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May 18, 2010 12:00 AM

Fashion, Media

There's Something About Mitzi

One of the more surprising moments of my telephone interview with Mitzi Gaynor was hearing her say, "I was not, I don't think, a good movie actress." The remark came in response to our conversation about the different chapters...

One of the more surprising moments of my telephone interview with Mitzi Gaynor was hearing her say, "I was not, I don't think, a good movie actress." The remark came in response to our conversation about the different chapters in her career and her switch from the silver screen (she only did 18 films) to variety specials. "I loved being a movie star," she said. "But I don't think I was all that good. The camera always got in my way. I don't know. I was never, ever totally comfortable [in film] the way I am onstage or on television."

Gaynor, of course, is being modest. The Golden Globe nomination she received for her turn as Nellie Forbush in the 1958 musical "South Pacific" proves she does have those serious acting chops. But that comment was a telling one; throughout our interview, Gaynor would peel away any walls between interviewee and reporter. And that was all the more impressive considering she's an old pro in the limelight. Gaynor recalled the last time she spoke to WWD. It was March 5, 1968, for a story on midi hemlines.

Which isn't to say that, while she's of a bygone Hollywood era, Gaynor isn't plugged in to current pop culture. She talks as enthusiastically about RuPaul ("I'm so crazy about him -- he's the only other person that would look really good in some of my [old] costumes") and Mario Batali (Gaynor's a big Food Network buff) as she does Marlene Dietrich, with whom she was friends, and Ethel Merman and Marilyn Monroe, her costars on the 1954 film "There's No Business Like Show Business." "Poor Marilyn was in a nest of vipers because all of us were show folk," recalled Gaynor. "We'd all been in the theater all our life and worked so hard, and here was this blonde. But you know, and I would tell anybody this, if you ever see the picture and really pay attention to it, Marilyn steals the whole damn picture."

As for Gaynor's relationship with her longtime designer Bob Mackie, who's also dressing her for her new cabaret "Razzle Dazzle! My Life Behind the Sequins" at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, that's well covered in the story, but there were plenty of other anecdotes left out. One of the more off-color yet no less amusing tales: the frothy ballgown she wore during one musical number from her 1977 television special "Mitzi...Zings into Spring." "They brought out all these animals and I thought, Aren't they adorable," she recalls. "We fluffed out my skirt and I held out a little -- I forgot what it was -- and it pooped in my hand. I just keep going and going and more pooping and pooping." Gaynor bravely did the song in one take. See the full interview with Mitzi Gaynor here >>
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