Gilda Who?

I was nine when Saturday Night Live premiered, too young to watch the late night comedy show. When friends at school came in reciting parts, my mother assured me they were not allowed to stay up that late and were only repeating what their older siblings had told them.

Within a few years, I was old enough to stay up — often, at first, while babysitting waiting for parents to return home.

Yes, I know who Gilda Radner is and I still laugh and use “never mind” in conversation. I was 22 when she died, and I am now older than she was at the time of her death.

Cancer sucks.

As some of you may have read, part of her legacy – Gilda’s Club, for people living with cancer and their friends and families — may be changing its name in parts of the country, and in some areas already has, to remove her name. The Wisconsin State Journal, in an article Gilda’s Club changing name, as fewer know namesake, reports the reason for the change at the Madison, Wisconsin location “is that our college students were born after Gilda Radner passed“; it’s the fourth one to do so; and the assertion that “The national organization is phasing in the new name, Cancer Support Community, Stenz said, and the Gilda name will slowly go away.” (Other locations that did this didn’t appear to do so for the “Gilda who” reason, or at least didn’t share it with the press.)

Much reaction has followed; for example, see A Gilda’s Club Loses Gilda by Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon. One part to point out: from what I’ve read, there is no nationally driven desire to change the name at all locations. It is a strictly local decision. See What’s In a Name at BrandChannel.

Names matter. They matter very much. The idea that if younger people don’t know who someone is, the answer is to remove the name and further erase them from memory appalls me. It bothers me in part because I work with teens; and do we respect them so little as to say, “you don’t know it? End of story, let’s not mention it again, if it’s not something that you know or remember, forget about it.” As someone who works with teens in a story/information setting, the idea of not providing further information where a lack exists is chilling. The idea of catering to this rather than correcting it bothers me. Add a qualifier to the name. Have a part of the website saying who Gilda was. To the question “Gilda Who” answer, “Radner,” not “never mind, no Gilda here.”

Names matter. They especially matter when the person is dead. Gilda’s Club is part of Radner’s legacy, and in all honesty, it really doesn’t matter whether or not someone remembers her because the name means she lives on. To change the name tells those college students “and the person you know with cancer? Maybe yourself? If they die, in a couple of decades, people won’t know who you are, or care, and any memorial people have done for you or your loved one will be removed.”

Names matter. I can understand that some people don’t know who Gilda is; there are plenty of people who I don’t know anything about. No one is saying anyone has to know anything about Gilda; though, of course, it would be nice if they did because she was a very talented woman. I’m not shocked that people don’t know who she is; again, I’m shocked that the response to this is to erase her name.

What are your thoughts on the name change? And do you know who Gilda Radner is?


21 thoughts on “Gilda Who?

  1. About 6 years ago I did a Blogathon (24 hours straight of blogging). Each blogger was to pick a charity to raise money and awareness while blogging. I chose Gilda’s Club. Gilda Radner is one of my comedic idols. I adore that woman and still can’t breathe from the laughing when I watch her. To hear people are removing her name from their chapters because “people don’t know who she is” saddens me. They don’t know? Tell them!


    Thank you for posting this.


  2. My *children* know who Gilda Radner is. Not because she had cancer, but because she was FUNNY – and because I too use “nevermind,” among other things, in everyday speech. Since this particular rant topic has come up, my children are now aware of her cancer research legacy as well. COME ON, people, this is a no-brainer.

    I guess no one has any issues with “Ronald McDonald House,” then.


  3. I wonder how much of the name change is less a “Gilda Who?” and more of a “What’s a Gilda’s Club?” At 33 I recognize the name but dont’ know who Gilda Radner actually was. In no way do I associate the name Gilda with cancer. If I were a college student looking for a group to join, “Cancer Support Community” is immediately obvious as to what it is, whereas Gilda’s Club is nebulous and perhaps something I might overlook.


  4. I lost both of my parents to cancer, a few years apart. During their battles, they both received a lot of support from the Gilda’s Club in Rochester, MI. A warm and welcoming place for them and the whole family. Gilda’s brother was very involved in this chapter – at the club doing everything from answering phones to helping families. When my mom passed, my dad sponsored a room at the club in her honor. Both of them believed in the mission of this important place. While changing the name of the organization won’t necessarily change their mission, it does dilute the “brand” the club has established over time.

    Oh, and my parents were in their 50’s when SNL debuted. Hardly the target audience. They didn’t know who Gilda Radner was either.

    Dumb idea. Sad idea.


  5. I know who Gilda Radner was. Though nobody in my house watched Saturday Night Live, I heard about it at school, and when she died, I remembered her – mainly because her husband was Willy Wonka.

    I find removing her name from her legacy utterly incredibly. People are, as a species, unbelievably sentimental about ridiculous things, but we’re also breath-stealingly callous at times. This is definitely the latter.


  6. Hi – what are you all talking about regarding using “never mind” in conversation? I say that all the time. Is that a New York thing only? I’m from Essex County, New Jersey (fairly close to New York), and while I didn’t live there long, my parents grew up there. I’ve always used that word when I want to retract something. Is this a regional thing?


  7. Never mind — the Gilda character of Emily Litella would appear on the news segment and rant about something, such as “violins on television” or “soviet jewelry” until she was awkwardly interuppted and told it was “violence on television” or “Soviet jewry”. At which point she would say, oh that’s different, never mind.


  8. Jamie, “tell them.” exactly.

    Alys, if its a question of marketing and advocacy, there is still no reason (in my never humble opinion) to ditch the name. Gilda’s Club: Cancer Support Community. Work on how to make that quick pitch or explanation.

    Teri, thanks for sharing. And now I’m wondering at how her surviving family, like her brother, are reacting to this.

    tanita, since this is hardly the first one to do it, I’m sure there is some suprise at the reaction going on, because part of the callousness may be not realizing that is what it is.

    kristin, i put in a link for you! my comment before this one


  9. Yeah, and let’s change the names of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial while we are it it, to Tributes to Democracy or something. And the Will Rogers Fund? Forget about it! This Gilda thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I grew up watching Gilda, and my kids have already seen and heard her stuff.


  10. I just heard this on the news last night and was very saddened. It’s adding insult to injury – first you die of cancer, then we take your name off of something that gave some meaning to your death. Is there a petition to sign somewhere?


  11. It’s always something!

    (and yes, that’s a Gilda ref –

    I agree: names are important. And explaining what the connection between Gilda Radner and Gilda’s Club should be easy for any group, particularly one that’s been associated with her for so many years. She’s not a corporation (think the PanAm Building becoming the Met Life Building) or Idlewild Airport becoming JFK!!


  12. Exactly. What you said.

    I mean, I know OF Gilda. I’ve seen clips, but I really don’t know much beyond that. But when something is named after someone in their memory, it makes NO SENSE to change it! Surely it’s easier to find out who Gilda Radner was if you want to know than it is to find out who many obscure benefactors who’ve have their names on schools and buildings and playgrounds for even longer ANYWAY.


  13. Oh my gosh, that’s so sad. I was five when Gilda passed and I’m still in awe of her comic talent. And I think it’s especially important to associate her name with organizations supporting those suffering from cancer and their friends/family. She wasn’t just someone who had cancer–she was immensely talented and cool, and people remember her for that. Just like everyone with cancer is a full human being, not just a disease. I really hope they keep her name. Gilda forever.


  14. Isn’t the point of naming something after someone so they aren’t forgotten? It is part of Gilda’s Club’s heritage to instruct people on who that talented woman was. I don’t know who Susan G. Komen was, but that doesn’t stop me from knowing what the organization represents. It’s laziness on the part of the organization and it is insulting to the younger generation because they are fully capable of using Google.

    I can only wonder how Gene Wilder is feeling about the whole thing. His beautiful wife’s legacy should not be marred by the lazy and the ignorant.


  15. I loved Gilda Radner, and I definitely know who she is. I remember where I was when I heard that she had died.
    Gilda was probably one of the greatest comedic talents of the 20th century. She was a part of the first SNL group that gave it a place in TV history. Sadly, she lived with alot of personal self-doubt, low self-esteem, and bulimia. She made some mediocre movies after leaving SNL, and then apparently spent a very long time getting properly diagnosed, which mihgt have saved her life.
    But Gilda was very, very funny and very, very talented, and the idea that we should blow off her name because she’s dead and the 20-somethings don’t remember her is insulting and absurd.


  16. I think changing the name is horrible and their reasoning ridiculous. Countless schools, libraries etc. are named after people that made a difference yet have passed on. Rather than educate the younger generation about Gilda, I am appalled that they think changing the name is the solution. If they go ahead and change the name, I think that is sad in many ways.


  17. If the question “Gilda who?” is so disturbing that people feel the need to change the name, it seems changing it to “Gilda Radnor’s Club” is the more obvious and respectful and simple solution. Duh. Gilda was such an incredible person, a brilliant comedienne, and she fought her cancer so bravely and ferociously. Anyone who wants to know not only who she was, but the stuff she was made of, just needs to get a copy of her memoir, It’s Always Something. It’s all there. And even in the face of writing about her battle with cancer, she’ll make you laugh. And cry. I still miss and think about her so often. She made the world a brighter place.


  18. Chris, it is just ridiculous logic to say, basically, that person has been dead so long no one remember.

    Jean, I don’t know about a petition.

    Laura, thanks for the links.

    rockinlibrarian, i think there is also a rant here about a name disappearing when its done partly in memory, as here, and all the buildings etc named after big-money-donors who people may not know but hey, they have the $ so change the name. Not what you do but how much $ you have.

    annie, yes, exactly!

    lauren, I was wondering about how Gene Wilder felt about this, also.

    Maria, it’s insulting to Gilda’s memory, it’s insulting to those of us who remember her, and it’s insulting to 20somethings.

    wendy, I just checked and the name change for that particular location is still on. the good news is gilda’s clubs in many other locations have clearly said they are NOT changing their name.

    violet, and yet another another that doesn’t involve getting rid of Gilda’s name.


  19. I adore Gilda. She is my favorite person of all time that I wish I could have had the chance to meet. I read her memoir and I have seen so many clips of her on SNL. She was an amazing person. Her journey was amazing. She should be remembered and changing the name is a ridiculous thing to do. More people NEED to know about her and how wonderful she was. She’s still in our hearts and we should never let that go. ❤


  20. Jessica, yes — and one positive from this, I think, is finding out just how many people do know who Gilda is, and how important she is to them.


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