Dancer Gisella Orkin dies at 83

Appeared on Broadway in 'Kiss Me Kate,' 'Carousel'

Gisella Orkin, a dancer who appeared in the original Broadway productions of “Kiss Me Kate,” “Carousel,” “Follow the Girls,” “Look Ma, I’m Dancin’!” and “Paint Your Wagon,” died in New York City of natural causes on Aug. 10. She was 83.

Cole Porter famously told Orkin, “You sing well, for a dancer” before casting her as Venus in his musical “Out of This World,” in which her costume (a bikini made of stuffed doves) scandalized the critics.

Gisella Svetlik was born in Manhattan. Along with her older sister, Susan Svetlik, she was discovered at age 14 by “Madame” Calliope Charisse, a colleague of Isadora Duncan, the mother of dancer and vaudeville star Nenette Charisse and future mother-in-law of dancer Cyd Charisse.

Gisella was married to Harvey Orkin, a former VP of Columbia Pictures and theatrical agent to Peter Sellers and Richard Burton who died in 1975 (he was also an Emmy-winning writer for “The Phil Silvers Show”). In 1985 she married screenwriter Albert Hackett (co-writer of “The Thin Man” series, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Father of the Bride” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”), who died in 1995.

Orkin is survived by a daughter, Jenna Orkin, and son, Anthony Orkin, editor at Nickelodeon’s “Team Umizoomi”; daughter-in-law, Paula Bernstein Orkin, an author and former Variety staffer; and grandchildren Julian, Jesse, and Ruby.

Donations may be made to the Land Institute in Salina, Kans.

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