12/07/1992 at 01:00 AM EST
WHEN THE SON OF A FRIEND DEVELOPED cancer recently, I felt shocked, saddened and, finally, gripped with the urge to do something to help.
I met with actor-director Gene Wilder, whose late wife, Saturday Night Lire comedian Gilda Radnor, lost her 2½-year battle with ovarian cancer in 1989. Gene and his new wife, Karen, are launching an organization called Gilda's Club, which will offer emotional support in New York City for people with cancer and for their families. It will be loosely based on a similar program in Los Angeles that supported Gilda during days of her darkest despair as well as during flights of elation. She went to the group's house in Santa Monica for therapy, for potluck suppers and even for joke sessions—planned evenings of amateur comedy. Some of the friends Gilda made there would survive; some would not. But all were greatly helped by facing their enemy together and by taking an active part in their treatment.
Gilda spent her final months in her Counecticut homo, far from Santa Monica. One of her final wishes was that people with cancer on the East Coast have a place of their own.
Negotiations are nearly finished for the purchase of a four-story town house in lower Manhattan that will be the home for Gilda's Club, which is expected to open on Gilda's birthday, June 28, after $300,000 worth of renovations. Not a residence, the club will contain meeting rooms, quiet rooms for meditation, a living room, a dance hall. places to listen to music, a playroom for children and training facilities for counselors. Every service provided will be free.
Gilda's own psychotherapist from Los Angeles, Joanna Bull, will be the director of Gilda's Club, and many of Gilda's friends are helping to raise money, It will cost $600,000 a year to operate, and we hope to raise $1.3 million in 1993. Jane Curtin, Mandy Patinkin, Rick Moranis. Joel Siegel. John Candy, Anne Bancroft, Mel Brooks, Sieve Guttenberg, Erma Bombeck and many others are all on the Gilda's Club team.
I'm proud to serve on the board of Gilda's Club. Pitching in for this endeavor will be part of PEOPLE'S 20th-anniversary celebration in 1994. It is the first of several charitable causes we will support as a way of sharing our magazine's success.