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George Christy 03-20-2009

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Old friends are the best friends, as evidenced this week when loyal pals carried on at the Beverly Hilton Ballroom, the occasion being the 23rd annual Gypsy Award luncheon hosted by the Professional Dancers Society honoring designer Bob Mackie.  “When our committee was choosing our honoree, a member asked what in hell did Bob have to do with dance?” noted PDS president Mitzi Gaynor.  “Well, he’s dressed million of dancers’ asses since the ’60s and still looks like a kid.”  It was Mitzi and husband Jack Bean who discovered Bob who then created those sensational costumes for her TV specials and one-woman sell-outs.  “I’d seen his sketches,” recalls Mitzi, “and Ray Aghayan, who was going crazy dressing Miss Judy Garland for her TV specials, sent his associate Bob over, and the rest is history.” 

“I’ve always loved getting into silks, satins, and farts (as Ray Aghayan calls synthetics),” confesses Mitzi, a 1996 PDS honoree.  “But never as much as when I worked with Bob, the one person to find whatever hidden talent I may have, and frankly knows me better than any man I’ve ever known, including my gynecologist.”  Her Mitziness, as Russ Tamblyn christened her last year when he was honored at the PDS Fall Ball, had the crowd in stitches with her emceeing banter.   “Mitzi sings, dances, acts, and is funny,” commented Bob Mackie.  A rara avis in our business of show.

Carol Burnett, honored by PDS in 2001, added her encomiums, noting that when she and husband Joe Hamilton were checking the credits on Mitzi’s shows, the name Bob Mackie as the costume designer continually appeared.  They called, and Carol, doubletaking at his boyishness, assumed he was the newspaper delivery boy – “looked like he was 13.”  Again, the rest is history, with Bob designing 200  Carol Burnett Shows for 11 years.   Possibly the wildest costume he created for Carol is her Scarlett O’Hara green velvet curtain dress (with the rod included), with Carol wisecracking during the scene, “I saw it in the window, and couldn’t resist it.”  She says the only cast member she allowed to see it beforehand was Harvey Korman, who was playing opposite her as Rhett Butler.  “I figured he needed the warning, otherwise he’d break up and howl.”
After Cher appeared on Carol’s show, it was Bob again, creating costumes for Cher and Sonny Bono.  His career exploded, dressing Ann-Margret, Diahann Carroll, Bernadette Peters, Carol Channing, Angela Lansbury, Madonna, Liza Minnelli, Diana Ross, Chita Rivera, Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, Lucille Ball, Alexis Smith, Gwen Verdon, Juliet Prowse, Elton John.  “All those girls,” winked Bob, as he accepted his Gypsy Award, recalling that as a youngster he fell in love with movie musicals and their leading ladies, from Ann Miller to Rita Hayworth to Lana Turner.  Soon enough, he was dressing the glamour girls, along with hundreds and hundreds of dancers in choruses for the Oscars, etc.  “Thousands and thousands of costumes, I’ve never kept track,” he shrugged modestly, adding that if you want to hear showbiz gossip, the gypsies know everything.”  Gypsies, for the uninitiated, is what dancers affectionately call one another. 

These PDS events are the favorites of Dale Olson, who looked hale and hearty after his recent quadruple bypass surgery.   You had to be there, not only for the fun these friends have reuniting, but for editing genius Lee Hale’s stunning film clips of Bob’s work, and his wow of a filmed tribute to the extraordinary Cyd Charisse, who we lost last year and who was honored along with Bob Hope by PDS in 1992.  Who didn’t Cyd dance with?  From Fred Astaire to Gene Kelly and endless partners with her gravity-defying acrobatic high steps, and, oh, those Greek goddess legs sculptured by God in a good mood. 

Among our generous philanthropists, Joni Berry, the PDS chairman, reminded that PDS is affiliated with the Actors Fund of America, and that the funds raised by their events are pooled with the Fund.  As we know, a dancer’s life isn’t forever, our bodies changing as we get younger (!), and Joni shared the news that this past year PDS assisted “many dancers with emergency funding, low-income housing and medical expenses, thanks to our affiliation with the Actors Fund.”  Joe Benincasa, the Fund’s executive director, informed that PDS over the past 12 years contributed $l, 456, 609 to the Fund, and that we now have a West Hollywood apartment residence that houses 42 dancers.  “We’ve helped more than 10,000 dancers in 46 states,” and he reminded that the Fund hosts its annual Tony Awards party on June 7 in Los Angeles at the Skirball Center, and this year’s honoree will be Chita Rivera.  “Be there!”

Joni sat with beau, Stephen Maitland-Lewis, author of Hero on Three Continents, who wooed her for months with notes, inviting her for lunch or dinner, always jotting his phone number, and Joni not responding.  After receiving his bouquet of flowers at Christmastime, she finally picked up the phone to thank him for the gift.  “Now that I have you on the phone, are you free for lunch?” he asked, and she reluctantly agreed.  “We got along very well, then arranged dinner, and that was it,” beamed Joni.  “We’re in love. Now I say, never say never.”

The eight Groovaloos,  rapper hoofers, were introduced by Joe Tremaine, with enthusiastic cheers prevailing throughout the luncheon.  We visited with   choreographer Toni Basil of the flawless complexion who adores Mitzi and who we’ve known for many a moon.  She’s choreographed the great Tina Turner Show, which we loved at the Staples Center, and the Bette Midler Show in Las Vegas, which she insists is not to be missed.  Here and there were the 2007 PDS honoree Florence Henderson, Loreen Arbus, Ray Charles, Joan and Norm Crosby, Billy Barnes, Roxanne and Jack Carter, Alix and Budd Friedman, Teri Garr, Paul Gherman, Bill Hayes, Tippi Hedren, Anne Jeffreys, Jay Johnson, Joan Kardashian, Jane Kean, Shelah Kidd, Roslyn Kind, Ruta Lee, Joan Leslie, Martha and A.C. Lyles, Joe McFate, Neile McQueen, Margaret O’Brien, Ann Rutherford, Paul Ryan, Linda and March Schwartz, Bea Wain, Jane Withers, and Ernie Flatt dancers from the Carol Burnett Show.  Also: Mitzi’s favorite director-choreographer Tony Charmoli, and her dancers Alton Ruff and Randy Doney.

We visited with Lynn von Kersting of Ivy Restaurants and Indigo Seas fame and whose beautiful dancing daughter India Irving, celebrates her 22nd birthday this month.  India’s been cast as one of the two lead dancers in the production of Show Boat, produced by the Heights theatrical company in Brooklyn.   We talked with security chief Arthur Kassel, the protector of many, Sandra Moss, Pat Crowley, Barbara Lazaroff, whose exemplary planning of son Byron Lazaroff Puck’s Bar Mitzvah last year will not be forgotten, Joanna Carson and Corinna Fields, both informing that their annual Share show will be bypassed this year, due to the economy.  “But we’re soliciting funds individually for Share’s commitment to helping children in need,” informed Joanna, lamenting the passing of the beloved Share trouper, Altovise (Mrs. Sammy Jr.) Davis.

Rene Reyes and Shane Lombarda, who are producing Mitzi’s one-woman show, Razzle Dazzle: My Life Behind the Sequins, a smash at the Herbst Auditorium in San Francisco, informed that she plays the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert on March 23rd.  Her entertaining documentary, Mitzi Gaynor:  Razzle Dazzle! The Special Years, is airing on PBS, and available on DVD.  On March 3lst, she’ll be in Manhattan, signing copies at Barnes and Noble in Lincoln Square for Fox’s release of the Blu-Ray DVD of her forever-popular South Pacific, in which she starred with Rossano Brazzi.

During the Baked Alaska dessert, Lynn von Kersting asked after the San Francisco heiress, a popular debutante, who claims she’s had it with depressing “indie” films and graphic comic heroes. Says she now only wants to see “movies with chandeliers.”

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