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Elizabeth Gilfillan, a native of northern Minnesota, made a delightful appearance on “What’s My Line?” in 1952. Bennett Cerf, Dorothy Kilgallen and the rest of the panel were charmed by the wit and energy of the 72-year-old contestant. She fooled the lot and earned $15. Her unique line of work: She taught facial exercises to men and women interested in keeping their skin supple and radiant. Fourteen years later, still radiant herself, the New York entertainer was invited to bring her act to Minneapolis. The Star published this profile on 6B, the “Women’s News” page.
|Gilfillan, 86, demonstrated one exercise, an exaggerated pout guaranteed to keep lips full and youthful. (Minneapolis Star photo by Russell Bull)|
By SUZANNE HOVIK
Minneapolis Star Staff Writer
“The rocking chair goes to and fro.
“And makes you think you're on the go.
“But keep off that ole rocking chair,
“It won't get you anywhere.”
With a toss of her head at the idea of such props for the senior citizen set, an 86-year-old New Yorker sings and dances her way through a new life she created for herself about 20 years ago.
“There's something strange about me,” Elizabeth Gilfillan will tell her audiences, mostly New York women's clubs.
“I'm a woman who doesn't mind telling her age. The older I get, the more valuable I'll be. I can hardly wait until I reach 90. I will do what I do now even better then.”
What Miss Gilfillan does now is an informal act in which she plays the guitar, sings and dances, usually all at once.
And she gives delightful interpretations of humorous verse she has written – “My Eightieth Easter Outfit,” “Who Wants an Old Age Pension,” “No Old Age for Me” and “On Your Rocker.”
These and others were recently published in a book, “Sensible Nonsense.”
In addition to these activities, she also teaches facial exercises, which she developed herself.
She recently completed a visit in Minneapolis with her sister, Mrs. Ernest Meilman, 130 Orlin Av. SE. And she was the guest of honor and entertainer at a luncheon by Mrs. Owen L. Johnson, 3203 E. Calhoun Blvd., who first saw Miss Gilfillan on the television program “What's My Line?” (facial expressions) 14 years ago.
Mrs. Johnson decided this spring to look up Miss Gilfillan and called New York. When the New Yorker said she would be in the Twin Cities in September, Mrs. Johnson made arrangements to meet her.
Miss Gilfillan was born in Minnesota. Her father was a missionary among the Indians in the northern part of the state. She left the state to attend Cornell Medical School, Ithaca, N.Y., and then graduated from the Sergeant School of Physical Education.
“I used to be very shy,” she explained. “I played the piano for a Russian dancing teacher for 46 years. I was beginning to think the job was permanent.
“Then I was asked to give a speech on the school's history. I tried to make it humorous, and I tasted success.”
Miss Gilfillan at the time was 65 years old. “I wanted to entertain so I started preparing myself by taking voice lessons. They say I can be heard two blocks away when I want to be.”
She said she also began exercising to “make myself more presentable.” And she developed facial exercises at this time.
“I had studied at a school of physical training and I felt that if exercises could change the body, it could also change the face.
“As the face ages, the muscles shrink and unsupported skin falls into wrinkles. Exercising the muscles makes them thick again and brings back the original design of the face.”
Miss Gilfillan said she doesn’t claim the exercises perform miracles but most persons can shed 10 to 15 years.
“And if they start in the early 30s, they will never look old.”
She added that another benefit from the exercises is improved circulation which gives the skin color and radiance.
“I teach men too, but they don’t need the exercises. When they get older they look distinguished. Women look extinguished.”
And, she added, “all my pupils are good looking. Otherwise, they wouldn’t bother with the exercises.”