Jean Veloz, the innovative Lindy Hop dancer who dazzled in Swing Fever and other Hollywood musicals of the 1940s, has died. She was 98.
Veloz died Sunday at her home in Los Angeles, her friend, agent and manager Rusty Frank told The Hollywood Reporter. Frank produced the 2010 documentary A Tribute to the Groovie Movie, which celebrated Veloz and her contribution to dance.
“Jean innovated a style of swing dance that was admired around the world,” Frank said. “It was silky smooth and greatly contrasted the more jitterbug style prevalent during the 1930s-’40s.”
Generations of dancers idolized her.
In MGM’s Swing Fever (1943), Veloz whirled with servicemen portrayed by Lennie Smith and Don Gallagher in the high-octane number “One Girl and Two Boys,” accompanied by Kay Kyser’s band and sandwiched between Marilyn Maxwell’s singing.
She also did the jitterbug in Where Are Your Children? (1943), starring Jackie Cooper; danced with Bob Ashley in Jive Junction (1943), starring Dickie Moore; partnered with rug-cutter/hep cat Arthur Walsh in the 10-minute MGM swing short Groovie Movie (1944); and stepped out with Dean Collins in The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945), starring a trumpet-playing Jack Benny.
After appearing in the chorus line of Nick Castle-choreographed productions in 1946 at the El Rancho Vegas hotel, she started training with Frank Veloz at one of the schools he operated with his wife, Yolanda. (The renowned dance couple appeared in films including 1942’s Pride of the Yankees.)
Soon, she would partner with him. They taught Anthony Dexter the tango for the title role in Valentino (1951) and were choreographers on Latin Lovers (1953), starring Lana Turner, Rita Moreno and Ricardo Montalban, before marrying in 1963.
Jean Grinnell Phelps was born on March 1, 1924, in Los Angeles. She and her brothers, Robert and Raymond, often practiced the Lindy Hop with their friends in the living room at home. Later, she and Ray won a jitterbug contest in Santa Maria, California, in a competition with more than 500 other dancers.
Teaming with Gene Halverson, she prevailed in a dance contest at Hollywood Legion Stadium, and the victory came with a Screen Actors Guild card and a role in Swing Fever. In 1947, she married Harold “Babe” Davi, but they would divorce.
As Jean Davi, she and Frank Veloz starred on a 1956-57 L.A. game show called Fare for Ladies, doing the tango, waltz, rhumba, samba, swing and foxtrot while teaching these dances on live television.
They later helped out choreographer Marge Champion on the acclaimed 1975 CBS telefilm Queen of the Stardust Ballroom, starring Maureen Stapleton and Charles Durning.
She retired when her husband died in 1981, but the filming of a swing documentary in 1992 brought her back to performing. She was inducted into the California Swing Dance Hall of Fame in 1996.
Veloz served as a dance instructor on ABC’s The Bachelorette in 2016 and appeared a year later on NBC on the Steve Harvey-hosted Little Big Shots: Forever Young. At age 95, she lindy hopped to “Love Me or Leave Me.”
Veloz made countless appearances over the years as a special guest artist at dance festivals worldwide, the last one in February 2020 at Rock That Swing in Germany.
Survivors include her niece, Stacey. Her late step-daughter, Yolanda, was married to actor Bernie Kopell from 1974 until their 1995 divorce.
“Every moment spent with Jean was a lesson on how to live a life,” said Frank, who first met Veloz in 1997. “Her positive attitude was unparalleled, her love of people immense.”
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