Jo’burg’s jazzy Juliet

t was on the set of the movie Can-Can, in Los Angeles, that the Johannesburg ballet dancer had a run in with Nikita Kruschev. Dancing the can-can, and with Kruschev watching the rehearsal, he declared that he found the spectacle to be ‘vulgar” and left in a hurry. The year was 1959, and Juliet Prowse, born in Bombay and raised in Johannesburg, was on the front pages of American newspapers. Being called vulgar by Kruschev only added to Prowse’s lustre, and being the girlfriend of the star of the movie, Frank Sinatra, all added spice to the Johannesburg girl’s profile. For a while Prowse juggled Sinatra with her future co-star, Elvis Presley. When she was asked why she did not stick with just one of these men, she replied,” Frank and I are mature people. We don’t go for this teenage bit about going steady and all that jazz.”

Shirley MacLaine, also in Can-Can, and Prowse were the female members of a rat-pack that also included Dean Martin and Sinatra.

Prowse was discovered by Hermes Pan, the renowned choreographer who collaborated with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. He was the choreographer of Can-Can and asked Prowse to join the cast. In the same year Prowse starred in GI Blues with Elvis Presley. In it she plays Lili, the ice-maiden cabaret dancer, and it is only a matter of time before the inevitable thaw sets in Lili’s heart. The cold war and an eighteen month tour of duty in Germany had not dented Presley’s popularity, and Prowse fell under his spell both on and off-screen.

It was for her famously long legs and spectacular dancing style that Prowse is remembered. She died in 1996, of cancer at her home in Beverly Hills. Apart from showcasing her dance routines at Las Vegas’ Caesar’s Palace and The Flamingo, and although her film career had all but ceased by the early seventies, she had a successful television career, which included an annual stint as host of the American Ballroom Dancing Championships.

A range of toy dolls called Fashionable Ladies was popular in the early sixties in America. In addition to a Carol Channing doll, a favourite was the Juliet Prowse doll. The new wave of South African Hollywood stars has much to live up to.

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