Thursday, November 29, 2012

It's always something...

I was horrified to read a news item this week that Gilda's Club in Madison, Wisconsin, is changing its name -- to the far catchier (NOT) “The Cancer Support Community Southwest Wisconsin.” Because, they claim, young people today don't know who "Gilda" was.

This is just WRONG on so many levels.

First of all, if you don't know Gilda -- you should. (Whatever happened to curiosity? -- if you don't know who Gilda was -- ask!  Find out!!  Look her up on YouTube or Google -- isn't that what the Internet is for??)

Gilda's Clubs are named for Gilda Radner, an original cast member of Saturday Night Live from the 1970s. She left SNL in 1980, and died in 1989 at age 42 from ovarian cancer.

I was 14 when SNL made its debut in 1975. Today, almost (gulp) 40 years later, SNL is something of an institution, but back then, it was original, iconoclastic. It was like nothing we had seen before. In those days, before VCRs, kids would still show up to school on Monday mornings repeating lines from the skits they'd seen on the weekend. Parties would come to a standstill on Saturday nights at 10:30 as we'd all gather around the TV set to watch Gilda, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, et al, along with musical guests that you just didn't get to see anywhere else. 

Without Gilda (and the two other women in the original cast, Jane Curtin -- later of "Kate & Allie" and "Third Rock from the Sun" -- & Laraine Newman), there would be no Tina Fey, Amy Poehler or Kristen Wiig. 

Gilda said that “Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I’d rather not belong to." In 1991, a few years after her death, her husband, the actor Gene Wilder, and several of her friends founded the first Gilda's Clubs -- a place where people living with cancer, their friends and families, could meet to support each other in a homelike setting, free of charge.

Apparently, a few years ago, Gilda's Clubs merged with a similar support organization, and they are now under pressure to "rebrand."

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If you apply the same principle, I would think that institutions like Carnegie Hall & Rockefeller Plaza are due for a renaming, because really, these days, who knows or cares who Andrew Carnegie or John D. Rockefeller were?

Does anyone know who Susan G. Komen was? 

And so on.

As Elissa Freeman noted on,
"As news of the name drop gathered steam over the twittersphere, many wondered if we should also change the name of Martin Luther King Day to some more modern African American man who helped change the course of history? And since Christ hasn’t been around for a couple of centuries now, perhaps we should rename that big celebration we have on December 25th too?"
(Some would argue that we're doing that already, with the trend towards saying, "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." But, I digress...)

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Quite frankly, I am sick & tired of names being constantly changed on me. Too many things today are being named for corporations, not people -- and then when the corporations get bought by another corporation, or the corporation declines to renew its naming rights to a certain property -- the names associated with the company change.

Here in Toronto, one of the more famous examples is a theatre that was, when it was built in 1960, originally named "The O'Keefe Centre." (Admittedly, after a brewery -- which has long since ceased to exist, at least by that name.) Suddenly, after almost 40 years, it became "The Hummingbird Centre" in 1996.  The WHAT? (A software company, I think.) OK.

I was JUST getting used to calling it the Hummingbird Centre when -- whoops! -- it became the Sony Centre in 2007. It is still called that (or at least, it was, last time I checked). 

When Toronto opened its brand-new, then-state-of-the-art domed stadium back in 1989, part of the hoopla surrounding its debut was a naming contest. The eventual winner was "SkyDome," with a fancy logo to go along with it (the capital "D" open like the roof to let the sun in).  Everyone knew what the SkyDome was. The name instantly evokes an image.

But in 2005, the stadium was sold and renamed after the new owner -- a communications conglomerate -- and now it's known as the Rogers Centre. (I keep wondering what the original naming contest winner thinks of that.) The adjacent SkyDome Hotel is now called the Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel.  How are people supposed to know THAT's the hotel where you can watch the Blue Jays play from your hotel room??

I hate giving people directions in downtown Toronto these days, because half the time, I am naming landmarks that no longer exist, at least by those particular names. ("Turn right at BCE Place... oops, Brookfield Place... walk until you come to the Movenpick Marche Restaurant -- wait, Richtree -- no, come to think of it, it's Marche again...")  When Eatons department store finally drew its last breath, there was some question as to whether the Toronto Eaton Centre would retain its name (so far, so good...knocking wood) -- and every now & then, I hear rumbles that the iconic CN Tower, perhaps this city's best-known landmark, may soon be called something entirely different. Bah!!

Anyway -- you get the idea.

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Mary Elizabeth Williams, a writer on Salon who is living with cancer and supports her local Gilda's Club, made this important point:
"...there’s a reason that organizations are named after people. There’s a reason that a name resonates in the heart of someone facing a disease in a way that a bland, Cancer Support Community Southwest Wisconsin, does not. It’s because it makes it personal and intimate. It creates the unique and powerful and so necessary experience of identification and empathy. It sure as hell says to people with cancer, “You’re not forgotten,” which is actually a very big deal for a whole lot of us going through it. [Emphasis mine.] My kids certainly didn’t know who Gilda was when we started going to the clubhouse. They do now. And they love her. They love her because she’s real to them. She’s there smiling from a picture on the wall when they walk in. She’s there for all of us in the club, a beacon of laughter and warmth."
This really resonated with me, particularly as childless-not-by-choice woman -- because if there is one thing that we fear (well, one thing among others...!) it's being forgotten. :( 

Gilda was "one of us."  She did not have children. She and her husband were trying to conceive;  she had two miscarriages and was going through fertility treatment when she was diagnosed. 

Was Gilda's cancer caused, or exacerbated, by the powerful fertility drugs she was taking? Nobody knows for sure. A link between fertility drugs & cancer has yet to be definitively proven. As it turned out, Gilda's grandmother, aunt and cousin all died of ovarian cancer, so genetics were not in her favour either. But I have to admit, stories like hers (and there are too many of them for my comfort) are one reason why I abandoned treatment when I did. And why I faithfully keep my annual checkup appointments with Dr. Ob-gyn.

Gilda was not just a very funny woman, but a wise and thoughtful one too. Read her memoir, "It's Always Something." One of my favourite quotes ever, which appears on the right-hand sidebar of this blog, is taken from that book. Gilda took the lemons that life had handed her and made some delicious lemonade in the time she had left.  "While we have the gift of life, it seems to me the only tragedy is to allow part of us to die -- whether it is our spirit, our creativity, or our glorious uniqueness," she said.

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Gilda's Club Toronto has announced that it will not be changing its name, citing Gilda's still-strong ties to this city. Bravo!


  1. What a great post! It should be published in the Globe right after the story of the name change. I often wonder if the youth of today really does have the curiosity to find out who Gilda is. With the internet it is so easy to do! I find myself looking up little details all the time. I would think they are no different.

  2. I was saddened when I heard that about the Madison chapter renaming. I too remember when school was divided into those who were allowed to watch SNL and those who weren't "old" enough yet. And Gilda was the queen of comedy. We still quote her in our house.

    And my feeling is that names only change when I've decided they change. I still call National Airport, National Airport and not whatever they've renamed it since.

  3. This is such an awesome post...I do not know where to start except to say YES!!!!! YOU ARE RIGHT and THEY are WRONG!!!!! All of these name changes are ridiculous - no more so than changing the name of Gilda's Club...that's a heartbreaker!!

    Thank you also for the walk down memory lane about SNL...I remember replaying SNL skits in my spares...we'd have a blast!!! Amazing that we did it all without access to VCR's, Google, etc.

    And finally, I still call it the O'Keefe Centre and the Sky Dome. This confuses the hell out of the ESL students we sometimes host. But then they confuse me when they use all of these 'new' names!!!


  4. It's sad to think that they had thought rebranding a person was in the best interests of the group. I hate it when they start renaming buildings to the highest bidder. It's ridiculous. All that happens is that people start calling the same building by different names and it's very confusing. Air Canada Place, Staples Centre, Rogers Arena...they do it here too. Ford Centre for the Performing Arts is now the just "The Centre" (I think by now it's changed again),they even changed a beach location from Spanish Banks to Spanish Bank )yes, they took away the "s"). Ridiculous. Guess what everybody still call it?