By Ismail Veli……..
October 1974 was my first visit to the USA and I was waiting to see a musical show at the Tropicana Hotel Las Vegas where Mitzi Gaynor, star of Hollywood musicals and leading lady of the acclaimed film South Pacific was performing live.
I had just bought many of her Hollywood film photos and ordering something to eat before the show started. On hearing me order, a pretty young lady sitting next to me asked if I was from the UK, my accent was a giveaway. She looked at the photos of Mitzi Gaynor and asked if I was a fan. My response was ”yes, I loved her dancing and vivacious personality and generally loved Hollywood musical films”.
She introduced herself as a dancer in Mitzi’s show, sadly I cannot remember her name, just then a young man approached her, if I remember correctly he was the dancer and line captain of Mitzi’s show Wayne Dugger, she introduced us and we had a wonderful exchange of views. They seemed impressed with my polite well spoken manner. The next question shocked me, they asked if I wanted to meet Mitzi after the show, I thought they were joking, my response was excitedly ”I would love to, but would she have time for an 18 year old on holiday from the UK”. Their response was ”she is a fantastic lady on and off the stage, we’ll talk to her”.
The doors were about to open and I made my way to the middle of the front row. Soon the lights went out and Mitzi with her dance group entered the stage dancing. While dancing she winked at me, good God I thought was it really me she was winking at while in the middle of her dance routine. No sooner had the introduction song and dance ended she welcomed everyone to her show. Then she sat in front of me on stage and asked my name, after responding she said what a cute accent I had and asked where I was from. My response was ”I’m a Turkish Cypriot, living in the UK and travelling in the United States”, she smiled and said ”Wow how cute is that, stand up”, her next words completely shocked me, she called out ”Can we have the spotlight on Ismail please”, the lights were directed on me and she spoke to the audience, ”This young man is from the UK, don’t you think he’s cute, give him a round of applause”, the audience burst into action and for a few moments I was the star of the show, I was blushing and my natural shyness came through. ”Don’t be nervous” she responded “the audience loves you”.
The show proceeded and I simply could not understand the sheer energy and stamina of Mitzi and her dance team. It was ceaseless and non stop. Where they found the energy to hold 2 shows a night at that pace has never ceased to amaze me. After about an hour and a half the show ended but not before I had another mild surprise. I overheard a spectator saying Juliet Prowse, the co-star of Elvis Presley in the film GI Blues, was sitting a few seats behind me. Being a great Elvis fan I waited for intermission and I quickly rushed over to Juliet Prowse. Trying to overcome my shyness I introduced myself and asked a few questions about her and Elvis, she was ever so kind and answered everything. Apparently she was in Las Vegas in preparation for her own musical show and was Mitzi’s guest, The only paper I had on me was a small menu card, the back was white and clear and I asked if she would be kind enough to give me her autograph, which she did.
No sooner had the show ended, the young lady I had met before the show came out and asked if I was okay, I was still shaking and blushing from disbelief, she said ”don’t be nervous, Mitzi is a lovely down to earth woman”. On entering Mitzi’s changing room, she was wearing a gown and surrounded by her team, she gave me a great big hug, and we began to talk. Looking at the photos she said ”wow my mother doesn’t have such wonderful photos of me, would you like me to sign them”. I was trembling from shyness and she signed all of them, including the LP I bought of the film ”South Pacific”. When we had finished talking she gave me another big hug and kiss on the cheeks, I thanked her for her unbelievable courtesy and kindness for meeting me and I was led out of her room. ”There you see, I told you she is a wonderful lady”, said the young lady. I couldn’t thank her enough and we said our goodbyes.
The above events left a positive impression on me as I realised that Hollywood stars were also humans, and many like Mitzi simply adored and appreciated their fan base. On my return to the UK I did write to her on several occasions, and I was delighted when she posted me a wonderful A4 size photo of her from the 1950’s, signed with a small letter card thanking me for the lovely letters. Though I realise things have changed in the film industry since that period, I still enjoy a good old musical film, I find them relaxing and full of nostalgia, they help me forget about the daily toil and grind of modern life. In fact I recently went to Drury Lane to watch the musical 42nd Street, and was delighted to see how popular these kind of shows still are. As for my memories and signed photos of the wonderful Mitzi Gaynor, I still have the photos and original show menu from 1974. Wonderful memories that I have and will continue to cherish.
A small biography of Mitzi Gaynor
Mitzi was born in 1931 in Chicago to Austro-Hungarian parentage. Her first film at eighteen years old was ”My blue heaven” with the legendary Betty Grable. Though Hollywood musicals were declining in the 1950’s she starred in a few famous films like There’s No Business Like Show Business, Les Girls, Anything Goes, The Joker Is Wild and the prized leading role in South Pacific. She starred alongside legends like Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Kirk Douglas, Rossano Brazzi and Donald O’Connor, It was on the stage however that her career thrived and despite her age she is still active in the entertainment field and has an amazingly large and loyal fan base. In 1954 she married Jack Bean who went on to manage her career. Jack passed away in 2006. Their 52 years of marriage was a happy and, by Hollywood standards, a long one. Mitzi and Jack lived in Arden Drive, Beverly Hills during their long marriage but she finally decided to sell her home in 2014. Fortunately she is still in good health and even has a Facebook group which is very active.