Actress/Dancer Gail Gerber Dead at Age 76
Actress/dancer Gail Gerber passed away on Saturday, March 1, 2014 due to complications from lung cancer. A petite, blonde beauty with a shapely figure, she is best remembered by movie fans as a starlet with a vivacious personality that brightened up several beach cult films as well as two Elvis features during the mid-Sixties.
Gerber was born on October 4, 1937 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and began studying ballet at age seven. Her talent was evident even as a young girl and at fifteen she became the youngest member of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal. She grew up touring with the ballet troupe and eventually married a jazz musician. But in the late 1950s, she abandoned the unsuccessful marriage and moved to Toronto to work as an actress. She appeared on stage and in many live CBC television dramas. Gerber also had a flair for comedy, and was one of the last to perform in TV sketches with the legendary vaudeville duo Smith and Dale (who inspired the film The Sunshine Boys) on both The Wayne and Schuster Show and The Ed Sullivan Show.
Moving to Hollywood in 1963, the talented blonde quickly snagged the lead role in the play Under the Yum Yum Tree and made guest appearances on such popular TV series as My Three Sons, Perry Mason, and Wagon Train. In 1965, she made her film debut in The Girls on the Beach, co-starring The Beach Boys, before her agent suggested she change her name and, as Gail Gilmore, she went on to have principle roles opposite Elvis Presley in Girl Happy (1965) and Harum Scarum (1965). She then returned to the sands of Malibu to co-star with Edd “Kookie” Byrnes in Beach Ball (1965) before growing to gigantic proportions along with five other delinquent teenagers (including Beau Bridges and Tisha Sterling), who terrorize a town in Village of the Giants (1965).
Gerber had a minor role as a cosmetician in The Loved One (1965), directed by Academy Award winner Tony Richardson. It was on the set of that movie where she met its screenwriter Terry Southern, who was riding high due to the success of his satirical novels Candy and The Magic Christian, as well as the smash movie Dr. Strangelove, which he co-wrote. The two hit it off immediately and, despite their marriages to others, became inseparable. Gerber even abandoned her acting career in 1966 to live with Southern in New York, then in Connecticut, where she taught ballet for over twenty-five years and tended to their 200-year-old farmhouse, the chickens and pigs. Gerber remained Southern’s steadfast companion and muse until his death thirty years later in 1995.
After Southern’s death, Gerber spent most of her time living in New York City. During the last twenty years of her life, she was the secretary of the Terry Southern Trust. She also returned to acting – playing a dotty old woman in Lucky Days (2008) an independent film written/directed by and starring her friend Angelica Page. Next she played a Wake Guest in avant-garde filmmaker Matthew Barney’s just completed film River of Fundament (2014).
She also wrote her colorful memoir (with Tom Lisanti) Trippin’ with Terry Southern: What I Think I Remember (published in 2010 by McFarland and Company, Inc.) The book details what life was like with “the hippest guy on the planet” as Gerber and Southern traveled from LA to New York to Europe and back again. Gerber reveals what went on behind the scenes of her movies as well as Southern’s, including The Cincinnati Kid, End of the Road, and, most infamously, Easy Rider. The book recounts the “highs” with Terry—hanging out with The Rolling Stones, Peter Sellers, Lenny Bruce, Roger Vadim and Jane Fonda, William Burroughs, Rip Torn and Geraldine Page, David Amram, George Segal, and Ringo Starr—as well as the “lows” in the 1970s & 1980s, when they were barely scraping by on their Berkshires farm. The book received an Independent Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Best Autobiography/Memoir of 2011.
Gail Gerber is survived by her stepfather Karl Dudda and will be remembered by her many fans and loving friends.