Gisele MacKenzie (1927-2003)
MacKenzie, Gisele (1927-2003)
Gisele was born in Winnipeg and named Marie Marguerite Louise Gisele LaFleche. Both parents were musical. She was playing the piano at two and went on also to learn the violin and to sing. She was to become known as Canada’s first lady of song and to win fame across North America as a contralto with perfect pitch, TV hostess and actress.
Gisele performed in public for the first time in a violin recital at the Royal Alexandra Hotel in Winnipeg when she was 12 and later trained at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. She was entertaining troops during the Second World War when she met bandleader Robert Shuttleworth who was serving in the Royal Canadian Navy. After the war he brought her into his band, became her manager, then married her. They had a son and a daughter. Later she married businessman Robert Klein. Both marriages ended in divorce.
In Robert Shuttleworth’s band, Gisele was an all-round musician. He encouraged her to concentrate on singing but she was considering a career as a violinist and said later she changed her mind only after her violin was stolen.
Gisele got her first radio show in 1946 on CBC Radio. It was called Meet Gisele and ran for 15 minutes each Monday, Wednesday and Friday for four years from 1946. In 1951 her show was heard by Bob Crosby, brother of movie and singing star Bing. Bob made her an offer and she moved with her family to Hollywood and changed her name. MacKenzie was her father’s middle name, his mother’s maiden name. She became a regular for two years on Club 15 hosted by Bob Crosby, then a featured singer on The Mario Lanza Show, and joined comedian Jack Benny on tour in 1952 and 1953. She also recorded for Capitol Records and appeared in Las Vegas shows.
She became a household name in the United States on the weekly TV show Your Hit Parade from 1953 to 1957. She and other singers sang the seven most popular current songs. She was the only vocalist on the show to have her own song among the top seven – Hard to Get. It was on the hit parade in 1955 for 16 weeks.
She appeared regularly on The Jack Benny Show from 1955 and the comedian helped her to land The Gisele MacKenzie Show which ran on NBC for six months in 1957. She later became a regular on the ABC comedy-variety program The Sid Caesar Show. Her acting career began in 1955 in a Kraft Television Theatre show and she continued to make guest appearances in TV series like MacGyver, Murder, She Wrote, Crazy Like a Fox and Boy Meets World, and to appear in commercials. She also acted in the movie of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Oval Portrait.
During her long career she starred in many musical productions including Mame, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Gypsy, The King and I, and Hello Dolly.
Among her many song albums were two French collections: Dominique and Mam’selle Gisele.
She died in Burbank, California, on September 5th 2003.
Written by Jerry Fairbridge - November, 2003