The other day a friend reminded me that it was Juliet Prowse’s birthday and we shared some memories of what an amazingly talented dancer and performer she was. I also remember from working with her how kind and gracious she was. There was the time in her dressing room in Las Vegas between shows when Elvis showed up to see her. Of course we were all hanging around her dressing room lounge area and I still remember Juliet admonishing Elvis if he was really taking all the vitamins she had had given him. “Yes, mam” was all he replied as he hung his head with embarrassment because we all knew he wasn’t taking them.
I was also lucky enough at the age of twenty to travel to South Africa with her show in 1977 to perform in Johannesburg and Cape Town. I’ll never forget flying into Johannesburg and seeing the rich deep red clay soil mixed with the white stucco houses with red clay tile roofs and all of the blooming purple jacaranda trees – really beautiful!
And there was the time in Cape Town, which I thought looked a lot like San Diego, when I visited a guy who had a tomato farm up in the hills outside of town. As we stood in his field eating big tomatoes off the vine we looked out and I could see where the Indian and the Atlantic Oceans merged off the cape. I could clearly see the different colors of the water bumping up against each other. Also, really beautiful.
But for all of the county’s natural beauty, we were there during the period of apartheid and to me being a young white guy from suburbia Orange County it was truly an eye opening experience. In Johannesburg we played in a huge tent theater, but having already worked the tent theater at the Sacramento Music Circus I knew my way around. But I found the African crew members didn’t quite know what to make of this young white guy who pitched in and worked alongside them. I came to find out that was not the typical way things worked there.
The terrible toll of apartheid really struck me late one night after a show when I was walking through downtown outside our hotel. I saw the garbage truck driving down the street picking up the trash – except the truck never stopped. It just slowed down a little bit and the African crew who were emptying the cans into the truck had to run to keep up. The truck kept moving and the crew had to keep running just to stay up. I realized that if they didn’t, they would lose their job and their permission to be in town after dark. So, so very sad.
I will be forever grateful to Juliet for providing me with so many amazing opportunities.