a long way since she was Barbra Streisand’s Broadway understudy in “Funny Girl.” Once she was able to display her electrifying talent in two shows, she became the “Chanteuse” of her native New York, with nightclub stints and guest appearances on virtually every top variety and talk show in network television, including an unparalleled 26 appearances on “The Dean Martin Show.” She even hosted her own variety special for NBC and opened the popular “Lainie’s Room” and “Lainie’s Room East” at the Los Angeles and New York Playboy Clubs.

The sensual magnetism Lainie exuded in her variety shows and nightclubs attracted film directors and producers, leading her quickly into acting on both the gold and silver screens. After watching her coo through ballads and belt like a sassy blues woman at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, an astonished Francis Ford Coppola offered her a plum role on “One From The Heart.” The rest, as they say, is history.

In 1983, Lainie received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in Richard Benjamin’s “My Favorite Year,” starring Peter O’Toole. Other films include “Lust in the Dust” with Tab Hunter and Divine, “Delta Force” with Chuck Norris, “Beaches” with Better Midler and Barbara Hershey and “Harry and the Hendersons” directed by Steven Speilberg. Additional credits include the Disney film “The Cemetery Club,” “29th Street” with Danny Aiello, “The Associate” with Whoopi Goldberg, “Love is All There Is” with Renee Taylor, Angelina Jolie and Paul Sorvino; “The Big Hit” with Mark Wahlberg, Disney’s “The Crew” with Burt Reynolds, Richard Dreyfuss and Jennifer Tilly; “What’s Cooking” with Mercedes Ruehl, Julianna Margulies, Kyra Sedgwick and Alfre Woodard; and “Gigli” with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez.

Lainie has received critical acclaim for her role in the blockbuster comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” which has grossed over $600 million worldwide and won the People’s Choice Award. She reprised her role in CBS’ “My Big Fat Greek Life” TV series. She recently completed filming “The Engagement Ring” which aired on TNT Nov. 28th, 2005, with Patricia Heaton, Vincent Spano, Tony Lo Bianco, directed by Steven Schachter (Emmy Nominated “Door to Door”) as well as “Whiskey School,” an independent feature also starring Olympia Dukakis, Mary Stuart Masterson and Gary Swanson, directed by Pete Masterson (“Trip to Bountiful”). The feature film “Red
Riding Hood,” a musical retelling of the classic story with modern dialogue and original songs, was released in 2005. The film was directed by Randal Kleiser (“Grease”) also stars Joey Fatone and Debi Mazar and features music written by Bruce Roberts.

Lainie also stormed series television, receiving an Emmy Award nomination for “St. Elsewhere” and a Cable ACE Award nomination for “The Paper Chase.” Most recently she guest starred on “Will and Grace” as Grace’s Aunt Honey. She has been featured on “Beverly Hills 90210” and has had recurring roles as Aunt Freida on “The Nanny,” and as Dottie, Kirstie Alley’s mom, on “Veronica’s Closet.”

Lainie also secured the starring role as Doris Bernstein in an episode of the top rated CBS show “Touched By An Angel.” She also starred in a children’s special, “Safety
Patrol,” a made for television movie by “The Wonderful World of Disney” which was directed by Savage Steve Holland and produced by Doug Drazin. The special also starred Leslie Nielsen and Curtis Armstrong. She recently co-starred with Virginia Madsen in the LIFETIME Original Movie “Tempted.”

Lainie, however, has never forgotten her roots as a live performer. She reprised her role in the Broadway musical version of “My Favorite Year,” which won her a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress, and has also starred on Broadway in “The Government Inspector” with Tony Randall, and recently starred in the award winning drama “The Exonerated.”

Some of her recent nightclub credits include sold out engagements in Los Angeles at the Cinegrill and The Catalina Bar and Grill, in NYC at The Regency, Las Vegas and Atlantic City at the Atlantic City Hilton, Harrah’s Casino and Resort and Trumps Castle and the hallowed stages of New York’s Rainbow and Stars, Tavern on the Green and the famed Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel. Throughout the years, Lainie has also performed many symphonic concerts. She has sung with such symphonies as The Boston Pops, The Palm Beach Pops and The Cleveland Symphony to name just a few, and has sung at Performing Arts Centers throughout the United States. She has toured Europe and the Orient to sold-out houses and captivated audiences wherever she goes.

Lainie has always been a supporter of various charities. She received the “Woman of the Year” award from B’Nai Brith and has graced the stage for many AIDS benefits, telethons and non-profit organizations throughout the United States. Her most recent credit in this area includes “Doin’ What Comes Natrur’lly,” an all-star Broadway tribute to Ethel Merman to benefit Gay Men’s Health Crisis that Lainie both produced and starred in. It also featured Patti LuPone, Elaine Stritch, Andrea Martin, Madeline Kahn and Bette Midler. Lainie was also named the reigning 1997 “Queen of Brooklyn” at a ceremony by Brooklyn Borough President, Howard Golden. She serves on the Board for the Young Musicians Foundation, AIDS Project LA and B’nai Birth to name just a few. In 1990 she was presented “The Israeli Peace Award.”

Her voice has never sounded better either. Lainie admits that her voice has changed over the years, but critics and jazz lovers praise the maturity and depth of feeling that grew from years of experience.

Lainie’s album, “Body and Soul” is a collection of graceful, feline sentiment that  molders with what Rex Reed called “more talent in her little finger than most singers have in their dreams.” Lainie’s newest CD, “Lainie Kazan – In The Groove,” was produced by Lainie, David Benoit and Clark Germain. Lainie’s daughter, Jennifer Bena, sings on the album and award-winning pianist David Benoit also performs on the CD.