“That’s why I took the job, because I really wanted to dance with Gene Kelly,” the still-vivacious 82-year-old actress, singer, and dancer said. “He was incredible, the best partner I ever worked with. Donald (O’Connor) was a better dancer. Excuse me, but it’s true. But he wasn’t as good a partner, because Gene had all that wonderful ballet training.”
Of Kelly she added, “We were really good friends. I loved working with him.” Then she launched into a hilariously stuffy imitation of LES GIRLS director George Cukor, and Osborne introduced the movie.
“Here’s Mitzi, singing and dancing alongside Gene Kelly – and falling in love with him as well,” Osborne said.
Gaynor may have fallen in love with Kelly on-screen 57 years ago, but I fell in love with Mitzi Gaynor last night on TCM. In delightful interviews before THE JOKER IS WILD (1957), THE I DON’T CARE GIRL (1953), and GOLDEN GIRL (1951), Gaynor demonstrated that she’s still just as adorable as she was in her heyday. She was charmingly chatty with Osborne all night, at one point suggesting, “Let’s go eat!”
To which I responded, in a loud voice, “Can I come, too?!” (Yes, I talk to my TV. Particularly when it’s late at night and TCM is on and I’ve been drinking.)
“Ladies, he’s even more beautiful in person,” Gaynor gushed regarding her longtime friend. (Gaynor was also present at the “secret” Robert Osborne 20th anniversary tribute event at the Montalban Theater in Hollywood last month, staged as part of the fifth annual TCM Classic Film Festival.)
But the real highlight of the night for me was TCM’s broadcast of a rarely seen 1974 primetime variety show starring Gaynor and featuring Jane Withers, Jerry Orbach, Ted Knight, and Suzanne Pleshette. Originally broadcast on CBS on February 4, 1974 (pre-empting Here’s Lucy and The New Dick Van Dyke Show, as the announcer reminded us), Mitzi: A Tribute to the American Housewife was the fourth of eight annual primetime specials starring the singer and dancer. All were produced by Jack Bean, who was Gaynor’s husband and manager for more than half a century (until his death in 2006 at age 84).
A Tribute to the American Housewife was broadcast in a pristine video transfer, with delightfully hokey commercials for sponsor Kraft Foods intact. With music by Betty Walberg, Emmy Award-winning choreography by Tony Charmoli, and costume design by Bob Mackie (who escorted Mitzi to the TCMFF event last month), TCM’s airing was like traveling through a portal to the past (even down to the CBS Special animation that preceded the broadcast).
Sadly, as quickly as that portal opened, it closed up again.
“(There are) no plans to air it again,” a TCM spokesperson told me via email.
And more bad news: “due to underlying rights issues,” TCM is not able to offer Mitzi: A Tribute to the American Housewife via their streaming platform. But LES GIRLS is available until May 20 on Watch TCM, along with Gaynor’s pre-film chat with Osborne. And Mitzi Gaynor: Razzle Dazzle! The Special Years, a 2008 documentary featuring new interviews with the star, is still available on DVD (at a premium price). There are even a few excerpts from the specials available on YouTube.
But that’s not enough. These programs demand to be seen, not kept in a vault. And they need to be broadcast while this funny, vivacious, sexy — yes, I just said an 82-year-old woman is sexy — icon is still with us to introduce them, tell stories, and flirt with the host. And there’s no better place than TCM to bring these delightful time capsules back to longtime classic film fans, and to a new generation of viewers
If you agree with me, let TCM know! If you’re on Twitter, send them a tweet. You can even cut and paste it: More Mitzi Gaynor specials on @TCM please!
Do it for Mitzi. And America.