As a child Gila Golan was found orphaned, wandering in a Polish town at the end of World War II. She was adopted by a family, sent to a French boarding school, and finally sent with other refugee youngsters to a kibbutz in Israel; along the way she acquired the name "Miriam Goldenburg." In 1961 she won the Miss Israel beauty contest; taking the name Gila Golan, later that year she placed second in the Miss World competition in London. It was in London that she met Columbia Pictures executive William Cohan and his wife, who came to view her as their foster daughter; they sponsored her move to Hollywood and entrance into films. Golan debuted onscreen in 1965, playing leads in a handful of Hollywood films during the late '60s.