George Christy Talks About Mitzi Gaynor, Marie Osmond, The Professional Dancers Society, Carl Reiner and More!
Beverly Hills Courier
April 1, 2011
© Photo by Nathan Sternfeld
“I’m in … I’ll be there,” replied Marie Osmond. She was invited to be the 24th annual honoree for the Professional Dancers Society luncheon at the Beverly Hilton, joining past recipients Shirley MacLaine and Ginger Rogers, et alia. “Marie came aboard without any frills, unlike other honorees whose names I won’t mention,” sighed PDS president Mitzi Gaynor who emceed the event.
“Oh, come on, you know the drill,” laughed Mitzi. “It goes like this. Would you also fly in – first class -- my elderly Aunt Martha from Lower Slobodvia with her pet goat and chickens, and her neighbor Charlotte.” Laughter all around.
Being the triple-threat talent that she is, singing, dancing and acting, Mitzi surely knows she’s also a stand-up comic. She gave up a Sunday night gig in Phoenix over the weekend where she was performing her one-woman show, passing up big bucks to support PDS.
With the voice of Frank Sinatra crooning Irving Berlin’s Marie, The Dawn Is Breaking filling the air, honoree Marie Osmond stepped on stage. Every inch the superstar, trim and poised and beautiful, she accepted the PDS Gypsy Award from Andy Williams, who’d booked Marie when she was three on his TV show. “That was 49 years ago,” she smiled, “and now you know how old I am.
“I’m proud of being on that tail end of those true entertainers, rather than the ‘celebrities’ out there today. I was lucky to perform with Groucho Marx who was in a wheelchair, and other greats. My parents, George and Olive, wanted my eight brothers and me, the only girl, to play musical instruments – we had 27 in our house.
“Out of the blue one day my mother decides I must learn to play the marimba. Yes, the marimba. Why? Who knew? Well, I now play the marimba with four mallets, two in each hand, and if anyone needs a marimba from 1970, you know where to come.” Today and hereafter, for those in the audience, she’ll be Marimba Marie. She and brother Donny sell out their Donny And Marie Show at the 750-seat theater in the Flamingo Hotel five nights a week, and they recently extended their contract through 2012.
After insightful and humorous personal revelations, Marie praised PDS for all that it does for dancers in need, acknowledging what joy and pleasure their dancing talents bring us, while their bodies suffer the slings and arrows of painful physical endurance. (“We should all have stock in ibuprofen!”) When the bodies cry, “Whoa,” the work slacks off, as do the paychecks, and PDS is a God-given helpmate. For thousands of retired and disabled and active dancers, choreographers, teachers, stage managers and colleagues, the non-profit PDS helps them live in comfort and dignity. No strings attached.
“Our assistance covers emergency funding, low-income housing, medical expertise,” informs Joni Berry, PDS chairman of the board, who underwrites the events with her Eichenbaum Foundation. “We have my parents to thank for that.”
The luncheon and PDS’ annual Fall Ball contribute funds – already, more than $1 million – to the Actors Fund for Everyone in Entertainment. Marie’s offered to assist PDS with its commendable goals. “We’d be thrilled if she’d join our board of trustees,” hoped Mitzi, after applauding the entertainment from the Ballroom with a Twist octet and the Carousel Shadow Dancers.
Patrick Swayze, whose mom was a choreographer and dad a rodeo rider, was remembered by his Dirty Dancing co-star Jennifer Grey, with Mitzi Gaynor remembering the late Betty Garrett. Going strong at 89, Carl Reiner introduced Dick Van Dyke and his Vantastics that harmonized in a barbershop-style quartet. Mitzi and Dick Van Dyke sang The Music Man’s Lida Rose, which three-year-old Marie performed on the Andy Williams Show, and designer Ret Turner recalled creating Marie’s dress – “still have it, and in mint condition.”
In the crowd were Mitzi’s tour producers Rene Reyes and Shane Rosamonda, the Grand Vizier choreographer Tony Charmoli, Florence Henderson, Sandra Moss, the Ivy’s Lynn von Kersting with daughter India and Mario Rivelli, Connie Towers, John Seitz, Stephen Maitland-Lewis, Joanie and Norm Crosby, Linda and March Schwartz, Roberta and Carl Deutsch, Bill Hayes, Arthur Kassell, Mary Ann Mobley, Randy Doney, Carl Jablonski, Kip Gramm, Joan Kardashian, Gloria and Mike Franks.
Also: The Improv’s Alix and Budd Friedman, The Actors Fund’s Keith McNutt, Teri Garr, Miriam Nelson, Margaret O’Brien, Edye Rugolo, Bunny Stivers, Richard Eichenbaum, Reid Eichenbaum, Barbara Cowan, Jane Withers, Phyllis Sues, Ruta Lee and Web Lowe, Dolores Nemiro, Barbara Luna, Martha and A. C. Lyles, Gene Harbin, Rita McKenzie, Gus Triconis, and missed was dance studios kingpin Joe Tremaine.
After the luncheon, Marie greeted fans and was photographed with them for two hours. “No other star has ever stayed this long,” claimed PR guru Dale Olson.
Lee Hale’s film clips were wonderful, and a PDS tradition is the passing on of the famous Gypsy Robe, adorned with crazy mementoes from previous recipients This year, Alton Ruff, a remarkable dancer and an equestrian, added a tiny saddle, before bestowing the robe in this wacky ritual to Tommy Peel. Since the dawn of musicals, dancers have called themselves gypsies, floating as the legendary Romany gypsies have from camp to camp in Europe. In showbusiness, however, gypsies bounce from musical to musical.