I learned the name of Gisele MacKenzie (1927-2003) around the same time I learned that of Ghislaine Maxwell, and now I live in fear that I’ll always mix them up, for aren’t they similar? But it’s not fair. The latter was Jeffrey Epstein’s accomplice, and the former was a lovely French-Canadian singer whose real name was Gisèle Marie Louise Marguerite LaFlèche. I half suspect that she may have been at least a partial inspiration for the character of Megan on Mad Men.
McKenzie’s peak years were 1953-58, when she was one of the principal singers on the tv version of Your Hit Parade, scored a #5 hit single of her own “Hard to Get”, and briefly had her own variety program The Gisele MacKenzie Show, produced by Jack Benny. The daughter of a doctor, Mackenzie studied voice and violin at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Two radio shows of her own on the CBC led to her being hired as a replacement for the Andrews Sisters on Bob Crosby’s CBS show Club Fifteen in 1951, switching off with Jo Stafford. Benny guest-hosted the show one night and he was so impressed with MacKenzie, he hired her to join him on a four month tour, booked her on his TV show nine times, recommended her for Your Hit Parade, and produced her tv show. They had an ongoing comedy routine where the pair would stage mock violin duets. Around the same time, MacKenzie also did guest shots on The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Steve Allen Show, Coke Time (with Mario Lanza), The Milton Berle Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dinah Shore Show, Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall, The Tennesee Ernie Ford Show, The Arthur Murray Dance Party, etc, in support of her career as a major recording artist
From 1963 to 1964 MacKenzie appeared a dozen times on The Sid Caesar Show as a recurring cast member. Through the rest of the ’60s she continued to appear on talk and variety programs like The Tonight Show with Jack Paar, The Dean Martin Show, The Joey Bishop Show, The Woody Woodbury Show, David Frost, Mike Douglas, Hollywood Squares and lots of other game shows. She also began starring in regional and touring productions of musicals during this decade.
Late in her career, MacKenzie tried her hand at screen acting. She appeared in two Mexican films One Minute Before Death (1972) and The Oval Portrait (1973), as well as episodes of TV shows like Murder She Wrote, McGyver, Crazy Like a Fox and The Young and the Restless. Her last screen credit was in a 1999 documentary about the history of television.
To find out more about the history of variety entertainment please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.
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