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Gilda Gray

Biography: 

(1901-1958)

The strikingly blonde revue dancer and silent film featured performer, Gilda Gray was born Marianna Michalska in Krakow, Poland. She accompanied her parents to Chicago as a girl, married a violinist while in her teens, and studied stage dancing. When the marriage collapsed she went to New York, signed on as a featured dancer in the Shubert Gaities of 1919. About this time she became known for doing the "shimmy," a vernacular American dance in which individual dancers shook their bodies with a rippling effect. It became a signature and won her a place in Ziegfeld's Follies of 1922.

Her solo dance suited vaudeville as well as the revue stage, and Gray became enormously popular on the Orpheum circuit. Her image was ubiquitous in American magazines of the mid-1920s. Motion picture producers realized that her enormous name recognition could be converted to theater seats. Jesse Lasky thought a movie could be built around her using the play "Aloma of the South Seas," a cross-racial romance in which a native dancer looms as the central character. The potential for kitsch was high, but Lasky secured Maurice Tournier as director, one of the greatest visual artists of the silent cinema. In would be the highest grossing film of the year and one of the top five hits of the 1920s. The next year found her performing an exotic dancer role in "Devil Dancer." In 1936's Academy Award winning "The Great Ziegfeld," Gray revisted her famous revue dances preserving them for posterity. David S. Shields/ALS