Volume 75, Number 18 | September 21 - 27, 2005

Villager photos by Elisabeth Robert

At Gilda Radner Way dedication, from left: Robin Zweibel, Paul Schaefer and Chelsea Cooley. At right, firefighters from Ladder 5 unveil the new sign.

Gilda had her own way; now Village has Gilda’s Way

By Lincoln Anderson

With a “1-2-3!” they tugged on the string and — it broke off! The paper wrapper was left still covering the new sign.

“Gilda would have loved this!” someone in the crowd said with a smile.

A ladder was needed, and just as luck would have it, the Ladder 5 stationhouse was right across the street. Minutes later, a firefighter climbed up and slipped off the paper, revealing the shiny new green-and-white street sign: Gilda Radner Way.

Radner, an original “Saturday Night Live” cast member, died in 1989 of ovarian cancer at age 42. The ceremony dedicating the new co-naming street sign at the northwest corner of Sixth Ave. and W. Houston St. marked a decade that Gilda’s Club, named after her, has been helping people with cancer and their families — free of charge — cope with the disease’s devastating effects on their lives.

The Gilda’s Club at 195 W. Houston St. was the first; today there are 18 in the United States and Canada.

Joel Siegel of ABC TV, whose wife died of a brain tumor, spoke at the event about what Gilda’s Club had meant to them. He said his wife valued the community she found there.

At Gilda’s Club, Siegel said — competing to be heard with the roar of passing buses and trucks on Houston St. and Sixth Ave. — “she wasn’t the only one in the room who had cancer, or was wearing a wig…. Medical science is very good at keeping us from dying. Gilda’s Club is about keeping us living,” he noted, adding hopefully there will be a day when Gilda’s Clubs are no longer necessary.

“Social support is as important as medical care when it comes to cancer,” remarked Joanna Bull, a Gilda’s Club founder.

Ray Lucas, whose wife battled the sickness, said the clubhouse got him in touch with bottled-up feelings.

“Gilda Radner helped me laugh,” he said, “and Gilda’s Club helped me cry.”

Gilda’s Club was “a club that Gilda never wanted to belong to,” quipped Robin Zweibel, wife of “SNL” ’s Alan Zweibel. But now, she said, it brings joy and comfort to so many.

Chelsea Cooley, Miss U.S.A., who during her year holding the title is raising awareness about breast and ovarian cancer, earned applause when she said that after her tenure is over she plans to continue doing it.

“David Letterman” bandleader Paul Schaefer knew Radner at “SNL” and wrote some tunes for her Broadway show, including for Candy Stripe, Radner’s parody of singer Patti Smith.

“I didn’t want to miss today’s ceremony and the getting of her own street,” he said, as he toured the clubhouse. “Through Gilda’s Club, her legacy lives on — and through her work.”

Sporting red caps and showing a lot of spirit, a hearty group came down from the Westchester Gilda’s Club for the event. Rosanne Kalick, who co-chairs the White Plains club’s group for multiple myeloma, a very rare cancer, is a longtime member.

“I’ve been around for almost 12 years, so I’m lucky,” she said. With new drugs, there’s hope, she said, that diseases like hers can become a chronic condition rather than fatal. She battled breast cancer, too.

In her arm she cradled her book she’s just had published, “Cancer Etiquette,” about what people should say and do when dealing with those with cancer.

“I think people have to think before they speak,” she said, summing up all that’s really required.

Another problem is that while friends and family want to help, sometimes more sensitivity is needed.

“Because you feel your life is out of control when you have cancer,” Kalick said. “Ask — don’t tell.”

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