Virginia Gibson: Singer, actress and dancer who starred in hit musicals of the 1940s and ’50s


The pert dancer, singer and actress Virginia Gibson brightened several film musicals of the 1950s, notably the classic Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), in which, as one of the brides, she danced in the barn-raising sequence, one of the most exhilarating numbers in movie history, and led the rest of the girls in the song “June Bride”.

Three years later she won a Tony nomination for her performance on Broadway in the musical Happy Hunting, which starred Ethel Merman.

She was born Virginia Gorski in 1925 in St Louis, and she began her stage career dancing with the St Louis Municipal Opera. She made her Broadway debut in the chorus of a revival of the Rodgers and Hart musical A Connecticut Yankee (1943), and was steadily employed in the New York theatre for the rest of the 1940s, performing in the chorus or corps de ballet for one show after another.

Billed as Virginia Gorski, she danced in the zany revue Laffing Room Only (1944), starring Olsen and Johnson, and a Twenties satire starring Joan McCracken, Billion Dollar Baby (1945). In High Button Shoes (1947) she performed Jerome Robbins’ demanding choreography for his acclaimed ballet sequences, before playing in Look Ma, I’m Dancin’! (1948), starring Nancy Walker, followed by the revue Along Fifth Avenue (1949), which starred Walker and Jackie Gleason.

Spotted by a talent scout for Warner Bros, she was signed to a contract and made her screen debut (as Virginia Gibson) in Tea for Two (1950), arguably the most joyous of the cheery musicals the studio made with Doris Day. It is likely that the studio would have promoted Gibson with more zest had Day not been such a successful star for them. In Tea for Two, loosely inspired by the 1920s stage hit No, No, Nanette, Gibson played a dancer who had a showcase balletic solo to the tune of “I Only Have Eyes for You”, which she climaxed with a whirlwind pirouette. She also participated in a peppy Charleston routine, and had a running gag attempting to persuade a producer to watch her emote.

She had a non-dancing part as a college student in Goodbye, My Fancy (1951), starring Joan Crawford, but had a substantial role in Painting the Clouds with Sunshine (1951) as one of a trio (with Virginia Mayo and Lucille Norman) performing in Las Vegas while seeking rich husbands; but the film was a mundane remake of Gold Diggers of Broadway. Her vivacious dancing buoyed a mediocre musical set at a military academy, About Face (1952), a remake of an earlier hit, Brother Rat.

One of Gibson’s better roles was in another remake, Stop, You’re Killing Me (1952), a reworking with songs of the classic Edward G Robinson gangster comedy, A Slight Case of Murder. Broderick Crawford took over the leading role of a bootlegger who courts respectability with the repeal of prohibition, and Gibson was his daughter, who falls in love with a cop (Bill Hayes), the son of a society matron (Margaret Dumont).

Gibson’s subsequent minor role in She’s Back on Broadway (1953) indicated waning interest by the studio, and she moved to MGM to play her finest screen role, as Liza, who is wooed by Ephraim Pontipee (New York City Ballet’s Jacques D’Amboise) in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The barn-raising “June Bride” and the ensemble number “Spring, Spring, Spring” all showed Gibson to her advantage. She then played Niobe, one of Jane Powell’s back-to-nature health faddist sisters in Athena (1954). 

Television and the stage lured her back to New York, and in 1955-56 she was a regular performer on The Johnny Carson Show. In 1956 she starred in a 14-minute sponsored short promoting coloured telephones, Once Upon a Honeymoon, in which she played a composer’s wife, dancing round her home as a guardian angel grants her wishes for fresh furnishings, and her husband writes a hit song. Directed by Gower Champion, the short has acquired a cult following.

She then appeared in her final film, playing one of the secretaries of fashion editor Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) in Stanley Donen’s entrancing Funny Face, starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire, released in 1957.

In December 1956, Gibson opened on Broadway in the musical Happy Hunting, playing the daughter of Ethel Merman in a tale of a brash Philadelphia widow intent on attending the marriage of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier. Though considered a second-rate show, it ran for almost a year because of Merman’s star power and professionalism, though she was later to call it her worst Broadway experience. (Merman and leading man Fernando Lamas disliked each other to the extent that he would try to obstruct her curtain call.)

Merman and Gibson were friends from the moment when Merman (who had cast approval) watched Gibson audition. The creative team asked Merman if she would like to see Gibson dance. “I know nothing about dancing,” said Merman. “If you say she can dance, that’s fine with me.” The pair shared the show-stopping duet “Mutual Admiration Society” and the couple also took part in the hit comedy number “A New Fangled Tango”. Nominated for a Tony for best featured actress in a musical, Gibson lost to Edith Adams in Li’l Abner.

For over a decade from the early 1960s, Gibson co-hosted the children’s television documentary programme Discovery.

Virginia Gibson, dancer, singer and actress: born St Louis, Missouri 9 April 1925; died New Town, Pennsylvania 25 April 2013.

Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
food + drink
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits