Mitzi Gaynor Reflects on Her Time on 'Ed Sullivan Show' With The Beatles

April Bernard
TCM

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“God, I was so hot. I had 40-inch boobies, 16-inch waist, 36-inch hips,” reminisced Mitzi Gaynor before delivering the kicker: “I could hardly walk.”

The irreverent star of 1958’s South Pacific and a string of ’60s and ’70s TV specials sat down with host Ben Mankiewicz on the 2019 TCM Classic Cruise October 26 to talk about her life and career — and bust his chops many times in the process.

At 88 and temporarily in a wheelchair due to a dance injury, the crowd-pleasing actress delivered quotable quotes about her South Pacific leading man, Rossano Brazzi, in a swimsuit (“My dear, I never saw so little fabric cover up so much Italian”); her competition for the film role, Elizabeth Taylor (“She couldn’t sing, she couldn’t dance, she couldn’t move her ass”); and plenty of other boldface names in entertainment history.

Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi sitting together in between scenes on South Pacific in 1958. (20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)

Among them: The Beatles. When the band made their live U.S. debut February 7, 1964, on Ed Sullivan’s CBS variety show, an estimated 73 million viewers tuned in — but the Fab Four still ceded top billing to Gaynor for the second of their three appearances the following Sunday.

According to Gaynor, Sullivan had been wooing her to guest for a while, but her agent husband Jack Bean would always refuse, saying, “You don’t let her have enough time. ’Cause she likes to talk, she likes to do her stuff.” He requested 15 minutes and Sullivan agreed. “That’s [the equivalent of] 12 acts!” she marveled to Mankiewicz.

The Beatles perform on the The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964 (Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

In late 1963, she traveled to New York City to shoot some promos with Sullivan. “I said, ‘Ed, who are these Liverpudlians you’re talking about?’

“And he said, ‘Well, these are four guys from Liverpool.’

“I said, ‘Yeah, I figured that out.’

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“’They sing,’ he added.

“‘So what are they called?’

“‘The Beatles. B-E-A-T-L-E-S.’

“I said, ‘Uh-huh, what about ’em?’

“He said, ‘I’m stuck with them. I got ’em for three nights.’”

Ben Mankiewicz and Mitzi Gaynor on the TCM Classic Cruise (TCM)

Four months later, the Sullivan show moved its entire production down to the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. Gaynor remembers that John, Paul, George and Ringo rehearsed before she did — and her choreographer, Robert Sidney, was less impressed than the shrieking fans who seemed to be everywhere.

“Bob says, ‘Get those children off the stage.’ I said, ‘What children?’ He said, ‘Those little girls, especially that pretty one, Paul.’ I said, ‘Those are The Beatles.’ He said, ‘I don’t care who they are — get those girls off the stage.’”

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Ultimately, the band would open (with “She Loves You,” “This Boy” and “All My Loving”) and close the show (with “I Saw Her Standing There,” “From Me to You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”) — and Gaynor took over in between with a sizzling “Too Darn Hot” number, plus the ballad “The More I See You” and an uptempo medley of “Birth of the Blues” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Her review of her fellow performers: “They were so fantastic."

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