Mitzi Gaynor (born Francesca Marlene de Czanyi von Gerber; September 4, 1931) is an American actress, singer, and dancer. Her notable films include There's No Business Like Show Business (1954), which featured Irving Berlin's music and also starred Ethel Merman, Dan Dailey, Marilyn Monroe, Donald O'Connor, and Johnnie Ray; and South Pacific, the 1958 motion picture adaptation of the stage musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Early life and education
Mitzi Gaynor was born as Francesca Marlene de Czanyi von Gerber on September 4, 1931, in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Pauline, a dancer, and Henry de Czanyi von Gerber, a violinist, cellist, and music director. After her father remarried, she became step-sister to anti-war activist Donald W. Duncan.
Her family first moved to Elgin, Illinois, and then to Detroit, and later when she was eleven, on to Hollywood. She trained as a ballerina as a child and began her career in the corps de ballet.
At 13, she was singing and dancing with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera company. She lied about her address so she could attend Le Conte Junior High in Hollywood.
20th Century Fox
She signed a seven-year contract with Twentieth Century-Fox at age 17. She sang, acted, and danced in a number of film musicals, often paired with some of the biggest male musical stars of the day. A Fox Studio executive thought that Mitzi Gerber sounded like the name of a delicatessen, and they came up with a name that used the same initials.
Gaynor made her film debut in a musical, My Blue Heaven (1950) supporting Betty Grable and Dan Dailey. She followed it with a college drama Take Care of My Little Girl (1951), where she played the roommate of Jeanne Crain.
Fox then gave Gaynor a star part, in the musical biopic Golden Girl (1951), playing Lotta Crabtree. It was a mild success at the box office.
Gaynor was one of several stars in the anthology comedy We're Not Married! (1952), then she was top billed in the musical, Bloodhounds of Broadway (1952), which made $2 million.
Fox put her in another biopic, The I Don't Care Girl (1952), where she played Eva Tanguay. The film made $1.25 million.
Gaynor starred in Down Among the Sheltering Palms (1953), playing a South Sea island girl. She was the female lead in a Western, Three Young Texans (1954).
Mitzi Gaynor from the trailer for There's No Business Like Show Business (1954)
Gaynor married Jack Bean, a talent agent and public relations executive for MCA, in San Francisco, California, on November 18, 1954. They resided on North Arden Drive in Beverly Hills, California. She had just been released from Twentieth Century-Fox (before the start of There's No Business Like Show Business) with four years left on her contract and decided with the time off to get married. The union was childless. After their marriage, Bean quit MCA and started his publicity firm called Bean & Rose and managed Gaynor's career.
In 1956, Gaynor appeared in the Paramount remake of Anything Goes, co-starring Bing Crosby, Donald O'Connor, and Zizi Jeanmaire, loosely based on the musical by Cole Porter, P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton. Paramount cast her in another remake, The Birds and the Bees (1956), playing the role originated by Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve (1941).
Her third film for Paramount was The Joker Is Wild (1957), a biopic of Joe E. Lewis starring Frank Sinatra, in which Gaynor played the female lead.
In 1957, Gaynor appeared in MGM's Les Girls, directed by George Cukor, with Gene Kelly and Kay Kendall.
Her biggest international fame came from her starring role as Ensign Nellie Forbush in the film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. For her performance, she was nominated for a Best Actress Golden Globe Award.
Gaynor followed this with a comedy at MGM, Happy Anniversary (1959) opposite David Niven, and the United Kingdom production Surprise Package (1960), a musical comedy thriller directed by Stanley Donen. Her co-stars were Yul Brynner and Noël Coward. The film had a theme song by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn. Her last film role was For Love or Money (1963), starring Kirk Douglas.
Following her film work, Gaynor remained a popular favorite. She often performed songs at Academy Awards ceremonies. At the 1967 Oscar telecast, she sang the theme from the film Georgy Girl. Gaynor later added the number to her concert repertoire. Throughout the 1960s and '70s, she starred in nine acclaimed television specials that garnered 16 Emmy nominations.
As an interesting historical footnote, she appeared between two sets by The Beatles when they made their second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show of February 16, 1964. She performed for an unprecedented nine-minute segment from the stage of the Deauville Hotel, in Miami Beach, separated with one commercial break. She sang "Too Darn Hot" and a blues medley. Gaynor recorded two albums for the Verve label, one called Mitzi and the second called Mitzi Gaynor Sings the Lyrics of Ira Gershwin. She is thought to have earned more from the record royalties on the South Pacific soundtrack album than her salary for the movie. She also recorded the title song from her film Happy Anniversary for the Top Rank label. For several decades, Gaynor appeared regularly in Las Vegas and at nightclub and concert venues throughout the United States and Canada.
During the 1990s, Gaynor also became a featured columnist for the influential newsmagazine The Hollywood Reporter. During her nightclub years, Gaynor rehearsed and broke in her routines at The Cave, a popular club in Vancouver. She developed an affinity for the city and was much appreciated by both the local media and the viewing public, frequently making guest appearances on local television for interviews. "Mitzi's back in town" became an annual slogan when Gaynor would come to the city for a number of weeks each year to break in her Las Vegas routines. On December 4, 2006, Jack Bean, Gaynor's husband of 52 years, died of pneumonia in the couple's Beverly Hills, California home, aged 84. A producer and personal manager, Bean guided Gaynor's career.
On July 30, 2008, Gaynor, along with Kenny Ortega, Elizabeth Berkley, Shirley MacLaine, and cast members from High School Musical, So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing with the Stars, and a host of others, participated in the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences TV Moves Live, a celebration of 60 years of dance on television. Gaynor appeared performing the final few bars of "Poor Papa", a song-and-dance number from her 1969 TV spectacular, Mitzi's 2nd Special. Four months later, on November 18, City Lights Pictures released Mitzi Gaynor Razzle Dazzle: The Special Years, a new documentary celebrating Gaynor's annual television specials of the '60s and '70s. The film, which was broadcast on public television and released on DVD, includes show-stopping moments from the original specials (digitally remastered in 5.1 stereo) along with newly taped interviews with Gaynor colleagues, friends, and admirers, including Bob Mackie, Carl Reiner, Kristin Chenoweth, Rex Reed, Tony Charmoli, Alton Ruff, Randy Doney, and Kelli O'Hara. Gaynor's one-woman show, Razzle Dazzle: My Life Behind the Sequins, toured the United States and Vancouver, from 2009 thru 2014, including an acclaimed 2 week engagement in NYC.
On April 10, 2007, she was honored by the Museum of Television & Radio in Los Angeles with a special evening celebrating her television specials of the 1960s–1970s. The sold-out event, Mitzi Gaynor Razzle-Dazzle!: The Special Years, featured a screening followed by a panel discussion with Gaynor, designer Bob Mackie and director-choreographer Tony Charmoli. In conjunction with the event, the museum also featured a month-long gallery exhibit, Mitzi by Mackie, featuring Bob Mackie's Emmy-winning costumes from her specials along with a selection of costumes from Gaynor's legendary stage shows and concert appearances.
On March 8, 2009, Gaynor was honored with the 2009 Boston Youth Moves lifetime achievement award, presented by Chita Rivera at Swellegance, the Boston Youth Moves annual fundraiser in Boston.
On November 7, 2009, Gaynor was honored with Chapman University's lifetime achievement in the arts award during the 28th annual American celebration gala night at Chapman University in Orange, California. On July 10, 2009, she was honored with the Tremaine 2009 entertainer of the year award from the Joe Tremaine dance competition nationals final gala in Orlando, Florida.
On April 13, 2010, she was honored with the Bob Harrington Lifetime Achievement Award at the 25th annual Bistro Awards in New York City.
On September 10, 2016, Gaynor was honored with the inaugural "Legend Award" from Nigel Lythgoe's Dizzy Feet Foundation.
On September 30, 2017, Gaynor was inducted into the Great American Songbook Hall of Fame, which celebrates lyricists, composers, and performers who helped to create “the soundtrack of our lives” with their contribution to American Popular song, by its founder Michael Feinstein.
On October 14, 1968, Gaynor starred in her first television special, Mitzi. In specials including Mitzi – The First Time and Mitzi ... Zings into Spring she showcased the talents she had first used as a theatrical performer, then in films like There's No Business Like Show Business, Les Girls, and South Pacific, and finally as a concert performer.
List of television specials
The Kraft Music Hall: The Mitzi Gaynor Christmas Show (1967) (NBC)
Mitzi (1968) (NBC)
Mitzi's 2nd Special (1969) (NBC)
Mitzi...The First Time (1973) (CBS)
Mitzi...A Tribute to the American Housewife (1974) (CBS)
Mitzi...and a Hundred Guys (1975) (CBS)
Mitzi...Roarin' In the 20's (1976) (CBS)
Mitzi...Zings Into Spring (1977) (CBS)
Mitzi...What's Hot, What's Not (1978) (CBS)
Mitzi Gaynor: Razzle Dazzle! The Special Years (2008) (PBS)
|1950||My Blue Heaven||Gloria Adams|
|1951||Take Care of My Little Girl||Adelaide Swanson|
|Golden Girl||Lotta Crabtree|
|1952||We're Not Married!||Patricia 'Patsy' Reynolds Fisher|
|Bloodhounds of Broadway||Emily Ann Stackerlee|
|1953||The I Don't Care Girl||Eva Tanguay|
|Down Among the Sheltering Palms||Rozouila|
|1954||Three Young Texans||Rusty Blair|
|There's No Business Like Show Business||Katy Donahue|
|1956||Anything Goes||Patsy Blair|
|The Birds and the Bees||Jean Harris|
|1957||The Joker Is Wild||Martha Stewart|
|Les Girls||Joanne 'Joy' Henderson|
|1958||South Pacific||Ensign Nellie Forbush, USN|
|1959||Happy Anniversary||Alice Walters nee Gans|
|1960||Surprise Package||Gabby Rogers|
|1963||For Love or Money||Kate Brasher|
In popular culture
It the novel Breakfast on Pluto and in the same name film cartoon robins narrate as Patrick Braden's mother looked like Mitzi Gaynor.
In The Simpsons episode "All About Lisa" Sideshow Mel takes Lisa Simpson aside when she becomes Krusty the Clown's assistant. He tells her that the key to dealing with Krusty is to always be prepared to cater to his needs—have a cigar at the ready, never directly look him in the eye, and pretend to know who Mitzi Gaynor is if he mentions her – he always does. She then uses this reference when Krusty says Lisa is the best thing since... "Mitzi Gaynor!" Lisa exclaims.
In episode 2 of Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus, Connie Booth played Princess Mitzi Gaynor in "The Tale of Happy Valley".
Mitzi Gaynor is mentioned on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in Episode 4, "The Disappointment of the Dionne Quintuplets".