Lainie Kazan
Birth Date:
May 15, 1940
Birth Place:
New York, New York, USA
5' 6" (1.68 m)
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My Favorite Year


First gaining attention as Barbra Streisand's Broadway understudy in “Funny Girl” (1964), American actress Lainie Kazan offered one of her best screen roles to date playing the cheeky, candid Bella in the comedy “My Favorite Year” (1982), for which she was handed a Golden Globe nomination. Ten years later, she recreated the role in a Tony nominated performance in the Broadway musical version of the same name. After roles in numerous films, including “The Delta Force” (1986), Steven Speilberg's “Harry and the Hendersons” (1987), “29th Street” (1991), Disney's “The Cemetery Club” (1993),“The Big Hit” (1998), “What's Cooking” (2000) and “The Crew” (2000), Kazan was put back in the limelight with the box office hit comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (2002), in which her supporting role earned a Golden Satellite nomination. Her more recent credits include “Gigli” (2003), “Red Riding Hood” (2004), “Whiskey School” (2005) and “Beau Jest” (2008). On the small screen, Kazan received an Emmy nomination and a Cable ACE nomination for her recurring roles in NBC's “St. Elsewhere” (1987-1988) and “The Paper Chase” (1985-1986), respectively. She also appeared in the short lived TV version of “My Big Fat Greek Life” (2003), where she reprised her role of Maria Portokalos, and appeared in “You Don’t Mess With Zohan” (2008). She will be seen in “Oy Vey! My Son is Gay!” (2009), “The Christmas Movie” (2009) and “The Godmother” (2009).

Kazan is also popular for her cabaret performances in the late 1970s called “Lainie's Room” and “Lainie's Room East.” Since then, she has had many sold-out performances throughout the United States and Europe.

5' 6” Kazan is on the Board of the Young Musicians Foundation, AIDS Project LA and B'nai Brith, and has helped a number of AIDS benefits, telethons and nonprofit organizations throughout the United States. For her effort, she was presented with The Israeli Peace Award in 1990 and the Woman of the Year Award from B'nai Brith.

Queen of Brooklyn

Childhood and Family:

Lainie Kazan was born Lainie Levine on May 15, 1940, in New York, New York. Her parents are Jewish and her father worked as a bookmaker. She was educated at the Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, New York, and then the Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

Lainie married Peter Daniels on February 28, 1971, but they later divorced. She has a daughter named Jennifer.

In 1997, Lainie was named the reigning “Queen of Brooklyn” at that year's Welcome Back to Brooklyn Festival.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding


Lainie Kazan kicked off her Broadway career in 1961 with a performance in “The Happiest Girl in the World.” She resurfaced the next year in a production of “Bravo Giovanni.” Her big break arrived two years later when she understudied for Barbra Streisand on Broadway in the musical “Funny Girl” (1964), where she later replaced Streisand when she suffered from a throat problem. Kazan later made guest appearances on “The Dean Martin Show” (1966-1968) and appeared in concert on the syndicated variety special titled “The Lainie Kazan Show” (1968).

In 1968, Kazan made her feature film debut in “Lady in Cement” (1968), which starred Frank Sinatra. She was then cast as the leading lady in “Dayton's Devils” (also 1968), opposite Rory Calhoun and Leslie Nielsen, and shot an independent film in 1971 called “Romance of a Horsethief.” The films were not successful so Kazan decided to focus on her singing career for a number of years. Her efforts paid off when in the late 1970s, she successfully opened “Lainie's Room” and “Lainie's Room East” at the Los Angeles and New York Playboy Clubs, respectively.

Kazan resumed her film career in the early 1980s when director Francis Ford Coppola cast her in “One From The Heart” (1982), opposite Frederic Forrest, Teri Garr, Raul Julia and Nastassja Kinski. She was then cast alongside Peter O'Toole and Mark Linn-Baker in Richard Benjamin's comedy “My Favorite Year” (1982), where she was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her work in the film.

The rest of the decade saw Kazan in many films, including “Lust in the Dust” (1985, with Tab Hunter and Divine), “The Delta Force” (1986, opposite Chuck Norris), Steven Speilberg's “Harry and the Hendersons” (1987), “Beaches” (1988, played Better Midler's mother) and “Out of the Dark” (1989). She also acted in the TV films “Sunset Limousine” (1983) and “Obsessive Love” (1984), and found little success with CBS' “Tough Cookies” (1986, as Rita) and “Karen's Song” (1987, as the friend of Parry Duke). She, however, received a 1987 Cable ACE nomination for her portrayal of Rose Samuels in several episodes of the series “The Paper Chase” (1985-1986) and was outstanding as Frieda Fiscus in three episodes of the NBC hospital drama “St. Elsewhere” (1987-1988), for which she was nominated for a 1988 Emmy for Outstanding Guest Performer in a Drama Series.

Kazan next teamed up with Danny Aiello and Anthony LaPagli in the comedy “29th Street” (1991), had a supporting role in the Disney film “The Cemetery Club” (1993), appeared with Whoopi Goldberg in Donald Petrie's “The Associate” (1996), starred with Renee Taylor, Angelina Jolie and Paul Sorvino in “Love Is All There Is” (1996), played Jeanne Shulman in the Mark Wahlberg action flick “The Big Hit” (1998) and was cast as Ben Stiller's mother in the biopic “Permanent Midnight” (1998). She also made guest appearances in such series as “Beverly Hills, 90210” (1991), HBO's “Tales from the Crypt” (1993), “Murder, She Wrote” (1994), “Life's Work” (1996) and “Veronica's Closet” (1997). From 1995 to 1999, Kazan had the recurring role of Aunt Freida in the CBS sitcom “The Nanny.” The 1990s also found Kazan returning to the stage. After a decade, she reprised her award nominated screen role of Belle for the Broadway musical version of “My Favorite Year” (1992) and earned a 1993 Best Actress (Featured Role - Musical) Tony nomination for her work in the production.

“What's Cooking,” a comedy directed by Gurinder Chadha and starring Mercedes Ruehl, Julianna Margulies, Kyra Sedgwick and Alfre Woodard, was Kazan's opening film work in the new millennium. She continued with performances in the films “If You Only Knew” (2000), Disney's “The Crew” (2000, with Burt Reynolds, Richard Dreyfuss and Jennifer Tilly) and appeared in episodes of “Strong Medicine” (2001), “Will & Grace” (2001) and “Touched by an Angel” (2002). It was in 2002 that Kazan landed the coveted role of Greek mother Maria Portokalos in the unexpected smash hit comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” which was written by and starred Nia Vardalos. The role brought Kazan a Golden Satellite nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, Comedy or Musical and a SAG nomination for Outstanding Performance by the Cast of a Theatrical Motion Picture. The following year, she reprised her role for the CBS sitcom spin-off “My Big Fat Greek Life,” which unfortunately only had a short life.

Kazan next costarred with Virginia Madsen in the Lifetime original movie “Tempted,” appeared with Michael Rapaport, Gary Stretch and Seymour Cassel in the action film “A Good Night to Die” and portrayed the mother of Ben Affleck in “Gigli” (all 2003), from which she netted a Razzie nomination for Worst Supporting Actress. She was then seen in “Red Riding Hood” (2004), a musical retelling of the classic fairy tale, acted alongside Olympia Dukakis, Mary Stuart Masterson and Gary Swanson in the independent drama helmed by Pete Masterson, “Whiskey School” (2005), and played Alicia Rosa Anselmi in the TNT film “The Engagement Ring” (2005).

In 2007, Kazan appeared in two episodes of “The King of Queens” and had a supporting role in the comedy “Bratz,” which starred Logan Browning, Janel Parrish, Nathalia Ramos and Jon Voight. She also played the mother of Leah Remini in the comedy series “In the Motherhood” (2007) and appeared in “Beau Jest” (2008), where she portrayed the wife of Seymour Cassel and mother of Robyn Cohen. She also appeared in “You Don’t Mess With Zohan” (2008) and will be seen in “Oy Vey! My Son is Gay!” (2009), “The Christmas Movie” (2009) and “The Godmother” (2009).

In addition to her prolific screen career, Kazan has had sold out engagements in Los Angeles, New York City, and Atlantic City. She has also performed with The Boston Pops, The Palm Beach Pops and The Cleveland Symphony and produced the CD “Lainie Kazan - In The Groove,” along with Clark Germain and award winning pianist David Benoit. Previously, she had released an album called “Body and Soul.”


  • High Falls Film Festival: Susan B. Anthony “Failure is Impossible” Award, 2002

  • The Israeli Peace Award, 1990

  • B'nai Brith: Woman of the Year

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