• 14 September 1919
  •  New York City, New York, USA

Kay Medford


A veteran scene stealer known for her delightful dry, poker-faced delivery, Kay Medford was born Margaret Kathleen Regan in New York City in 1919, the daughter of James and Mary Regan, of Irish stock. She attended both public and Catholic schools growing up, her parents both dying while she was in her teens. She quickly gravitated toward humor and show business as a respite from those sad times, and subsequently moved to Hollywood to try to break into films. All she managed were unbilled bit parts. To support herself she first became a waitress in a night club, even working up a club act of her own on her off time. Slowly she came around and evolved into one of New York and London's most enjoyable cabaret performers. This built-in reputation eventually led her to the Broadway musical stage in 1951, where at the age of 37 she played Cherry in "Paint Your Wagon." More popular shows made use of her reliable name, including "John Murray Anderson's Almanac" (1953), "Lullaby" (winning a Theatre World Award) (1954), "Mr. Wonderful" (1956), "A Hole in the Head" (1957), and "Carousel" (1957). In 1960, Kay won the New York Drama Critic's Award for her hilarious turn as Dick Van Dyke's emasculating mother in the classic musical "Bye, Bye Birdie". However, she lost out on the Mama role to Maureen Stapleton when it transferred to film. By this time Kay had patented her nosy, sardonic, overbearing Brooklynesque characters. It all culminated in the role of a lifetime as the Jewish mom in both the Broadway stage (1964) and film versions of Funny Girl (1968), the fictionalized biography of entertainer Fanny Brice. Kay was the only one in the cast who managed to keep up with Barbra Streisand and her star-making brilliance. Kay's spot-on, stone-faced comic timing grabbed a major share of laughs and earned her a well-deserved Oscar nomination. She was not utilized, however, and sorely missed in Streisand's sequel, Funny Lady (1975). Appearing frequently on TV with both comedic and dramatic roles, Kay continued in her busybody mama vein with Dean Martin on his long-running variety show. Kay fell ill in her final years and died of cervical cancer in 1980 at age 60 in her Manhattan home.