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Mitzi Gaynor (born September 4, 1931) is an American actress, singer and dancer.

Life and career

Gaynor was born as Francesca Marlene de Czanyi von Gerber in Chicago, Illinois to Pauline Fisher, a dancer, and Henry von Gerber, a violinist, cellist, and music director. The family first moved to Detroit and when she was eleven to Hollywood, California.

She trained as a ballerina as a child and began her career as a chorus dancer. At 13 she was singing and dancing with the Los Angeles civic light opera company. She lied about her address so she could go to Hollywood High School, and 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.

Notable early roles included 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.

She married Jack Bean, who was an talent agent and pubic relations executive for MCA, in San Francisco, California on November 18, 1954. Gaynor had just been fired from Twentieth Century-Fox (before the start of There's No Business Like Show Business) with four years left on her contract and Bean fired from MCA and decided with the time off to get married. After their marriage Bean quite MCA and started his own real estate business and managed Gaynor's career.

She also appeared in Les Girls (1957, directed by George Cukor) with Gene Kelly and Kay Kendall, and the remake of Anything Goes (1956), co-starring Bing Crosby, Donald O'Connor, and Zizi Jeanmaire, loosely based on the musical by Cole Porter, P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton.

Gaynor's biggest international fame came from her starring role as Ensign Nellie Forbush in the film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, one of the most financially successful musicals of all time, although it was largely panned by critics. For her performance, she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best actress.

She made films with many other well-known stars, including Ginger Rogers, Frank Sinatra, David Niven, Dan Dailey, Betty Grable and Oscar Levant. She made her last film to date in the early 1960s. One of her last films was the United Kingdom production Surprise Package (1960), a musical comedy thriller directed by Stanley Donen. Her co-stars were Yul Brynner and Noel Coward. The film had a theme song by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn.

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 Gaynor starred in nine acclaimed television specials that garnered 16 Emmy nominations. As an interesting historical footnote, Gaynor 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 also recorded two albums for the Verve label, one called Mitzi and the second called Mitzi Gaynor Sings the Lyrics of Ira Gershwin. It is estimated that she 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, Mitzi 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 night club routines at The Cave, a popular night 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 home, aged 84. A producer and personal manager, Bean guided Gaynor's career, most notably securing her the lead role in South Pacific, even over the character's creator on Broadway, Mary Martin.

On July 30, 2008, Mitzi, 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 & Sciences TV Moves Live, a celebration of 60 years of dance on television. Gaynor appeared performing the final few bars of Poor Papa (with her original dancers Alton Ruff and Randy Doney), a song-and-dance number from her 1969 TV spectacular, Mitzi's 2nd Special.

On November 18, 2008, City Lights Pictures in Association with Green Isle Inc. released Mitzi Gaynor Razzle Dazzle: The Special Years, a new documentary celebrating Miss Gaynor's annual television specials of the 1960s and '70s. The film, which was broadcast on public television and released on DVD, includes showstopping 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 throughout 2009 and 2010 (including an acclaimed 2 week engagement in NYC) Her tour resumes in 2011.

Honors

On April 18, 2010, Gaynor won the 2010 NATAS Emmy Award for Outstanding Entertainment Program/Special for her public television musical documentary "Mitzi Gaynor: Razzle Dazzle! The Special Years."

On April 13, 2010, Gaynor was honored with the Bob Harrington Lifetime Achievement Award at The 25th annual Bistro Awards in New York City.

On November 7, 2009, Mitzi 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, CA.

On July 10, 2009, Mitzi was honored with the Tremaine 2009 Entertainer of the Year Award from the Joe Tremaine Dance Competition Nationals Final Gala in Orlando, FL.

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, MA.

On April 10, 2007, Mitzi Gaynor was honored by the Museum of Television & Radio in Los Angeles with a special evening celebrating her television specials of the 1960s and 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 October 14, 2006, the NY Alumni "adopted" Gaynor as an official "New Yorker" at Beverly Hills High School in California. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a proclamation paying tribute to her distinguished career as a singer, dancer, actress and writer.

The television specials

On October 14, 1968, Mitzi 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 cabaret performer.

Each special was a blend of song, dance and comedy with guest stars drawn from the top ranks of the business including Bob Hope, Carl Reiner, Michael Landon, Bill Bixby, Suzanne Pleshette, Ken Berry and George Hamilton. The 80 member USC Marching Band marching band joined her for a musical medley.

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)

Filmography

It's Your Health (1949) (short subject)

My Blue Heaven (1950)

Take Care of My Little Girl (1951)

Golden Girl (1951)

We're Not Married! (1952)

Bloodhounds of Broadway (1952)

The I Don't Care Girl (1953)

Down Among the Sheltering Palms (1953)

Three Young Texans (1954)

The Donald O'Connor Show (NBC, 1954)

There's No Business Like Show Business (1954)

The Birds and the Bees (1956)

Anything Goes (1956)

The Joker Is Wild (1957)

Les Girls (1957)

South Pacific (1958)

Happy Anniversary (1959)

Surprise Package (1960)

For Love or Money (1963)

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