11/14/2008

Mitzi Gaynor: Razzle Dazzle! The Special Years (2008)



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Although she began her career on film as a self-described "second banana" at one point filming three movies simultaneously which she loved with stars such as Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, and Ethel Merman, the legendary Miss Mitzi Gaynor's big break came with one extremely sudsy batch of shampoo, sounding the battle cry of wronged women everywhere with "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair."

Of course, the film that later had Mitzi proclaiming "I'm in love, I'm in love, I'm in love, I'm in love with a wonderful guy"-- namely Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic musical South Pacific, catapulted her into the spotlight and earned her a well-deserved Golden Globe nomination for a challenging performance that showcased her ability for dramatic work.



Yet as Marlene Dietrich would later advise Mitzi Gaynor, that despite her love for the dramatics, "you're much more charming when you're amusing," and Gaynor took that advice to heart. The global television watching public wouldn't have it any other way as, following a successful run in Las Vegas which began in 1961 and showcased her tremendous versatility, she got her second chance to razzle and dazzle with a show-stopping performance of the musical number "Georgy Girl," at the Academy Awards which an interviewee on the DVD notes still holds the record for the longest standing ovation following a musical act.



After the Oscars brought the sunny, guileless blonde into everyone's living room, as we learn in Mitzi Gaynor: Razzle Dazzle! The Special Years, "for ten solid years, the world demanded a Mitzi Gaynor special." Launching headfirst into the idea of a variety special that had the look, glamour and class of both a big budget Hollywood movie and Broadway musical, Gaynor relied on the talent and partnership of some extraordinarily creative collaborators including her main director and choreographer Tony Charmoli, dancers Alton Ruff and Randy Doney, and of course, Mr. Bob Mackie who crafted the wonderfully inventive and nearly nude costumes she donned in the eight specials that were broadcast for a decade following her debut with 1968's "Mitzi!"



Not content to simply be a song and dance girl, Gaynor showed off her range as a comedienne playing a "Hipsy Pipsy Gypsy" (see above) which Mackie seemed to find irresistible, noting that "there's just something about a glamorous woman with a rubber chicken." Additionally, she managed to do an incredibly authentic impression of a singing Rita Hayworth or Doris Day changing clothes every two seconds, or in those masculine grand pinstripes and shoulder pads as Rosalind Russell opposite George Hamilton's killer imitation of Cary Grant.

Whether it was creating an entire special as "A Tribute to the American Housewife" or an inspired, groundbreaking take on "Roarin' in the 20's," Gaynor was fearless in trying everything from dancing with animation (a la Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh), a mirror number (reminiscent of Fosse's Chicago), participating in a grand sweeping overhead shot number in the vein of Busby Berkley, performing with Olympic athletes, sliding off of a kitchen counter, kicking her leg up to her nose in a freeze-frame, or dancing, singing, and kissing one hundred of the most famous men on television. Yet much like her popular number "Everybody Loves My Baby," Gaynor and her husband and collaborator Jack Bean only had eyes for each other as they stayed together for fifty-three years in a happy and creatively supportive partnership of love and respect.

Transferring the hour long special which debuted originally on PBS with an additional hour of extras for the DVD including full-length clips (one from each special), bonus interviews (including a wonderful in-depth conversation with Mackie and Gaynor regarding the elaborate costumes), it's a must-own for Gaynor fans and those who love retro musical and comedy specials, especially considering all of the wonderful first-hand accounts by the humble, charming, and lovable Gaynor whose eyes still sparkle with wonder in her recollections that yes, she really did do everything being shown.



Fascinating and as colorful as the Mackie costumes themselves, the documentary-- like all great entertainers and indicative of its veteran star-- leaves us wanting more and in this case, a box set of all eight of Gaynor's specials which earned seventeen nominations and six Emmy Awards during their run. Today Gaynor still remains as vital as ever, serving as the President of The Professional Dancers Society which helps dancers both active and retired through the good times and the bad ("providing low income housing, retirement, and nursing facilities") as well as working on an upcoming new one-woman show and autobiography. Yet, the documentary is so incredible that it made me wonder just why in forty years since her variety show debut, television has plummeted so much that we now have reality shows like Wife Swap and game shows with submissive, statuesque, nearly silent women holding briefcases on Deal or No Deal.

While word that Rosie O'Donnell is set to launch a Carol Burnett inspired new era of variety shows within the upcoming weeks cheered me considerably, in the mean time we can take comfort in a woman who still fondly explains that her respect for her audience can be summed up with her signature closing song, "You are the Sunshine of My Life."

And thanks to City Lights Home Entertainment and Green Isle Inc.'s new DVD release, Gaynor's wondrous sunlight will continue to shine a bit brighter and hopefully inspire the company to remaster those old specials soon. Until then, you'll be delighted to know that Miss Mitzi Gaynor has created a YouTube Channel where so far, you can see a few of her classic clips right on your computer.

So go wash whatever you need right out of your hair, "Come on and Dance," reach into your closet for your brightest, most glamorous clothing confections, and prepare for some good old fashioned Razzle Dazzle!

View A Slideshow
Featuring Mackie's Costumes Below

(click to see it full-screen)