Saturday, March 7, 2020

O CANADA! BLOGATHON: Songbirds Dorothy Collins and Gisele MacKenzie

"A weekend in Canada a change of scene..."
- Canadian Sunset

Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy are once again hosting their O Canada! Blogathon. The event runs from March 6th to the 8th.

Blogathon contributions can be found HERE

Where you see a song title highlighted, click to hear the performance.

Dorothy Collins and Gisele MacKenzie of Your Hit Parade

Your Hit Parade, an entertaining presentation of contemporary song hits began on radio in 1935 and was a popular television program that ran on NBC from 1950 to 1959.

Two talented and personable Canadian gals made their mark on Classic American entertainment. Dorothy Collins was a popular star of the program from 1951 to 1958. Gisele MacKenzie was equally popular during her time on the show from 1953 to 1957. Here's a 1957 performance of a hit of the day, Don't Forbid Me.

Dorothy Collins
1926 - 1994

Born Marjorie Chandler in Windsor, Ontario on November 18, 1926, the singer known as Dorothy Collins began her career in her teens singing on Windsor and Detroit radio stations. At the age of 15 she became lead vocalist for Raymond Scott's orchestra. Scott became her coach, mentor and in 1952, her husband. The marriage would last 13 years, produce two daughters and some great music. Dorothy's second marriage was to actor Ron Holgate in 1966. That marriage also ended in divorce but gave her another daughter.

Along with Your Hit Parade, Dorothy was ubiquitous on television in the many of the variety, talk, and game shows that inhabited the airwaves. Perry Como, Steve Allen, Garry Moore, Danny Kaye, The Hollywood Palace, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, Password and American Bandstand and other programs featured Dorothy has a guest more than once.

Dorothy was a co-hostess and stunt participant for two seasons on Candid Camera.

This Bing Crosby and Dorothy Collins duet of The Christmas Glow Worm from The Hollywood Palace Christmas episode in 1965 has become a holiday tradition for me.

Dorothy left an eclectic set of albums including the 1958 release Picnic: Dorothy Collins Sings Steve Allen where you can enjoy a Banana SplitExperiment Songs included in the 1960 set Ballads for the Age of Science, along with Songs by Dorothy Collins with the Barney Kessel Trio, At Home with Dorothy and Raymond (Scott), Won't You Spend Christmas with Me, and A New Way to Travel with the standard Perfidia. You can also hear Dorothy in the 2019 release The Jingle Workshop: Mid Century Musical Miniatures 1951-1965.

Dorothy Collins, Follies

Dorothy and her audience came together through concerts, night club engagements, and theatrical performances. On the road, Dorothy appeared in The Wizard of Oz, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Good News. Dorothy made her mark on Broadway in 1971 creating the role of Sally Durant Plummer in the Stephen Sondheim musical Follies, produced and directed by Harold Prince.

Losing My Mind

"Dorothy Collins' version of Losing My Mind should be studied as a how-to-do-it lesson in singing."
- Stephen Sondheim

Dorothy was nominated for the Best Actress in a Musical Tony Award for Follies. The award was given to fellow-Canadian castmate Alexis Smith in the role of Phyllis Rogers Stone. 

All I have read about Dorothy shows that we lost a lovely person, as well as a great talent, when she passed away from asthma and heart disease on July 21, 1994, at the age of 67. Fortunately for fans, we can enjoy her many recordings which are still available. 

Gisele MacKenzie
1927- 2003

Gisele Marie Louise Marguerite LaFleche was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba on January 10, 1927. Gisele took her father's middle name MacKenzie as her professional name in 1951, lest her real name sounded like a striptease artist. Oh, those Canadian girls and their sense of humour!

Gisele studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and was an excellent violinist, pianist as well as a vocalist. She hosted her own CBC radio program Meet Gisele where she interviewed celebrities passing through Toronto. In 1951 Gisele moved to Los Angeles to work for CBS (radio and television) with fellow Canuck Percy Faith and with Bob Crosby on Club Fifteen program.

Gisele recorded for Capitol, RCA and other labels, producing wonderful albums and hit singles. Hard to Get and Seven Lonely Days were popular hits. Among her albums, you will find delightful musical storytelling for children in Gisele Mackenzie Sings and Tells Babar Adventures and Travels as well as Sings And Tells Cinderella And Alice in Wonderland. A must-have is Christmas With Gisele.

Gisele hosted a radio program while appearing on television, and after her time on Your Hit Parade, hosted The Gisele MacKenzie Show for the 1957-1958 season. Gisele and her variety show guest star Roger Williams with a stirring piano duet of Richard Rodgers' Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. Sometimes good things don't last, like Gisele's variety show, but her time on television went on with appearances on other variety shows.

Like Dorothy, Gisele was married and divorced twice. She had two children, a son Mac and a daughter, Gigi.

Gisele spent quality television time with Dinah Shore, Milton Berle, Jonathan Winters, Steve Allen, Eddie Fisher, Ed Sullivan, "Tennessee" Ernie Ford, George Gobel, Perry Como, Jack Paar, Mike Douglas, and of course, Jack Benny. Gisele and Jack toured and appeared together often and their most popular routine was Getting to Know You.

Game show buffs can seek out Gisele on Password, Stump the Stars, Hollywood Squares, and The Match Game.

Gisele, Annie Get Your Gun

Gisele hit the road in the mid-1950s on tour in the great musicals. She was a popular player in starring roles in Annie Get Your Gun, South Pacific, The King and I, Gypsy, Mame, and Hello, Dolly!. Not a fan of live theatre (why not?!), you could find Gisele performing at top clubs and making recordings just for you. Or you could just stay home at watch Gisele on The Perry Como Show promoting her latest album.

Gisele Mackenzie as Katherine Chancellor

It is not likely that television fans could miss Gisele's work as an actress during the 1960s to the 1990s. She appeared as Sid's wife on The Sid Caesar Show and guested on Burke's Law, Crazy Like a Fox, Murder, She Wrote, MacGyver, and Boy Meets World. In 1986 she was a temporary replacement for Jeanne Cooper as Katherine Chancellor on The Young and the Restless.

Sadly, Gisele passed away from colon cancer on September 5, 2003. It is sad to think of her struggle at the end so I will concentrate on the joy she brought us through the years. I will leave you with two musical treats. First, one of my favourite of Gisele's records (full disclosure: I have yet to find one that isn't a favourite), Leroy Anderson's Blue Tango.

And from Gisele's daughter Gigi Mackenzie's album Skylark, a wonderful blending of their voices in Stranger in Paradise from Kismet.

Russell Arms and Gisele MacKenzie and Dorothy Collins and Snooky Lanson
Your Hit Parade


  1. “Losing My Mind” and “Blue Tango” are working fine but the other videos just say “video unavailable.” That said, they both sound nice.

    1. Thanks for the heads-up.

      The original posters wouldn't let the video play on another platform but you could click back to YouTube. Most annoying. I have redone those particular links as highlighted text and they go directly to the video.

  2. Thanks for the heads up. I never knew these singers existed. And what a name: Gisele Marie Louise Marguerite LaFleche. 5 names for one girl. Is that a Canadian thing? BTW, Hank Snow was a family favorite.

    1. I'm glad to introduce you to the Canadian songbirds.

      I think the 5 names may be a French-Canadian thing. Some of us have the thing where we are referred to by our middle name. All three of my sisters fall into that category.

      Hank Snow, when he was home in Nova Scotia, would buy his cigarettes and stuff at my grandparents store. Sometimes my mom, in her teen years, would be working the counter.

  3. Whoa! That Stephen Sondheim compliment is a Big Deal. Not that I know much about singing, but I would have to agree after watching the clip you posted.

    Now, a confession: I'd not heard of these two talented women before reading your post today. Boy, have I been missing out! I loved the links you provided to the Christmas Glow Worm song with Bing Crosby and the Getting to Know You duet with Jack Benny. These women had Stage Presence and Talent.

    Thank you for bringing Gisele and Dorothy to the blogathon. I am so pleased to make their acquaintance.

    1. I couldn't be happier to have brought Dorothy and Gisele into your world.

      I so agree, the Sondheim quote is a big deal.

      Gisele and Jack Benny were very popular on his television program. I really love that TV Guide cover. They look like they were having a blast.

  4. I love these two talented ladies. Making YOUR HIT PARADE work week after week had to have been great training, it was certainly a challenge. FOLLIES is a special musical, and though I'm so glad it has been revived a couple times, nothing will ever match the magic of the original and no one has ever done the Dorothy Collins role as well as she. It's like that show is locked in time and was written for the people who originally performed it. I have one of those Gisele albums, and her pairing with Jack Benny in that violin duet is hysterical. I was introduced to these two singers as a child by my mother, who was a big fan. I can never think of them without remembering the pleasure the gave her. Great post!

    1. Thank you. It does my heart good to know you are a fan and of the music shared with your mom.

      You couldn't have expressed it more perfectly about the special "lightning in a bottle" feel about Follies.

      The relationship Jack and Gisele shared with fans was such fun, it reaches out over the years.

  5. This was a great idea for the blogathon! Loved reading your article and learning more about those lovely and obviously talented ladies!

    1. Thank you. Indeed, the talent was off the charts.

  6. According to imdb GISELE MACKENZIE was nominated for 3 EMMY AWARDS. She lost out to DINAH SHORE each time. The first two were for singer and the last one was for TV personality. Some of the other nominees were JUDY GARLAND, ROSEMARY CLOONEY and PEGGY LEE! Talk about stiff competition!

    1. It was a time when great talent was appreciated.

  7. Also according to imdb JULIA MEADE was an ad pitchwoman for some eps of YOUR HIT PARADE. I remember Julia from the movie TAMMY TELL ME TRUE with SANDRA DEE and BEULAH BONDI. Julia played SUZANNE, the greedy niece of wealthy MRS. CALL(Miss Bondi). Miss Meade played the part well. She was also in PILLOW TALK. She had an impressive career on BROADWAY where she worked with a lot of famous people. Did you see the 3 TAMMY movies? Do you know the work of Julia Meade very well?

    1. I remember when cigarette ads were normal, but the singing ones for Your Hit Parade and other shows have their own special strangeness. Imagine singing about something that would hamper your singing.

      I did see the courtroom scene of Tammy Tell Me True when I ran across it on television recently. I can't say I recall much of Julia Meade's screen work.

  8. Thank you for these musical treats, Paddy! I had never heard of these lovely ladies or their talents before but I am already a fan. That album cover for Picnic is adorable and the song Banana Split is even cuter. Love it!

    1. Thank you so much for letting me know. I could not be more pleased to have brought Dorothy and Gisele into your life.



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