Gail Gerber, Actress in Elvis, Beach Films, Dies at 76

Actress-dancer Gail Gerber, a vivacious blonde with a shapely figure and a flair for comedy remembered most for her appearances in a few beach and Elvis films during the mid-’60s, died from complications of lung cancer in Sharon, Conn., on March 2. She was 76.

A Canadian, Gerber moved to Hollywood after in 1963 and quickly snagged the lead role in the play “Under the Yum Yum Tree.” She also appeared on TV series including “My Three Sons,” “Perry Mason” and “Wagon Train.” She made her film debut in “The Girls on the Beach” (1965), co-starring the Beach Boys, before her agent suggested she change her name and, as Gail Gilmore, she went on to appear 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 Tony Richardson’s black comedy “The Loved One,” and she met its screenwriter Terry Southern, who was riding high due to the success of his satirical novels “Candy” and “The Magic Christian” and the movie “Dr. Strangelove,” which he co-wrote. The two hit it off immediately and, despite their marriages to others, became inseparable. Gail even abandoned her acting career in 1966 to live with him in New York, then Connecticut, where she remained his longtime companion until his death in 1995. During that time she taught ballet for more than 25 years.

Gerber was born in Edmonton, Alberta, and began studying ballet at age 7; at 15 she became the youngest member of Les Grandes Ballets Canadiennes in Montreal. Quitting the ballet troupe in the late 1950s and abandoning a husband who was a jazz musician, she moved to Toronto to work as an actress. She appeared on stage and in many live CBC television dramas. As part of the act of vaudeville entertainers Smith and Dale (who were the basis for the Sunshine Boys), she appeared on “The Wayne and Schuster Show” and “The Ed Sullivan Show” before heading for Hollywood.

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