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Gail Gerber, a perky blond actress who starred opposite Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys and Edd “Kookie” Byrnes in several fun films of the 1960s, died Saturday in Salisbury, Conn., of complications from lung cancer. She was 76.
Gerber gave up her acting career in 1966 to be with two-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter Terry Southern (Easy Rider, Dr. Strangelove, The Cincinnati Kid). They were together for 30 years and tended to a 200-year-old farmhouse in the Berkshires until he died of respiratory failure in 1995 at age 71.
A native of Edmonton, Alberta, Gerber made her film debut in The Girls on the Beach (1965), co-starring The Beach Boys, before her agent suggested she change her name. As Gail Gilmore, she appeared opposite Presley in two other 1965 films, Girl Happy and Harum Scarum.
After co-starring with Byrnes in Beach Ball (1965), she grew to gigantic proportions as one of six delinquent teenagers (including Beau Bridges and Tisha Sterling) who terrorize a town in Village of the Giants (1965).
Gerber met Southern on the set of Tony Richardson’s The Loved One (1965), for which she had a minor role as a cosmetician and he was a screenwriter. The two hit it off immediately and, despite their marriages to others, became inseparable.
Gerber abandoned her acting career to live with Southern in New York and then in Connecticut, where she taught ballet for more than 25 years.
After Southern’s death, Gerber lived in New York City and served as the secretary of the Terry Southern Trust. She returned to acting, playing a dotty old woman in Lucky Days (2008). She can next be seen in avant-garde filmmaker Matthew Barney’s just completed River of Fundament.
At age 15, Gerber became the youngest member of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal and grew up touring with the ballet troupe. She moved to Toronto in the late 1950s to work as an actress, appearing on stage and in many live CBC dramas.
Gerber was one of the last people to work alongside Smith & Dale (the inspiration for The Sunshine Boys), performing with the legendary vaudeville duo on Canada’s The Wayne and Shuster Show and then on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Gerber moved to Hollywood in 1963, snagged the lead role in the Lawrence Roman play Under the Yum Yum Tree and then made appearances on such TV shows as My Three Sons, Perry Mason and Wagon Train.
With author Tom Lisanti, Gerber wrote the colorful memoir, Trippin’ With Terry Southern: What I Think I Remember, published in 2010. The book details what life was like with “the hippest guy on the planet.”
Survivors include her stepfather, Karl.
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