Gilda Gray Poster


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Overview (4)

Born in Krakau, Galicia, Austria-Hungary [now Kraków, Malopolskie, Poland]
Died in Hollywood, California, USA  (heart attack)
Birth NameMarianna Michalska
Nickname The Shimmy Queen

Mini Bio (1)

The creator of 'the Shimmy' was a voluptuous blonde dancer with mischievous eyes, born Marianna Michalska in Kracow, Poland. Her parents died tragically and she was eventually adopted from an orphanage. Her foster-parents took her to the U.S. in 1909, where she commenced her career singing in her father-in-law's Chicago saloon. She then worked as a cabaret dancer in New York, and, so the story goes, discovered 'shimmying' (by 'shaking her chemise') out of sheer nervousness during a performance. Whether this is true or not, she managed to attract the attention of pianist and band leader Frank Westphal. Westphal introduced her to his wife, the vaudeville singer Sophie Tucker (whose suggestion, based on a character she had read about in a ten-cent magazine, prompted her change of stage name from 'May Gray' to the decidedly more glamorous 'Gilda').

The year in which Gilda performed on stage in "The Gaieties of 1919" also saw her first 'scandalising' larger audiences with her hips and shoulders-undulating 'shimmy' (a follow-up to this was her 'Voodoo Dance' of 1923). The illusion of respectability was maintained by keeping her facial expression passive and innocent. Attempts by moral purists to outlaw the 'shimmy' largely failed. For a time, it remained the most popular exhibition dance for café society sophisticates and a 'must-have' requirement in the repertoire of any aspiring show girl.The roaring twenties offered a talented, extrovert gal many opportunities and Gilda soon graduated to the big league, appearing in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1922. Her signature dance, being ideally suited to cabaret and the revue stage, guaranteed her a profitable run on the Orpheum Circuit. However, what Gilda really craved was to be a movie actress.

Hollywood in the 20's regularly recruited from the East Coast stage. This was especially true of producer Jesse L. Lasky who had built his company, Famous Players Lasky, on the box office credo of established theatrical stars. Gilda was signed up in 1923. It soon became clear, that her dancing attributes, rather than acting abilities, were to be emphasised. To be sure, her first part was a forgettable bit as a nightclub dancer in Lawful Larceny (1923). Three years later, though, Gilda did find herself climbing the slippery pole of Hollywood stardom as the grass-skirted heroine of Aloma of the South Seas (1926), filmed not in the South Pacific but in the Caribbean. Based on a 1925 hit Broadway play, the picture grossed 3 million dollars in the U.S. alone and became the most successful movie of its year. Gilda was to star again, this time for Samuel Goldwyn, in the exotic role of Takla, The Devil Dancer (1927). Sadly, both of these famous films are now considered lost. However, a survivor of Gilda's work is Piccadilly (1929), directed by Ewald André Dupont, a stylish silent melodrama in which Gilda stars as half of a dancing duo in a London nightclub on Piccadilly Circus. Commented the New York Times: "For a long time she has been docketed as an exponent of 'shimmy,' but in 'Piccadilly' she appears to show that acting is not above her" (July 14, 1929). Nonetheless, it must have been vexing for Gilda that co-star Anna May Wong had gathered the majority of critical plaudits. Henceforth, Gilda was glimpsed on screen teaching the hootchie-kootchie to Jeanette MacDonald in Rose-Marie (1936). She was not seen in films again thereafter.

Having lost most of her savings in the 1929 stock market crash, Gilda fell on hard times. In 1931, she suffered a heart attack. Her three marriages had all ended in divorce. In 1941, she filed for bankruptcy. She briefly returned to the headlines, having launched a million dollar lawsuit against Columbia, bizarrely claiming that the Rita Hayworth blockbuster Gilda (1946) was actually based on her life. The suit was dropped in 1954, resulting in what the papers claimed to be a 'substantial settlement'. Gilda entered the public consciousness again in 1953, when her philanthropic efforts in bringing six Polish youngsters into the U.S. and providing for their education was highlighted by NBC's This Is Your Life (1952).

After a bout of food poisoning, Gilda died in December 1959 at the untimely age of 58. In an interview two years earlier, she had wistfully reflected on the Jazz Age, the time of speakeasies and flappers: "They might roar more today, honey, but we had more fun" (LA Times, December 23, 1959). Gilda has star on the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: I.S.Mowis

Spouse (2)

Gaillard T. Boag (April 1923 - 1929) ( divorced)
John Gorecki (? - ?) ( divorced)

See also

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