It has never intimidated John McCook that past boyfriends of his wife, dancer Juliet Prowse, included Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. It doesn’t bother him that her $1 million-a-year income from Las Vegas alone far outstrips his soap opera salary on The Young and the Restless. It certainly doesn’t matter that she is 41 while he is 33. “There isn’t a teenager alive who can keep up with her,” he says. “She’s such a dynamo she makes me feel old sometimes.”
And how does Juliet feel about being Mrs. McCook? “John,” she says,’ the nicest, kindest, funniest person I have ever known.” They met in 1971 when he was cast opposite her in a Vegas production of Mame. She had just ended her six-month marriage to a fellow dancer, and his six-year match with a young actress, Marilyn McPherson, was doomed. “People said I broke up their marriage,” Prowse ruefully admits. “That’s nonsense. After the show was over we took 10 weeks off and then we all went back to Vegas to do Sweet Charity. Again John was my male lead, and this time something happened. His marriage was falling apart, and I didn’t have anyone. We just fell into a relationship.”
McCook was still awaiting his divorce papers four months later when Prowse became pregnant. When the parents-to-be traveled to South Africa for a visit with her family, Johannesburg newspapers printed outraged editorials about unwed motherhood. Prowse’s folks weren’t upset. “My mother said she saw no reason to think I’d taken leave of my senses just because other people were butting into my business,” she recalls. McCook says, “Juliet and I had no real feelings about marriage being necessary between adults.” But he adds, “With Seth’s arrival imminent we decided that the child should have married parents.”
The wedding was to be a no-frills Nevada quickie. Then a funny thing happened on the way to the altar. The day before the ceremony Prowse, eight and a half months pregnant by that time, “started making quick trips into the bathroom and coming out with a puzzled look on her face,” recalls McCook. They called her doctor, who said, “Forget the justice of the peace and find the nearest hospital.” Seth was born the next morning and his parents were married in Los Angeles a month later.
Since then McCook has spent as much as six months a year being a househusband while his wife plays Vegas or the road. It’s a role hard to imagine some of her former suitors in.
Schooled in ballet at the Royal Academy of Dance in Johannesburg, Juliet came to the U.S. in 1959 to high-kick in the movie musical Can-Can after being discovered by choreographer Hermes Pan while dancing in Rome. On the set she caught the eye of the film’s leading man, Sinatra. After more than two years of dating, the 25-year-old dancer and 46-year-old singer announced plans for marriage.
“I think I was as much flattered as I was in love,” Prowse says now. “He was a lovely, very sweet man, but after a few drinks he could be very difficult. There was so much power there, and so many people running around kissing his ass.” The romance came unglued, she adds, “when he told me I would have to give up my work. I finally asked him if I could have children, and he wouldn’t answer. So I thought, well, I can’t have my work and I can’t have any kids. What will I do for the rest of my life? I called it off.”
While Sinatra was out of the country in 1960 Prowse played opposite Elvis Presley in a rock’n’roller, G.I. Blues. “Elvis and I had a love affair,” she says matter-of-factly. “We had a sexual attraction like two healthy young people. But already he was a victim of his fans. We always had to meet in his room; we never went out.” Years later Prowse was shocked by the sight of Elvis in his backstage dressing room. “He had a big roll of fat around the middle, and he was wearing a gun,” she recalls. “It was sad.”
While Prowse made national headlines with Sinatra, high school senior John McCook was hitting the local drama pages in Ventura, Calif. “I never had any doubts about my ability to make it big,” he jokes, “ever since I graduated from high school and expected to be a star by the following Thursday.” His first overnight success, though, was wowing tourists as a Jungle Cruise tour guide in Disneyland. Song-and-dance roles in regional theater and some scuffling years as a part-time TV actor followed before he landed the Mame role.
After he and Prowse were married, they worked together for two years, she as star and he as singer, dancer and, eventually, conductor. One night during her Vegas show John couldn’t get his band synchronized. “I realized that it was the part of the act where Juliet rushes offstage, throws off all her clothes in the wings and changes into another costume. The musicians were watching her instead of me. I had a few moments of husbandly huffiness before I realized that that’s showbiz, folks. But when someone asked me if that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life—be in my wife’s act—I realized that it wasn’t.”
McCook went back to Los Angeles for another stab at TV, and this time won his spot on The Young and the Restless. He and Prowse maintain homes in both Las Vegas and Beverly Hills, with the help of a young UCLA student-governess when the menfolk are baching it in L.A. Although “there was a lot of loneliness for all of us at first,” concedes Prowse, “I appreciate not having family obligations when I’m working Vegas.” Always top-billed there, she has a 16-week-a-year contract with hotels owned by the Summa Corp. TV variety shows, commercials and national tours provide pin money.
During the McCooks’ reunions they keep to their airy, unpretentious Beverly Hills home and often sunbathe nude around their pool. “She thinks I’m funny,” says John. “I play the complete fool with sight gags, pratfalls and anything else to hear her giggle. It’s my favorite kind of applause.” Adds Prowse, “Our marriage is very much one of mutual support. I am very insecure about my basic knowledge about things like politics and literature. I have a certain anxiousness about people thinking I’m dumb. John seems to know everything about everything.”
They solved the most serious crisis of their marriage—Juliet’s insensitivity 18 months ago to McCook’s worry over his then shaky career—when, she says, “He finally sat me down and talked to me about it. He needed to be encouraged. I’ve been doing what I do for so long I’d forgotten that kind of feeling.” Now Mark Mordoh, Prowse’s agent for 17 years, says, “Their marriage is one of friends and lovers—they have trust, faith, companionship, attraction and a lot of laughter.”
They also have a lot of time apart from each other, and that could be the secret. “It may be odd,” McCook admits, “but it works.”