Her first and only
Mitzi Gaynor’s Beverly Hills home is as upbeat as the cockeyed optimist she played in the film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.”
She and her husband, producer-agent Jack Bean, have lived in the canary-yellow home since 1960, two years after the movie was released.
After all those years, the actress has become attached to the 4,200-square-foot Spanish-style villa. “My house is a good friend,” she said.
The couple, who were married before the movie came out, lived in an apartment in L.A. and a flat in London before they bought. “It’s the only house we have lived in,” he said.
Gaynor, who won the hearts of audiences in such ‘50s films as “Anything Goes” with Bing Crosby and “The Joker Is Wild” with Frank Sinatra, is better known to younger fans for her many TV specials over the decades. Her most recent special was last year. Gaynor also has done considerable stage work and starred in a national tour in 1989-90 of “Anything Goes.”
She will appear with Tyne Daly, Dale Kristien, Stefanie Powers, John Raitt and more than a dozen other performers Saturday at 8 p.m. and next Sunday at 3 p.m. in “Something Wonderful,” a concert benefiting The Actors’ Fund, which helps professionals in the entertainment industry. The concert, at Cal State L.A., also will pay tribute to the centennial of composer Richard Rodgers. Gaynor will perform a number from “South Pacific.”
Gaynor is a singer and dancer as well as an actress. She took up dancing at age 13 with the L.A. Civic Light Opera. She danced in her 20s when filming “South Pacific.” On stage, in her annual “Mitzi Gaynor Show,” she also does stand-up comedy, including dialects, one of which she attributes to her father, a cellist born in Hungary.
At home, she often remembers her father when she cooks her favorite dishes, many of which are Hungarian. She is, Bean said, “an adventuresome cook,” and it’s not uncommon for her to cook for a crowd, though she likes to hold dinners in her breakfast room, where she can seat six.
The couple never had children, but they like to entertain at home and had that in mind even before they moved into their three-bedroom house, built in the late 1920s.
A Virgo and a stickler for detail, Gaynor had fallen in love with the arches, original tile and such touches as the steel-lined bin for firewood, but the newly established movie star wanted a pool where she could entertain her new Hollywood friends.
“So we took out some apple and peach trees and put in a pool, but I have only been in it about three times,” she admitted. She took swimming lessons when filming “South Pacific.” “If I have fins, I can swim.”
The couple also created a sunroom or lanai, which now has peach-colored walls. While building the room, they added arches and doors, shaded today by blue-and-white awnings, which match the blue and white accents on the front of the house. The doors in the sunroom open onto the backyard and pool.
Before moving in, Bean and Gaynor removed an elevator to make more room for the stairwell leading to the second story and a door to the garage. The elevator had been built for the wife of the previous owner. She had heart trouble before dying in the house.
One night, a few years after buying the home, Gaynor thought she saw a specter when she returned tired from a rehearsal. A nude woman seemed to be lounging against the entry wall.
“I thought it was a naked lady,” Gaynor said, “so I called out, ‘Jack, are you home?’ ” The nude turned out to be a nearly life-sized painting that now hangs on the stairwell wall.
About 20 years ago, Gaynor and Bean expanded the living room, which has a baby grand piano and fireplace, to include a sitting area with skylights and plantation shutters.
At first their friends “didn’t venture beyond the fireplace,” Gaynor said. Now they all seem to like the area, which Gaynor says “gives an airy feeling even in the rain.”
A couple of years ago, Bean was bored with his bathroom. “It all started with my getting him some yellow towels,” Gaynor said. “It ended about $40,000 later.”
The bathroom wound up with yellow walls and a wall of mirrors. The kitchen, with its apricot walls, and butler’s pantry got new cabinets.
When the new cabinet doors in the butler’s pantry started opening and closing for no apparent reason and two chandeliers fell inexplicably to the floor, Gaynor went into her entry hall and summoned the spirit of the former woman of the house.
“I said, ‘Look here, cut that out, or I will put in those ugly sliding-glass doors to the pool area,’ ” Gaynor recalled. It might sound silly, she said, but the cabinet doors stopped opening on their own.
About the same time that the new cabinets were installed, the original moldings in the dining room were painted pink and green to match a wreath Gaynor keeps in the entry. A set designer painted the moldings and sponged red paint over the yellow walls of the breakfast room to enhance its exotic look.
He also painted the wooden fireplace mantle in the living room to look like black marble. “If you have a fireplace, you’re never lonesome,” Gaynor said she learned from actor Noel Coward.
Warm area rugs complement the floors of Mexican pavers and parquet, but original tiles on the stairs remain uncovered. “Everybody wanted me to carpet over them,” she said, “but I didn’t.”
She loves flowers, particularly orchids and orchid plants, which she has in nearly every room.
There are some whimsical touches, such as an Italian-style chandelier with a wooden monkey on it in the dining room and a china chamber pot in the guest bathroom.
And there are some collections of silver, china and jade, but there is no visible Hollywood memorabilia. There are two portraits of Gaynor by Jon Whitcomb in the house, she said, “but most of my [show-biz] stuff is in storage.”
Gaynor once had a famous friend who had so many plaques honoring himself that she could hardly get into his house.
“I said I would never do that,” she said. “I’m not a big collector of memorabilia. I don’t want my home to be a shrine to myself.”