Gisèle MacKenzie

MacKenzie (b LaFlèche), (Marie Marguerite Louise) Gisèle or Gisele. Singer, violinist, actress, b Winnipeg 10 Jan 1927, naturalized US 1955, d Burbank, California, 5 Sept 2003.

MacKenzie, Gisèle

MacKenzie (b LaFlèche), (Marie Marguerite Louise) Gisèle or Gisele. Singer, violinist, actress, b Winnipeg 10 Jan 1927, naturalized US 1955, d Burbank, California, 5 Sept 2003. Though she studied with Flora Matheson Goulden (violin) in Winnipeg and with Kathleen Parlow (violin) and Godfrey Ridout (theory) on scholarship 1941-7 at the TCM, she chose not to pursue a career as a concert violinist. She played violin and sang in 1946 with the dance band of Bob Shuttleworth (her first husband) and starred 1946-50 on CBC radio's 'Meet Gisèle'. For RCI she recorded 35 songs on seven LPs (RCI 24 to RCI 30) in 1950. She also recorded for Musicana.

Known simply as Gisèle in Canada, she adopted her father's second given name, MacKenzie, as her professional name when she moved in 1950 to the USA. There she sang with Percy Faith's orchestra on CBS radio in New York, joined Bob Crosby on CBS TV's 'Club 15' in Hollywood in 1951, and began a long association with the comedian Jack Benny in 1953. She often played violin duets with Benny, the contrast of their playing abilities serving as the basis of a comedy routine. She was a regular performer 1953-7 on NBC TV's 'Your Hit Parade' (at first sharing the spotlight with the Ontario-born singer Dorothy Collins) and starred 1957-8 on her own NBC TV series. MacKenzie also played leading roles in summer stock productions of South Pacific (Dallas 1955), Annie Get Your Gun (Kansas City 1956), The King and I (US tour 1957), and in other musicals in the 1960s.

Her single recordings included 'Hard to Get' and 'Pepper-Hot Baby' for the 'X' label and 'The Star You Wished Upon Last Night' for Vik. Two LPs, both entitled Gisele, were released by RCA (1958, Victor LSP-1790; 1959, Camden 532); and two more, Gisele MacKenzie at the Empire Room of the Waldorf Astoria and Gisele MacKenzie Sings Lullaby and Goodnight, were released in the 1960s by Everest (1069) and Pickwick (SPC-3185) respectively. An album of French-language songs, Mam Selle Gisele, was rereleased by BMG in 2002. She performed less frequently after the early 1960s but appeared on special occasions with Jack Benny or Sid Caesar and later worked as an actress. Remaining in California, she guest-starred on such television shows as Murder, She Wrote, did voice-overs, and appeared on talk shows and commercials into the 1990s.

In common with such other Canadian singers as her contemporary Juliette and the younger Anne Murray, MacKenzie achieved fame through a distinctive combination of cool-headed, cheerful candour and an easy, pleasant voice of medium range, always in tune and handled with a disarming lack of affectation. Her brother was the pop singer-composer Georges La Fleche.


Further Reading

  • Helleur, Stan. 'Under the spell of Gisele,' New Liberty, Sep 1951

    MacKenzie, Gisele. 'Look what's happened to me!' Liberty, May 1954

    Moore, Jacqueline. 'Gisele MacKenzie,' Weekend, 31 Mar 1957

    Helleur, Stan. 'Gisele MacKenzie tells her story,' Maclean's, 4 instalments, 27 Feb-9 Apr 1960