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Popularized `The Shimmy`
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Gilda Gray (October 24, 1901 – December 22, 1959) was a Polish born American actress and dancer who became famous in the US for popularizing a dance called the "shimmy" which became fashionable in 1920s films and theater productions.
Gilda Gray was born Marianna Michalska in Kraków, Poland on 24 October 1901, a daughter of Wanda and Max Michalska. Her parents emigrated to the United States in 1909 and settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She had one sibling, Josephine Michalska (Mrs. Sielecki).
When Marianna was 14 or 15, she married John Gorecki, the concert violinist son of Martin Gorecki, a brewery worker who became a Wisconsin state assemblyman; the couple, who divorced in 1923, had one son, Martin Gorecki, who became a bandleader under the name Martin Gray. In an obituary published in Time, however, Gilda was reportedly married at 11 and became a mother at 12.
Although the shimmy is said to have been introduced to American audiences by Gray in New York in 1919, other sources say that her shimmy was born one night when she was singing the Star Spangled Banner and forgot some of the lyrics. She covered up her embarrassment by shaking her shoulders and hips. Although the shimmy was already a well-known dance move, Marianna appropriated it as her own when she was asked about her dancing style, she replied in a heavy Polish accent; "I`m shaking my chemise," which sounded to the English-speaking audience like shimmy.
Her desire to continue her burgeoning career—she used the professional name Mary Gray—and the faltering relationship with her husband prompted Gray to move to Chicago where she was noticed by a talent Frank Westphal who took her to New York and introduced her to his wife, singer Sophie Tucker. It was Tucker who prompted her to change her name to Gilda, a reference to her golden hair.
By 1919, she was appearing in a J. J. Shubert show, The Gaieties of 1919. By 1920, Gilda had found a new manager, Gaillard T. `Gil` Boag (d. 1959). After being seen by Florenz Ziegfeld, she appeared in the 1922 Ziegfeld Follies where she was enormously popular with the public.
After her divorce from her first husband, in 1923 she married Boag and took her successful vaudeville to Hollywood, California; they divorced four years later. She quickly abandoned vaudeville to become a film star, and between 1919 and 1936 Gray made several movies, in all of which she performed her famous shimmy. Her second role was a small part in Girl with the Jazz Heart.
Jesse Lasky signed her to a contract with Famous Players. With him she made Aloma of the South Seas, which grossed $3,000,000 in its first three months. The success of this film was enhanced by Gilda`s personal appearances doing the shimmy as a promotion. In 1927, she made two more films, The Devil Dancer and Cabaret.
When the stock market crashed in 1929, Gilda Gray lost most of her financial assets, but she managed to get a job dancing at the Palace Theater in New York. In future years she attempted comebacks but was hindered by poor health from regaining her status as a star. By now her second marriage had failed due to the stresses of financial problems complicated by her affair with her stage manager, C.D. Krepps.
In 1931 she suffered a heart attack.
In 1932, Gray announced her engagement to singer Arthur Jarrett, but abandoned their marriage plans when it became clear that the five-day waiting period between filing a marriage license and the actual ceremony could not be waived.
On 23 May 1933, she married a Venezuelan diplomat, Hector Briceño de Saa. The couple separated two years later and divorced in 1938.
In 1953 Ralph Edwards did her life story on his television show, This Is Your Life. He portrayed her courage in bringing six Polish citizens to America during the Cold War era. Gray also subsidized their education. She was decorated by Poland for her interest and help to her countrymen and her country.
By the time of her death from a second heart attack, on December 22, 1959, Gilda Gray was again in financial trouble. She died at 7922 Hollywood Boulevard at the age of 58. According to an obituary published in The New Times, she had lived there with Antonio Raio, a fire captain for Warner Bros., and his wife for the past six years. Gray suffered an attack of food poisoning five days prior to her death and was under the treatment of a physician. The Motion Picture Relief Fund paid for her funeral. Pierce Brothers mortuary supervised her funeral proceedings.
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Gilda Gray (October 24, 1901 – December 22, 1959) was an American actress and dancer who popularized a dance called the "shimmy" which became fashionable in 1920s films and theater productions.
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