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Starring Mitzi Gaynor
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Mitzi: A Tribute to the American Housewife

Mitzi Gaynor had been a star on stage and screen since the 1940s, but when her film career, like many of her contemporaries, began to peter out in the early 1960s, she turned to the Las Vegas stage, where she spent more than a decade, earning thousands of dollars a week. Her success led to many television appearances, including her now famous spot on the Academy Awards telecast in 1967, singing and dancing to the nominated song Georgy Girl. The number brought the house down and furthered Gaynor's reputation as a singing and dancing force to be reckoned with.

The following year, she was offered her first television special, Mitzi (1968), which was produced by her husband Jack Bean. Her intention for the specials was that they be "Like the old-time MGM musicals, lots of dance, lots of costumes." That success would be followed up with several other "Mitzi" specials, including her fourth, Mitzi: A Tribute to the American Housewife (1974). Written by Jerry Mayer (who also wrote for M*A*S*H, Bewitched, All in the Family and would write Gaynor's subsequent specials) and Charlotte Brown, the January 10, 1974 CBS show featured Ted Knight, Jerry Orbach, Suzanne Pleshette, Jane Withers and Cliff Norton in comedy and musical segments. Creating the costumes was Bob Mackie, who had been with Gaynor since her 1966 Las Vegas show. She had wanted to work with Ray Aghayan, but he was unavailable, so he sent his partner, Mackie instead. As Gaynor later joked, "We've been married ever since."

Gaynor has said that the specials were adapted from her stage shows, the way the Marx Bros. used to do their films, by trying it out on the stage first and cutting out what didn't work. "We traveled city to city, doing the act, then go to LA and put it on TV. Then, we'd go to Hawaii after the special and plan the next one." Tony Charmoli was onboard as director and choreographer. He was puzzled when Gaynor and Bean approached him about doing Mitzi: A Tribute to the American Housewife. "Here was this glamorous movie star that I was going to work with, and how was I going to make an American housewife a glamorous human being?" His solution was to make big production numbers, "bigger than a small television box number, I want[ed] movie-sized dance." For this, he used Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and created a dream sequence with Gaynor wrapped in yards of silk that would move away when she'd start the dance. To create the dramatic effect he needed, he employed three cameras, split screens, and freeze frames. This impressed the network executives in New York, who called Charmoli to thank him. The Emmy's also thanked him with an award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography and a nomination for Best Directing in Comedy-Variety, Variety or Music. John Freschi would also be nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Direction (an award he would later win for Mitzi: Roarin' in the 20s, 1976).

By Lorraine LoBianco

SOURCES:

http://www.dga.org/Craft/VisualHistory/Interviews/Tony-Charmoli.aspx

http://www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/tony-charmoli

http://www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/mitzi-gaynor

The Internet Movie Database

Terrace, Vincent Television Specials: 5,336 Entertainment Programs, 1936-2012, 2d ed. VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

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