One day last fall three very fancy young ladies marched out of an alley on Main Street in Los Angeles and started walking toward the center of town. Main Street in Los Angeles is not like Main Street in your home town; it is skid row, an avenue of gaudy saloons and pawn shops and cheap restaurants and burlesque theaters. The alley led to the stage door of one of these burlesque palaces—and the three fancy dolls were what you might call dancers, if you weren’t familiar with the word stripper.
A few minutes later, attracting considerable attention, the girls halted at the box office of the Philharmonic Auditorium, an emporium of the finer things in stage entertainment, and picked up three tickets for the afternoon performance of a show called Jollyana. A fellow smoking a cigarette in the lobby smirked at the doorman as the girls entered the theater.
“Those kids are from the Follies,” he grinned. “What are they doing up here, learning some tricks?”
“Yes, sir,” said the doorman. “They come every matinee—to see Mitzi Gaynor.”
“Mitzi Gaynor?” said the smoker. “Mitzi Gaynor!”
“Yes, sir,” said the doorman.
The customer flipped his cigarette into the street and hurried inside. This he had to see. And he did.
Jollyana didn’t travel out of Los Angeles, so you more than likely didn’t see Mitzi Gaynor in that show, but if you had you would have understood why strippers from all over the Southern California area came time and again to see Mitzi, to learn a number of things. One was how to strip without removing any garment. Another was how to tantalize a male audience and still remain a lady. But most important, in Jollyana Mitzi Gaynor was giving lessons in how to dance sexy and still be a wholesome, healthy young girl; how to combine apple cheeks and a naughty wink.
Just the other day we spoke to her at length about all this. It had been a long time. The last talk we had with her had been two years before, and then she had been a true teen-ager, vibrant as a colt on the first day of spring, eager for the new work in the movies, fanatically infatuated with a young man she’d been engaged to since she was 16, and as sure of the future pattern of her life as only a teen-ager can be.
At that time Mitzi Gaynor was cute, very cute, but in a purely adolescent way. She wore blue jeans and a horse’s tail hairdo and flat ballet slippers and she walked like a ten-year-old who had just taken a dancing lesson. Her idea of a big night was to eat early, go to a movie and wind up behind a malted milk in a drug store, and then off to bed for a solid ten hours sleep. She was just 18.
But most of that has changed. This time we talked in the cool, sophisticated Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Mitzi sat across from us and ordered the way the Duchess of Windsor would, and the waiter bowed and called her Madam. She wore a chic suit, black, naturally, with patent leather French-heeled pumps and a small hat with a veil that almost covered the tip of her nose. Her lips were bright with the proper shade of lip rouge and her eyes were outlined in heavy penciled doe lines like a Vogue model. It didn’t look like the same girl at all at all.
Mitzi Gaynor today could well be called the sexiest-looking woman in Hollywood. She is five-feet six-inches tall and weighs a well-distributed 125 pounds. Her measurements are at least adequate, even if you’re a perfectionist in this matter. She carries her head high and struts just a little when she walks, not enough to call it a wiggle, but enough to suggest she’s got a body beneath the petticoats. She has been blessed with high cheek bones and a narrow chin, which gives her something of an exotic contour above the neck. But it is her eyes that do the real work. They are dark and brooding and very slanted and wide, and Mitzi Gaynor knows how to use them.
On-screen it is possibly the figure you’ll remember most about Mitzi Gaynor. In her recent pictures she has been leggy and Narrow-waisted and snug-hipped, and she has thrown herself about a good deal in musical numbers. But off-screen it is her eyes you will remember, for they are windows that let you look into a volatile soul, and they are hot and heavy one moment and bright and icy the next, brimming with excitement and anticipation. Man!
“What ever happened to that other girl?” we asked eventually. “The one who hated shoes, remember?”
Mitzi laughed. And we felt a thud on the floor beneath the table. We looked and it was a pair of black patent, French-heeled shoes. Nylon-encased feet drummed on the carpet.
“She’s still around,” said Mitzi with a grin. “Anyway, I can still think better in my bare feet.”
“It’s been a long time,” we said, “since we’ve talked. So much seems to have happened to you. Now for instance in I Don’t Care you suddenly seemed to bloom. Never saw so much skin on the screen before.”
“And it’s about time,” Mitzi said. “I’ve been so covered up for so long I thought it was time to get out from under. I’ve been a dancer all my life, but they’ve always had me in pantaloons or hoop skirts. Nobody thought I had legs. Well, when they began to talk about costumes for I Don’t Care I was afraid for awhile that I’d end up walking out on the stage with nothing but a ribbon across my middle reading ‘Compliments of 20th Century-Fox.’ But it turned out all right, didn’t it?”
“It turned out fine,” we said.
A man accompanied by a striking blonde walked into the room and was seated at the next table. He apparently suddenly thought he was alone, because he stopped looking at the blonde and got a fix on Mitzi and couldn’t break loose.
We ran our finger down a long list of men we’d brought along for the interview. Mitzi saw what we were doing. She waved the list away.
“You’re wasting your time,” she said, “if you’re looking for romance there. Dates. That’s all they are. But most of them are wonderful.”
“The last time we talked,” we said, “you were engaged.”
Mitzi’s face darkened just a little. “I was very young,” she said, “and I thought I was in love. But I guess I really wasn’t. I think maybe 16 is too early to make up your mind about such things. I have no regrets, but I wouldn’t advise another young girl to do the same thing. Why, do you know that until just less than a year ago if I met a nice man and he asked me for a date I was horrified. I used to snort: ‘I happen to be engaged!’ and I’d think the fellow was an awful wolf. But I don’t want to talk about that. That’s in the past.”
A change came in her expression. The eyes had it again.
“If you will forgive the expression,” she said, “I’m now in my sophisticated period. I don’t want to get serious with anybody. I never go out with the same man too often. When I’m not working I live. For instance, an average day goes like this: I go to lunch with someone, go shopping in the afternoon, meet somebody for cocktails, go home and dress, go to dinner and maybe a show, then have supper and wind up at one of the late spots. I’ve never done any of these things before—and it’s fun.”
“And what does your mother think of this?” we asked. Mitzi and her mother are very close and share an apartment together.
Mitzi laughed loudly. “You’d never guess,” she said. “She says: ‘It’s about time!’ And I think she’s right. You know 21 is about time for a girl to stop fluttering her eyelids. At 21 a girl is a woman if she’s ever going to be one. And it’s important that she begins living a woman’s life. Do you realize I elected Eisenhower last November. It was my first vote—and I won.”
We also had a clipping from a newspaper in our pocket. We took it out and read it carefully. Mitzi, it seems, or so the columnist reported, had gone to Palm Springs a few days before for a rest. The first night she was there, quietly sitting in the patio outside her bungalow, two automobiles came screeching into the driveway simultaneously. Two young men came running toward her. One was Hugh O’Brian, the other a Hollywood doctor. They had both gotten the idea of sneaking down for a date with Mitzi that afternoon, had spotted each other on the highway and had raced the rest of the way. She went out with both. And during the rest of her vacation period, according to the clipping, no less than 17 Hollywood men drove to the desert and turned her rest cottage into something resembling the front lobby of Mocambo on a Saturday night.
Mitzi had been reading the clipping upside down across from us. When we looked up she was grinning with satisfaction.
“Men—they’re wonderful,” she said piously. “I never felt so wanted in all my life as I did that trip. Every time I turned around there was another man who’d come down to take me out. And the wonderful part about the whole thing is that none of them were jealous. I guess they all figured it was nice I was so popular. A good deal of the time, four or five of us would go out together.”
“I guess you know,” we said, “that you’re now considered a very sexy dish because of all this. And, of course, the kind of movies you’re making now.”
“That’s all right with me,” Mitzi said. “Im afraid I’m awfully feminine—and I like to be thought sexy. Besides sex is changing. Even in show business. The ballet, for instance, the way it’s been done for 100 years, is definitely old hat now. The modern ballet theater is very sexy indeed. Take the new ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ ballet, the way it’s done by Mia Slavenska and her company. It’s costumed differently and danced with all the wild abandon that showed in Tennessee Williams’ story. Amid the business is fantastic. People want women in the theater to be sexy nowadays. Not nasty, of course, but sexy.”
“I think a woman can be sexy and still have the best of the old-fashioned ideals,” she said. “For instance, I like the new me, but I wouldn’t change a lot of things about the old me. I still want to marry and have four or five kids and a home and just one husband. Although I go out with a lot of different men I still like the wholesome, ambitious type I admired when I was a kid. I don’t care if a man I like doesn’t have a dime or any position whatever. If he has the other qualities, the good ones, then I’m for him. If I go on a date it’s the kind of date the man can afford. If he hasn’t the means to go to Ciro’s, we’ll go to an inexpensive restaurant. And if he can’t afford that, I’ll invite him to my house and I’ll cook for him.” She grinned again. “The only trouble with that, though, is that they all fall so hard for my mom that I have trouble getting any attention at all from them.”
“But after all this attention,” we said, “don’t you think you’ll find it rather hard to settle down to just one lad?”
“I should say not,” Mitzi said earnestly. “I’m not going to be a jerk about it, but when I finally do decide on one man I won’t look at another. That will be it.” She blew the veil away from her lips; she had something to say and she wanted it heard good. “But that’s the way it’s going to have to be with him, too,” she said. “I think that women let men get away with far too much in this town. Most of the husbands a girl runs into in Hollywood are part-time husbands and part-time Romeos. My man is going to be so happy with me he won’t look at another girl. I think I know how to make him that happy. If he ever does look at another girl the way he should look only at me I’ll cut his head off!”
“You don’t think,” we said, “that marriage can get kind of stuffy? That raising four or five kids will be kind of out of character for the new Mitzi Gaynor?”
“What,” Mitzi asked wickedly, “can be sexier than having four or five kids?”
We changed the subject.
“It’s been rumored around,” we said, “that you and Hugh O’Brian are at least considering matrimony.”
“Not yet,” Mitzi said. “I’ve got a bit of living to do before I settle down and so has Hugh. But I like Hugh, maybe more than any other man I know. I think he’s a wonderful fellow and is going to be a great actor. I can hardly wait for him to get into his 40’s. He’s going to be another Walter Huston. You wait and see.”
“Are you going to be tagging along with him?” we asked.
Mitzi smiled enigmatically. “Now what kind of a question is that?” she demanded. “I told you we have no plans at the moment, neither of us, but who can tell. I’d like to know Hugh all that time, but as for romance I’m not sure yet, nor is he.”
“Getting back to the new Mitzi,” we said, “what changed you? What made you take off the teeth braces so to speak and try life as a femme fatale?”
“That’s where you’re all wrong,’ Mitzi said. “I’m not a femme fatale, a racy woman, or anything like those things. I’m just a girl of 21 who has come to the conclusion that I want to have fun while I have the youth and energy. I work hard, go to. church every Sunday, pay my taxes and write letters to my congressman. In what spare time I have left I like to buy good looking dresses, laugh a lot, flirt a bit, and attract my share of attention from the opposite sex. There’s nothing the matter with that.”
We agreed there was very little the matter with that. “But,” we pressed, “the whole town is aware of your transformation. All of the magazines are asking about it.”
“Good,” said Mitzi. “Solid stuff. I like that. It means I’m not in a cocoon—and that people are going to let me grow up, and I won’t have to play goody-gumdrops in pictures for the rest of my career like so many girls who get into the business when they’re very young do.
“You can tell all those people that Mitzi knows what she is doing. Oh, it’s not an act, but I know that living the way I do now is going to help me both professionally and personally. But I want to call your attention to the fact that I haven’t ever attempted anything obvious. I wear clothes that suit the occasion. I never wear a lowcut dress to lunch—and I have never bought a dress just because it was low cut. I try to dress with taste and to show off my natural attributes—all of them.
“If people think I’m a flirt, or a temptress, as you put it, fine! I like that, too, because I am a flirt. What single girl in my position wouldn’t be? I don’t whistle at men in cars but if I’m at a party and I see a nice fellow across the room that I think I might like to meet I might blink my eyes at him a few times so he can see I’m around. If I see a man I’d like to know and it isn’t the proper occasion, I might ask someone who knows him to introduce me. If that’s not proper what is?
“l’ve got a lot of young years left and I’m going to try to make up for some of the time I sat at home watching television. I want to dance every night if I can. And I want to date my share of the boys. And when I play a part in a picture, I want the men in the audience to walk home thinking about me. And that just about says everything, doesn’t it?”
We agreed, again, that it did. “But there’s just one more thing,” we said. “Frankly, we were a little shocked at the sudden change. Don’t you think the readers will be a little shocked, too, when we tell them all this?”
Mitzi saw the date she had been expecting standing in the doorway looking around for her. She excused herself and got to her feet. She waved at the handsome chap and started away. Then she turned back, with an afterthought. She tossed us a naughty wink. Man, those eyes!
“I certainly wouldn’t want to shock your readers,” she smiled. “Please don’t do that. But you might explain to them that things are different now. It’s blossom time for Mitzi!”
—BY JIM HENACHAN
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE JULY 1953