What can one do but stand in awe of the legendary accomplishments of Mitzi Gaynor! Motion picture star of over 17 films, including her Golden Globe nominated performance as Nellie Forbush in the 1958 blockbuster musical South Pacific, TV star of 9 spectacular musical specials that garnered 17 Emmy nominations, and night club performer extraordinaire in Las Vegas and touring the entire US and Canada, this lady has done it all. As part of this season's month long tribute to Richard Rodgers by Reprise Theatre Company and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Joshua Logan's film South Pacific, Miss Gaynor will appear onstage this Thursday, October 15 at the Majestic Crest Theatre in Westwood. As well as a stellar performer, she is also the President of the Professional Dancers Society. Via phone, Gaynor excited me with the same high energy and enthusiasm that has remained her trademark for six decades. She is genuine, personable and caring with that vivacious charm that we have all come to associate with Nellie. What caught me off guard was her incredible -sometimes salty- sense of humor.
Q: I understand you just visited Kauai for the first time since filming South Pacific there?
MG: It was such fun. I have to tell you this story. Do you have a minute? When we did the picture, Rossano Brazzi and his wife Lydia were the Italian "I Love Lucy". She weighed about 300 lb and she had great big golden... huge boobies. You'd hear in the morning (in her best Italian accent) "Rossano, you international son-of-a-bitch!" "Lydia, I love it when you make love to me!" I used to say, "Grazi, grazi!" He'd answer, "Prego, Mitzi!" I'd say, "You know Rossano, you are the handsomest, most gorgeous foreign leading man that has ever lived!" He's say, "Mitzi Gaynore, I know!" We used to call Lydia Saint Francis, because she was always saving the animals on the island. One time she found two little tiny kittens, put one on her breast and said "This is a boob pissy and this one's a pussy". (I laugh heartily.) It was amazing that we got the picture done. Just think what Josh (Logan) had to go through. First of all, it was in Todd-AO, they had a new kind of sound...every director in the business wanted to do the picture, no one had ever been to the island of Kauai before...and who were we? Rossano was a dramatic actor and I had always done high-kick musicals.
Q: Do you have one specific memory that shows a challenge in shooting the film?
MG: The crew was amazing...one time, God was really with us...the day we were about to shoot the scene with "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair". The sun was up, they dropped the needle on the record, I pulled the chain and the water came out, took the shampoo, started to pour it on my head - (sings) "I'm Gonna Wash That Man..."and the shampoo gets in my eyes. Cut. "Save the eyelashes!" I remembered when Rossano and I were in the car going onto location, there was a general store on the highway, just a little shack, and in the window there was a bottle of Johnson & Johnson's Baby Shampoo. Two hours drive there and two hours drive back to the set. All in one day. So, Johnson & Johnson saved the day. How did I remember that? I'm a great believer in what's supposed to be.
Q: Tell me about your part in the Richard Rodgers celebration. You are going to host a screening of South Pacific this Thursday in Westwood, isn't that correct?
MG: I think this whole Richard Rodgers thing is a fabulous idea. You know South Pacific's on Blu-ray now? Imagine! I'll do a short onstage interview before the film. I'll talk a little about the film and...
Q: Tell them some funny stories. What about your association with Bob Mackie through the years? How did that come about?
MG: We've known each other for 45 years. In 1966 I was going to do a special with Danny Thomas called My Home Town, which was Metro Studios, because he did a lot of pictures at Metro. There was a costume designer named Ray Aghayan. He's Persian and he talks like this (affects a rich Persian accent) and smokes cigarettes with two fingers like that. He's brilliant. I told him he did the most beautiful sketches. "I should only look like these sketches!" "Darling", he said "I have no time to do sketches. My partner does the sketches. His name is Bob Mackie." In the end the clothes turned out like the sketches, which very seldom happens. So, fade out, I'm going to do a new act. I callEd Ray, and he said, "I'm up to my ass in Judy Garland, so I cannot do it. But remember I showed you those sketches?" I'm in rehearsal above the Coronet Theatre on La Cienega and Bob Mackie was supposed to come and see me. I'm standing there in my leotard and the sash around my waist, which is the same color as my leotard...and my 4-inch heels. A knock came at the door and in walked this young blond-headed guy, Bob Mackie. We've been together ever since. We're family, he and I.
Don Grigware is an Ovation nominated actor and writer whose contributions to theatre through the years have included 6 years as theatre editor of NoHoLA, a contributor to LA Stage magazine and currently on his own website:|