Notable early roles included There's No Business Like Show Business (1954) which featured Irving Berlin's music and also starred Ethel Merman, Dan Dailey, Marilyn Monroe, Donald O'Connor, and Johnnie Ray.
She also appeared in Les Girls (1957, directed by George Cukor) with Gene Kelly and Kay Kendall, and the remake of Anything Goes (1956), co-starring Bing Crosby, Donald O'Connor, and Zizi Jeanmaire, loosely based on the musical by Cole Porter, P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton.
Gaynor's biggest international fame came from her starring role as Ensign Nellie Forbush in the film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, one of the most financially successful musicals of all time, although it was largely panned by critics. For her performance, she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best actress.
She made films with many other well-known stars, including Ginger Rogers, Frank Sinatra, David Niven, Dan Dailey, Betty Grable and Oscar Levant. She made her last film to date in the early 1960s. One of her last films was the United Kingdom production Surprise Package (1960), a musical comedy thriller directed by Stanley Donen. Her co-stars were Yul Brynner and Noel Coward. The film had a theme song by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn.
Following her film work, Gaynor remained a popular favorite. She often performed songs at Academy Awards ceremonies. At the 1967 Oscar telecast, she sang the theme from the film Georgy Girl. Gaynor later added the number to her concert repertoire. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Gaynor starred in nine acclaimed television specials which garnered 16 Emmy nominations. As an interesting historical footnote, Gaynor appeared between two sets by The Beatles when they made their second appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show of February 16, 1964. She performed for an unprecedented 9 minute segment from the stage of the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach, separated with one commercial break. She sang "Too Darn Hot" and a Blues medley.
Gaynor also recorded two albums for the Verve label - one called Mitzi, and the second called Mitzi Gaynor Sings the Lyrics of Ira Gershwin. It is estimated that she earned more from the record royalties on the South Pacific soundtrack album than her salary for the movie. She also recorded the title song from her film, Happy Anniversary for the Top Rank label.
For several decades, Mitzi Gaynor was a top attraction in Las Vegas and at nightclub and concert venues throughout the Unites States and Canada. During the 1990s, Gaynor also became a featured columnist for the influential newsmagazine The Hollywood Reporter. During her nightclub years, Gaynor rehearsed and broke in her night club routines at 'The Cave,' a popular night club in Vancouver. She developed a certain affinity for the city and was much appreciated by both the local media and the viewing public, frequently making guest appearances on local television for interviews. "Mitzi's back in town," became an annual slogan when Gaynor would come to the city for a number of weeks each year to break in her Las Vegas routines.
On October 14 2006, the NY Alumni "adopted" Gaynor as an official "New Yorker" at Beverly Hills High School in California. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a proclamation paying tribute to her distinguished career as a singer, dancer, actress and writer. LA Style Watch
On December 4 2006, Jack Bean, Gaynor's husband of 52 years, died of pneumonia in the couple's Beverly Hills home, aged 84. A producer and personal manager, Bean guided Gaynor's career, most notably securing her the lead role in South Pacific, even over the character's creator on Broadway, Mary Martin.
On April 10 2007 Mitzi Gaynor was honored by the Museum of Television & Radio in Los Angeles with a special evening celebrating her acclaimed television specials of the 1960s and 70's. The sold-out event, Mitzi Gaynor Razzle-Dazzle!:The Special Years, featured a screening followed by a panel discussion with Gaynor, designer Bob Mackie and director/choreographer Tony Charmoli. In conjunction with the event, the Museum also featured a month-long gallery exhibit, Mitzi By Mackie, featuring Bob Mackie's Emmy-winning costumes from her specials along with a selection of costumes from Gaynor's legendary stage shows and concert appearances.
On July 30, 2008 Mitzi, along with Kenny Ortega, Elizabeth Berkley, Shirley MacLaine and cast members from High School Musical, So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing with the Stars and a host of others, participated in the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences TV Moves Live, a celebration of 60 years of dance on television. Gaynor stopped the show with a surprise appearance performing the final few bars of Poor Papa (with her original dancers Alton Ruff & Randy Doney), a song and dance number from her 1969 TV spectacular, Mitzi's 2nd Special.
On November 18, 2008, City Lights Pictures in Association with Green Isle Inc. will release Mitzi Gaynor Razzle Dazzle: The Special Years, a new documentary celebrating Miss Gaynor's annual television specials of the 1960s and 70's. The film, which will be broadcast on public television and released on DVD, includes showstopping moments from the original specials (digitally remastered in 5.1 stereo) along with newly taped interviews with Gaynor colleagues, friends and admirer's including Bob Mackie, Carl Reiner, Kristin Chenoweth, Rex Reed, Tony Charmoli, Alton Ruff, Randy Doney and Kelli O'Hara.
Miss Gaynor is currently at work on her new one woman show, Razzle Dazzle: My Life Behind the Sequins, which will tour the the US and Canada throughout 2009.
Each special was a lavish blend of song, dance and comedy with guest stars drawn from the top ranks of the business including Bob Hope, Carl Reiner, Michael Landon, Suzanne Pleshette, Ken Berry and George Hamilton. Even the 80 member USC Marching Band marching band joined her for a musical medley.