MITZI'S 2ND SPECIAL - getTV Interview with Mitzi Gaynor

by Kimberly Truhler

On Monday, March 28, Mitzi Gaynor returns to getTV in Mitzi's 2nd Special at 9 pm ET/6 pm PT. We sat down with the legend to get more insights into her life as a performer and this particular program from 1969.

Thank you for sitting down with us before Mitzi's 2nd Special airs on getTV March 28th!

I’m so very happy to do so!

Your energy is remarkable. Have you always been a performer, even as a young girl?

Thanks! I may have been performing in the womb. My mother was a dancer, and my father was a cellist and music director. While I was growing up they surrounded me with art and music. It was the Great Depression, and though we didn’t have much, they sacrificed a lot so I could take ballet lessons, or attend the theatre. It was such a gift. I really began performing as a young girl. I had ballet recitals, I did impressions of Carmen Miranda, I even performed a toe-tap hula if you can believe it, and I adored every minute.

I can perfectly picture it all! How and why did you segue from movies to performing on stage?

Well, actually the stage came first. I started professionally when I was around 13 years old with the Los Angeles and San Francisco Civic Light Opera performing for several years in productions like “Naughty Marietta,” “Song Without Words,” “The Great Waltz,” and even made it to Broadway in “Gypsy Lady.” I also did the “Louisiana Purchase”…with the original cast…and I LOVE every one of you who got the joke in that line. It was all incredible training for me, and really gave me a great foundation and the discipline needed for my work in movies.

I came back to the stage in 1961, but this time I wasn’t playing a role, I was essentially “me” in my very own stage show. It was incredibly daunting at first, but I love it more than anything else and it really has become my home. I’m so lucky to still be able to do it. I feel like the audiences who come to see me are my friends, and I hope they feel that way, too.  

I know Gene Kelly meant a great deal to you personally and to your career. Tell us what he meant to you and how he advised you.

I adored Gene! We had the best time working together in the MGM film Les Girls, and our friendship endured throughout the years. In fact I’m still great friends with his beautiful and talented widow, the incredible historian and archivist Patricia Ward Kelly. She does so much to make certain that Gene’s legacy remains vital to new generations of dancers. Gene was a Virgo like me and we both loved to rehearse. The “motorcycle ballet” we danced together in Les Girls is one of my favorite numbers ever. I mean can you imagine the thrill of being lifted by Gene Kelly! Paradise! He once told me that if I was going to appear on television…that it should be produced as an event. So we always tried to structure my TV specials as truly special events.

And they really are, Mitzi. How often did your stage act change? How many performances did you do before you put together one of your television specials?

We used to update our stage show every year so we’d have something new for the audiences who came to see us year after year. We’d be on the road for three or four months starting in Vancouver, then all over the U.S. from Las Vegas to New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, Florida and more and then back again. That gave us the amazing opportunity to hone the material in front of audiences before we came back to Los Angeles to tape the TV specials. Then we’d continue the tour for another three to four months.

How did you select the numbers you did in the upcoming 1969 special? Do you have a particular favorite?

Everything originated in my stage show. I first heard The Sandpipers recording of “Let Go” while my husband Jack and I were vacationing in Hawaii. I loved it and knew I wanted to sing it in my next show. I guess that song would be my favorite from this special. Plus, I got to wear that fabulous nude illusion gown by Bob Mackie, which was also in my stage show! Our choreographer Danny Daniels did a marvelous job staging the number for television, and our Art Director Jay Krause won an Emmy Award for the outstanding art direction of this special!

The second number in the special, “Poor Papa,” is an oldie from the 1920s, but a Canadian group called the Sugar Shoppe had recorded a fun new version of it in 1968. I heard it while I was in Vancouver performing at The Cave and thought we could have so much fun with it, so we did it in my stage show just like you see it in the special - a quick change immediately following “Let Go.” Oh, and The Sugar Shoppe…did you know that the wonderful actor Victor Garber was a member of that group? Yep!

But, like I said earlier, everything you see in that 1969 special originated in my stage show including the musical comedy sketch “Hello, Charlotte” (a spoof of “Gone with the Wind” and other classic films) as well as my favorite characters - The Kid and the Hipsy, Pipsy Gypsy!

The "Let Go" nude illusion gown is extraordinary. Tell us about the great Bob Mackie and the story of how your relationship began.

Bob is a precious friend and I’m so grateful we’ve had the opportunity to play together since 1966, because that’s what it really is -- play. I honestly can’t believe it’s been 50 years! I first heard about Bob while I was working with his design partner, the fabulous Ray Aghayan, on a Danny Thomas TV special. Ray brought over some amazing costume sketches of what he’d designed for me to wear on the show. I’d never seen anything like them. When I was putting together my new stage show for later that year, I’d hoped Ray would design my costumes. When I called him he told me, in his inimitable and devastatingly funny way, that he was up to his “you know what” working with Judy Garland at the time [on The Judy Garland Show] and couldn’t do my show. I was crushed because I loved the clothes and the sketches from the Danny Thomas special so much. Ray then told me – “Darling, I don’t do the sketches, that’s my associate Bob Mackie.” From that moment on our fate was sealed. Bob designed all the costumes for my 1966 show (the first time he’d ever designed a whole stage show), and he’s done all of my stage shows and TV specials ever since. He is one of my closest and dearest friends.

How did you two work together on the costumes for each of your specials – who came with the first idea for each costume and what was the process like?

Well, let’s start with the fact that Bob’s a genius. He intuitively gets me, and what I can do. Everyone knows he can do glamour, but he also does brilliant character costumes that actually enhance the humor of a sketch. For each show, Bob would come watch us at an early run through. We’d perform the show for him and he’d study the choreography and our movement as well as the songs, the characters and the talking bits so he knew exactly how the clothes would be used. Then almost overnight he’d come back with sketches for every costume. Fabulous costumes for dancing, glamorous gowns for singing ballads, dresses for the talking segments and the best character costumes you can imagine. His fabulous collaborator Ret Turner would work on the costumes for my boy dancer/singers as well. They’ve both won very well-deserved Emmy Awards for my TV specials. I’m so proud of that.

What is your favorite costume from the 1969 special?

Well of course I cherish my nude gown for the opening number “Let Go.” I don’t think I’ve ever looked better or felt better in a costume. I told Bob I wanted it to look like I had just stepped out of a shower with water glistening all over my body. Well, he did that and more with silk soufflé and crystal beads, some beads dangling and some sewn in, and the result was just spectacular. I still have that gown, well two of them actually. Since the gown is a bit delicate and I would be performing in it quite a bit (over 200 performances) - we thought it best to have two of them made so we wouldn’t wear one out before the end of the tour.

I also adore the “Hipsy, Pipsy, Gypsy” costume he created for me. It’s one of my very favorite character costumes ever. I’m a Hungarian Gypsy at heart you know.

Do you have a favorite memory from making this special – whether it’s something the audience sees or behind-the-scenes?

There are so many glorious memories attached to these specials. They come rushing back whenever I watch them. I was so blessed to have worked with such incredible, talented and wonderful people, and also to perform for audiences whom I adore. Plus my husband produced all of these shows so most of these are the happiest times of my life.

One funny memory regarding this particular special happened when we were rehearsing my entrance for the opening number “Let Go.” I was to be lowered down from the top of the studio suspended in an elevator like contraption that was basically just a small platform with ropes on either side. They’d hoist me up and then slowly bring me down as the song played and my dancing boys introduced me. Well I’m slightly afraid of heights, but I knew it would be a great television entrance. We rehearsed it many times, up and down, up and down, to get the timing just right. On one occasion they hoisted me all the way up, and then broke for lunch while I was still up there. Well let’s say I may have gotten over my fear of heights that day. When you watch the show, you’ll have to imagine me suspended up there in that nude dress for the whole lunch hour!

You know we love you, Mitzi. We can't wait to see the special.

Did I tell you how happy I am that these shows are on television again? getTV really gets it, don’t they? Love ya!


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