Lovers Waltz : Gisele MacKenzie©2008JCMarion


Gisele MacKenzie was born as Gisele Marie-Louise Marguerite LaFleche in Winnepeg in the Canadian province of Manitoba in January of 1927. Her father was a doctor and her mother an accomplished pianist. Always interested in music, she soon perfected her talents in violin and voice at the Canadian Royal Conservatory in Toronto. She soon got her first big job in music as a vocalist with the orchestra of Bob Shuttleworth. In time in the late nineteen forties, she had her own radio program for the CBC called "Meet Gisele" and Shuttleworth had become her husband and her manager. By 1950 she had moved to Los Angeles and because she had not liked the sound of her real name as a professional she assumed the middle name of her father.

She got early radio work when she replaced the Andrews Sisters with the Bob Crosby band on the show "Club 15". Gisele also appeared on the programs of Morton Downey and Edgar Bergen. She made an early fifties appearance with Jack Benny on his television show and began a long friendship with the comedian. She made many appearances on TV variety shows such as "Colgate Comedy Hour", "Arthur Murray Party", and "Toast Of The Town" with Ed Sullivan. In 1953 she became part of the cast of "Your Hit Parade" ( on the recommendation of Jack Benny) where she remained for five years. She had her own radio program for a time called "Airtime" and later in the fifties a musical variety show on television called "The Gisele MacKenzie Show".

In the early nineteen fifties MacKenzie made some recordings for the Capitol label. "Fairyland" and "Jolie Jaqueline" on # 1722, "On Rosary Hill" and "Lover's Waltz" with Gordon MacRae on # 1807, "Love Makes The World Go Around" / "Please" on # 1878, and her first hit record "La Fiacre" on # 1907 a top twenty seller (with "J'Attendrai" on the flip side). Following were "What'll I Do" / "I'm So Easy To Satisfy" on # 2059, "Johnny" and "Whistle My Love" on # 2110, and "Adios Darling" and "You Can't Love Two" on # 2156. "Adios" was a top fifteen seller nationally and remained on the charts for more than a month. "My Favorite Song" and a cover of Perry Como's hit "Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes" on # 2256 was next. "Stars" was a good seller recorded with the band of Buddy Cole and hit the top ten across the country. An interesting duet with big band veteran vocalist Helen O'Connell on "Water Can't Quench The Fire Of Love" on # 2266 was a top twenty seller ("Crazy Love" on the other side) "The New Wears Off Too Fast" / "Gone" on # 2307 was followed by another duet with O'Connell on "Lipstick Powder And Paint" on # 2404 with Dave Cavanaugh got into the top twenty five ("Get It While You're Young" on the flip side).

Later in 1953 "I Didn't Want To Love You" and a cover of The Hilltoppers "I'd Rather Die Young" on Capitol # 2501, "When The Hands Of The Clock Pray At Midnight" another duet with Helen O'Conell on # 2521, "Half Hearted" and a Julius LaRosa cover of "Till They've All Gone Home" on # 2556, and a final Capitol side "Doggone It Baby I'm In Love" and "Ridin To Tennessee" on # 2743. In 1954 Gisele MacKenzie replaced June Valli on "Your Hit Parade". Many were of the opinion that the move was prompted by Dorothy Collins who felt upstaged by Valli. In May of 1955, Gisele MacKenzie moved to RCA Victor's subsidiary label X. She recorded a song called "Hard To Get" (with "Boston Fancy" on the flip side) on #0137. The record was a surprise hit getting as high as number four in the country and staying on the best seller charts for five months. It was the biggest hit of her career. Another good seller for label X was "Pepper Hot Baby" on # 0172.

Right about the time her role in the cast of "Your Hit Parade" was to end, Gisele was granted her own TV show for NBC. The show lasted for that one season. RCA Victor had replaced label X with the new Vik label. Some seasonal tunes were an EP called "Joyeaux Noel" and "Too Fat For The Chimney" and "Jingle Bells" for Vik. "Reserved" on Vik # 189 was followed by "It's Delightful To Be Married" on Vik # 233 was coupled with "The Star You Wished Upon Last Night". It was on Vik that Gisele recorded a number of LP albums in the late nineteen fifties such as "Gisele MacKenzie" on # 1055, "Christmas With Gisele" on Vik # 1099, and "Mam'selle Gisele" on # 1075. Gisele also recorded music for children such as "Cinderella" and "Alice In Wonderland" on Pickwick # 3184, and with the Cricket Players for RCA with "Songs Of Babar" with the Al Pellegrini orchestra, and another LP "Lullabye And Goodnight" on Cricket # 29. In the late fifties MacKanzie appeared on Studio One, Kraft Television Theater, U.S. Steel Hour, Lux Playhouse, and GE Theater.

In 1963 Gisele MacKenzie returned to network television with a continuing role on the Sid Caesar Show. Over the next few years she recorded for a number of labels. "In Person At The Empire Room" on Sunset # 1153, "Gisele Sings Dominique" on Design # 168, "Canadian First lady Of Song" for Living Era # 5546, "Songs Of Losers Lullabyes" on Mercury # 20790, "In Person" on Venus # 19018, and "Gisele Sings" on Glendale # 601. Moving on from music, Gisele turned to dramatic ventures as she performed on a number of regional theater productions as well as dramatic and comedy programs. She appeared on stage in "Hello Dolly", "Mame", "Annie Get Your Gun", and others. In dramatic roles on TV in later years she was on Burke's Law, Murder She Wrote, MacGuyver, and Boy Meets World.

Gisele is remembered by a number of cds that are readily available. The best is "Canada's First lady Of Song" from Living Era in 2004 with thirty tracks. "Hard To Get : The Best Of Gisele MacKenzie" from Collector's Classics released in 1998 has all of the RCA sides originally issued on label X and Vik on its twenty tracks. "Getting To Know Gisele" from Jasmine in 2000 has twenty four tracks two of which are in French. The final cd is of special interest. It is a live recording of MacKenzie's cabaret act. It was originally recorded in 1959 and newly remastered on cd from Collectables in 2006. "In Person at The Empire Room" has ten tracks from the show room of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Accompanied by Al Pellegrini and the Emil Coleman Orchestra, it is an impressive sound document from a special talent.

Gisele MacKenzie was a multi-faceted entertainer if ever there was one. If you have been around long enough you will always remember that musical and inventive performer whether taking on Jack Benny violin-to-violin, or vocalizing on the top tunes of the week on "Your Hit Parade", she was one of a kind. She passed away in September of 2003. She will be greatly missed by very many of us.

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