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Mitzi Gaynor has fond memories of Garden Isle


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POSTED: Thursday, October 01, 2009

Mitzi Gaynor remembers when the opportunity to audition for “;South Pacific”; came along. She was busy filming “;The Joker Is Wild”; with Frank Sinatra (”;Somebody had to do it,”; she deadpans about working with the legendary singer/actor); very little warning was given for the audition, and a scheduling conflict arose. Director Joshua Logan expected her to report to the set that day, when a huge (read: expensive) scene with many extras was slated to shoot. It seemed impossible for Gaynor to get away to sing for Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein—until Sinatra stepped in. He asked Logan to work around her and offered suggestions. Then he told Gaynor, “;Go get the job.”;

“;Frank was such a fabulous singer; he was really just wonderful to me,”; Gaynor recalls via phone from her home in Beverly Hills, Calif. “;I was his slave.”;

Interviewing Gaynor feels more like a delightful reunion with an old friend, a conversation you wish would never end. You'd rather soak up every anecdote and listen for the punch line in the dry, rapid-fire humor than take notes. When I address her formally, she bursts out laughing: “;Oh, please! Call me Mitzi,”; and later mocks herself as a “;Hungarian diva.”;

It's been half a century since her shapely legs, tiny waist and angelic voice graced Kauai's beaches, where “;South Pacific”; was filmed. She doesn't seem to have lost a step in a continuous career that eased from the big screen to television—where she's earned 16 Emmy nominations—to Las Vegas.

Now the movie star and singer is returning to Kauai to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, and fans will get a chance to meet her and ask questions. It will be Gaynor's first visit back to the Garden Isle since filming there in 1957 and 1958 (according to IMDb, the film was released in 1958, so if you really do the math, it's more like 51 years, but that's not as much fun).

“;I jumped at the chance”; to return to Kauai, Gaynor says. “;It was perfect timing.”;

Gaynor harbors many fond memories of her time on Kauai. She recalls arriving in steamy August weather with suitcases full of girdles, heels, furs and Bulgari jewels.

“;We didn't know where we were going!”; she laughs. The women in the cast immediately went to the one department store in town and bought muumuus, then “;ripped off our clothes and burned our girdles.”; Later, she ran back to that same store to get Johnson's Baby Shampoo after a harsher brand ruined a take—and almost destroyed her fabulous eyelashes—while filming “;I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair.”;

When they drove to the set each morning, Kauai residents lined the road to wave to them.

“;The people loved us so much,”; she says. “;I never knew nicer people. I learned so much about togetherness.”;

So how could anything compare to Kauai in the 1950s? She admits to wondering about the transformation in the idyllic place she once knew but holds on to the belief that “;people don't change, and that's what I'm looking forward to.”;

The journey is likely to be rather emotional for her. Undoubtedly, it will provoke fond memories of her beloved husband, producer and business partner, Jack Bean, who died in 2006. Bean and Gaynor were married for 50 years and made many friends during their time in Hawaii. She's looking forward to reconnecting with some of them between chatting with fans and serving as the celebrity guest at the grand reopening of the St. Regis Princeville during her short stay.

“;An Afternoon with Mitzi Gaynor”; takes place at 3 p.m. Sunday (doors open at 2 p.m.) in the Kauai Ballroom at the Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club.

Cost is $20. For tickets, contact the Kauai Visitors Bureau at 245-3971 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).