When so inclined, entertainer Mitzi Gaynor has claimed to be descended from Hungarian nobility; on these occasions, she has stated that her real name is Francesca Mitzi von Gerber, rather than merely Gerber. The daughter of a ballerina, Gaynor made her own terpsichorean debut when she was barely a toddler; by age 12, she had joined the dancing chorus of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera. In 1950, Gaynor was signed by 20th Century Fox as yet another potential Betty Grable replacement. She sang and danced her way quite prettily through such Technicolor confections as Golden Girl (1951, as Lotta Crabtree), Bloodhounds of Broadway (1952), and There's No Business Like Show Business (1954). Unfortunately, her films were not sufficiently successful to warrant renewal of her contract after 1954.
After being dropped by Fox, Gaynor married talent agent Jack Bean, who wisely perceived that his new bride was a far more effective performer on a live stage rather than a cold movie set. Gaynor co-starred with Bing Crosby and Donald O'Connor in Anything Goes (1956), with George Gobel and David Niven in The Birds and the Bees (1956), and with Frank Sinatra in The Joker is Wild (1957). Her best work during this period was while on loan to MGM for George Cukor's Les Girls (1957), in which she shared star billing with Gene Kelly, Kay Kendall, and Taina Elg. In 1957, Gaynor was tapped for the plum role of Nellie Forbush in Joshua Logan's film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific (1958). Except for a few scattered appearances in such modest comedies as Happy Anniversary (1959) and Surprise Package (1960), Gaynor's film career was over. Happily, Mitzi Gaynor continued to be a major draw on the nightclub and summer-musical circuit, and for several years in the 1960s and 1970s she headlined a top-rated annual TV special.