Juliet Prowse

Active - 1960 - 1984  |   Born - Sep 25, 1936 in Bombay, Bombay Presidency, British India  |   Died - Sep 14, 1996   |   Genres - Drama, Music, Comedy, Musical

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Biography by Hal Erickson

A striking beauty, famed for her long, slender and well-formed legs, dancer/actress Juliet Prowse was at the peak of her popularity as a film and television actress during the 1960s. After that, she made her name on stage and in Las Vegas. Born in Bombay, and raised in South Africa, she studied to be a dancer from the age of 4. Prowse was accepted for the Festival Ballet of Johannesburg at age 14, but at a height of 6 feet she was much too large for the rather strict requirements of the ballet world. A less prestigious but likely more lucrative engagement followed when Juliet signed on as a chorus dancer for the London Palladium. She went to dance at a Parisian nightclub, then toured Europe as a member of a modern dance troupe. Hollywood choreographer Hermes Pan spotted one of Prowse's performances and cast her as the Snake in the "Adam and Eve" number for the 1959 film musical Can Can. While visiting the set of this film, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev took a long look at Juliet and denounced the production for its depravity. Whatever shortcoming Khrushchev might have had as a dance critic, as a press agent he was tops -- within weeks after his denunciation, Prowse was appearing on virtually every magazine cover in the U.S. As an added fillip to her newfound fame, Prowse fell in love with the star of Can Can, Frank Sinatra. Prowse next co-starred opposite Elvis Presley in G.I. Blues and before production finished, rumors flew that she and the King were romantically entangled. Still she and Sinatra announced their engagement in 1962. The marriage never took place, but the publicity value to Prowse was invaluable, resulting in a high-playing Las Vegas nightclub engagement. The show was panned by the papers (again for supposed bad taste) but still raked in a fortune. At the behest of her agent, Prowse next attempted to become the "new Lucille Ball" in the 1965 NBC sitcom Mona McCluskey. The premise: Prowse was a movie star who willingly lived on her military-officer husband's meager monthly wages. Despite the hype surrounding the show, Mona McCluskey was off the air in 13 weeks. As her first blush of notoriety faded, Juliet Prowse maintained her nightclub career with success, supplementing her income with innumerable TV commercial endorsements for cosmetics and panty hose - and experiencing a few heart-stopping moments when an 80-pound leopard mauled her during a rehearsal for a Circus of the Stars TV special in 1989. A real trooper, Prowse recovered enough to complete her part of the show. A few months later she was getting ready to make a promotional appearance with the leopard on The Tonight Show. Unfortunately, the big cat's temper had not significantly improved and it attacked her again just before they were to go on. From 1986 through the mid '90s, Prowse hosted the "Championship Ballroom Dance Competition" on PBS. Throughout her career she has earned several awards including the Professional Dancer's Society "Gypsy" award, a Best Actress of the Year from the London Evening Standard and the Las Vegas Performer of the Year award for a stage version of Sweet Charity. In 1994, Prowse was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She made her final public appearance in a 10-week summer run of Sugar Babies opposite Mickey Rooney in Las Vegas in 1995. Prowse passed away on September 14, 1996.

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