NEVADA BALLET THEATRE NAMES LEGENDARY SUPERSTAR MITZI GAYNOR AS ITS 2013 WOMAN OF THE YEAR
Who, with 17 films to her credit, became one of the top singing & dancing motion picture stars of all time? Who conquered television with 9 show-stopping spectaculars garnering 17 Emmy® nominations and blockbuster ratings? Whose dazzling triple-threat talents made her arguably the top female nightclub and concert attraction of the era? The answer to all these questions is simply Miss Mitzi Gaynor.
We are thrilled to recognize the multi-talented Mitzi Gaynor as our 2013 Woman of the Year. From her early beginnings as a ballet dancer and then a movie star, to her nightclub debut at the Flamingo in Las Vegas, Mitzi's impact on the entertainment industry is unparalleled and her contributions to the world of dance continue today through her work with the Professional Dancers Society, where she serves as President.NBT Co-Founder and Board Co-Chair Nancy Houssels
The road that led Mitzi Gaynor to international superstardom began in her native Chicago where she was virtually born into the theater. Her mother was a talented dancer and her father a virtuoso musician. Family members and teachers alike were quick to notice and nurture the natural born performing talent of young Mitzi who relished the hours of dance & performance training she was receiving. Her instructor, the acclaimed ballerina Madame Kathryn Etienne, knew from an early age that the young performer was destined for stardom and encouraged the child's family to seek that stardom in Hollywood.
The family moved west on a dream, and 12 year old Mitzi was soon discovered by legendary theatrical producer Edwin Lester who selected her for the corps de ballet of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera. Mitzi honed her craft in countless productions in Los Angeles and San Francisco including Roberta, Naughty Marietta, The Louisiana Purchase, Song Without Words, The Fortune Teller, The Great Waltz and debuted on Broadway with The Gypsy Lady. Mitzi's vibrant performances were capturing the attention of composers including Cole Porter and Irving Berlin when noted film director Henry Koster and producers Sol Siegel and George Jessel arranged a screen test that resulted in a 5 year contract at 20th Century Fox.
She made her motion picture debut costarring with her childhood idols Betty Grable and Dan Dailey in My Blue Heaven. The studio, quick to capitalize on the vivacious talent that would later propel Mitzi to the top ranks of show business, cast her in a succession of audience pleasing comedies & musicals including Golden Girl, Bloodhounds of Broadway, We're Not Married and The I Don't Care Girl. Following this period, Mitzi met the man who would not only become the guiding force of her professional life but also the great love of her personal life, influential agent and marketing genius Jack Bean. Thus began a more than fifty year marriage and career partnership that would result in motion picture classics, dazzling television spectaculars and legendary nightclub and concert appearances that led the Los Angeles Times to deem her "the nation's #1 female song and dance star." Encouraged by Bean, Mitzi delivered a star-making performance alongside Ethel Merman, Dan Dailey, Donald O'Connor and Marilyn Monroe in There's No Business Like Show Business. Following that film's success, she was signed to a lucrative Paramount contract, negotiated by Bean, which would yield three film hits, The Birds and the Bees with George Gobel & David Niven, Anything Goes with Bing Crosby & Donald O'Connor and a praiseworthy dramatic turn in The Joker Is Wild alongside Frank Sinatra.
Now an established box-office star, Mitzi was cast alongside Gene Kelly in the lavish, globe-trotting MGM musical Les Girls, but perhaps her greatest film success lie just on the horizon. 20th Century Fox was preparing the film adaptation of one of Rodgers & Hammerstein's most lauded and successful musicals, South Pacific, and nearly every motion picture actress in Hollywood was vying for the role of Ensign Nellie Forbush. The film's director, the legendary Joshua Logan, had remembered catching a glimpse of Mitzi during a theatrical audition earlier in the decade. Convinced he had found his "Nellie," Logan championed her for the part. The composers concurred and Mitzi won the coveted role in a whirlwind of worldwide publicity.
The film opened in 1958 to critical acclaim and international box-office success. The soundtrack, featuring Mitzi's performances of "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" and "A Wonderful Guy" amongst others has never gone out of print and remains to this day a perennial seller. For her performance, Mitzi was nominated for a prestigious Golden Globe® Award as Best Motion Picture Actress. Following that success she returned to the big screen in Happy Anniversary, once again with David Niven, Carl Reiner and a young Patty Duke, Surprise Package with Yul Brynner & Noel Coward and For Love of Money with Kirk Douglas then ushered in a new era of acclaim as a live performer.
In 1961, once again with Jack Bean's encouragement, Mitzi made her nightclub debut in Las Vegas. An instant sensation, she smashed all records at the famed Flamingo Hotel where each night more than a thousand customers were turned away. LIFE magazine noted "Mitzi fractures Las Vegas…she began at the top and climbed even higher" and The Hollywood Reporter proclaimed her "flawless and devastating." She would play the Flamingo annually for 4 years before moving to the Riviera in 1966 for 6 years, then to the Tropicana where he opened the Superstar Theatre. Her groundbreaking, high-concept stage shows set the gold standard for performing excellence and established her as a major attraction in each city she appeared from Miami Beach to Vancouver. For the next five decades, Mitzi would tour the U.S. and Canada with a high-energy concert act that solidified her reputation as one of the greatest live performers of the era and has long since been simulated by many of the top female talents of our time.
A much-sought after guest on the nation's top television programs, Mitzi made several memorable appearances in the medium. In a 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, in which she had top billing over The Beatles, Mitzi's sizzling song and dance numbers made headlines. She also performed to great acclaim on several Academy Awards® broadcasts where her show-stopping 1967 rendition of Best Song nominee Georgy Girl, before a TV audience of 65 million, was met by wildly enthusiastic applause. Around this time, she began her long association with noted costume designer Bob Mackie. Mitzi was his first star client for whom he designed an entire show. He would continue to design the lavish, razzle-dazzle costumes that would remain a staple throughout her performing career.
Mitzi's successful Academy Awards® appearance and an equally popular holiday installment of television's Kraft Musical Hall titled The Mitzi Gaynor Christmas Show, led to an avalanche of inquiries from every network offering the dynamic performer television series and specials of her own. In October of 1968, she fulfilled those requests with the premiere of the aptly titled "Mitzi." The special debuted to blockbuster ratings, 33 million viewers and unanimous critical acclaim. The Los Angeles Times called it "glittering perfection…a kind of ultimate statement of that particular TV format." Over the next ten years, she would continue to showcase her magical brand of dazzling showmanship in eight spectacular hours of non-stop entertainment including Mitzi…and a 100 Guys (1975), Mitzi…Roarin' in the 20's (1976) and Mitzi…Zings Into Spring (1977).
Each special was a lavish blend of song, dance and sparkling comedy with guests drawn from the top ranks of show business including Bob Hope, Michael Landon, Carl Reiner, George Hamilton and Suzanne Pleshette. Renowned for their technical and creative achievements, the specials were honored with 17 Emmy nominations and 6 Emmy awards during their decade-long run. Mitzi recently won the 2010 NATAS Emmy® Award for her PBS musical documentary, Mitzi Gaynor: Razzle Dazzle! The Special Years, which highlighted those annual specials featuring clips and commentary from Mitzi herself along with comedy icon Carl Reiner, Bob Mackie, Kristin Chenoweth, Kelli O'Hara and director/choreographer Tony Charmoli.
Throughout the 80's and 90's Mitzi continued to entertain sold-out audiences at top concert venues and performing arts centers across the United States and Canada. She returned to the theatrical stage starring in a multi-city tour of the revival of Anything Goes. She also added a new dimension to her career as a witty chronicler of Hollywood history in a popular series of columns for the influential trade paper The Hollywood Reporter.
In 2007, she was honored by the Museum of Television & Radio in Los Angeles with a special evening celebrating her Emmy-winning television specials. Mitzi Gaynor: Razzle-Dazzle! The Special Years, featured a screening of highlights from all eight specials followed by a conversation and audience Q&A with Mitzi, designer Bob Mackie and director/choreographer Tony Charmoli. In conjunction with the event, the Museum hosted a month-long gallery exhibit, Mitzi By Mackie, featuring over 30 costumes from Mitzi's specials and legendary concerts created by Bob Mackie.
Mitzi is actively involved in various charitable initiatives including The Professional Dancers Society, where she serves as President. The organization helps both active and inactive professional dancers as an affiliate of the Actors Fund of America to provide low income housing, retirement and nursing facilities for entertainment professionals.
Despite a career marked by extraordinary achievement, Mitzi remains in search of new horizons to conquer. She is currently working on a memoir and can be seen in her new one-woman show, Razzle Dazzle! My Life Behind the Sequins: An Intimate Evening of Laughs, Love & Music. This unforgettable love letter to a great era of show business is part concert and part memoir -- a glittering multimedia one woman tour-de-force of side-splitting stories and classic songs, along with stunning video footage culled from her television, concert & film work. The show is currently on tour and recently completed an acclaimed New York engagement. In reviewing the show, The New York Times called her "an all time great," Liz Smith deemed it "Sensational" and Rex Reed of the New York Observer noted "Creative, daring, innovative, glamorous, colossal and one of a kind, Mitzi Gaynor is the real deal."
She was recently awarded several honors including the 2011 "Mary Pickford Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Entertainment Industry" at the International Press Academy's 16 Annual Satellite Awards, "Entertainer of the Year Award" at the 28th Annual Joe Tremaine Dance Competition & Gala, "The Bob Harrington Lifetime Achievement Award" at the 25th Annual Bistro Awards, The Boston Youth Moves "Lifetime Achievement Award" and The Chapman University "Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award.
In March 2012, as president of the Professional Dancers Society, she hosted a star-studded tribute to Dame Julie Andrews and is also featured in the new PBS special Oscar Hammerstein: Out of My Dreams, a celebration of the most acclaimed lyricist and librettist of the 20th century hosted by Glee's Matthew Morrison.