Heller, Jeanette

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Heller, Jeanette

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Jeanette Heller (1911-2008), dancer and performing arts worker, spent forty-five years in show business. Born in Paris, Ontario on 14 April 1911, Heller was the only girl in a family of seven children born to Samuel Heller, an immigrant from Lithuania who worked in the scrap metal business and served in WWI, and his Canadian-born wife Lena (Davis) Heller.
Her family moved to Toronto in 1921 and she first took dance classes at Lansdown Public School. Her first dance job was in a line at the Royal York Hotel by Hylda Parker. Heller left school at 16 years of age to perform small parts in pantomime and vaudeville shows at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto.
In the early 1930s, she moved to New York, and danced for eight years travelling across North America as a Roxyette, the precursor to S.L. "Roxy" Rothafel's Rockettes, at Radio City Music Hall. Her stage names included Jeanette Hallen and Jeanette Mansfield.
From about 1941 until 1945, Heller returned to Toronto to take care of her mother while her brothers were fighting in World War II. During this time, she worked in the circulation department at the ‘Globe and Mail’.
After her brothers returned from war, Heller resumed her career as a dancer working contracts across the United States and during this time became an American citizen. Heller spent 1946 as a United Service Organizations (USO) troupe dancer performing in American army and navy hospitals. In 1947, she went to Japan as part of a United Service Organizations (USO) troupe to entertain the occupation forces, and then to Korea during the Korean War in the early fifties. In 1967 and 1947 Jeanette performed on the CNE Grandstand. During the 1950s, she also danced in Scandinavia, the Middle East, Cuba – in Havana with Lou Walters before the revolution - and in various European capitals.
After retiring from in the late fifties, Heller remained in New York and began a second career in wardrobe and show production. She worked for the American Ballet Theatre, the American Repertory Company including acting as the wardrove supervisor for the European tour for the State Department, fashion shows at the Waldorf-Astoria, and Broadway shows such as ‘Guys and Dolls,’ ‘the King and I,’ and ‘Annie.’ She also worked in television, working on soap operas such as ‘All My Children’ and ‘One Life To Live,’ as well as ‘the Dick Cavett Show’ and ‘the Ed Sullivan Show,’ and involved other productions including ‘Sesame Street’ and the 1957 CBS Cinderella television special with Julie Andrews. Heller as also involved in the filming of the 1963 romantic comedy ‘The Thrill of It All.’
In 1975, Heller returned to Canada, commuting from Toronto to Florida during the winter for nine years to work as a wardrobe manager. After working for nearly two decades at the Jackie Gleason Theatre in Miami, Heller retired at the age of 82 in 1993. In 2001, she moved into the Toronto Performing Arts Lodge. She performed one last time as a Rockette during the 2006 Guinness World record for the longest kicking line at the Humming Bird Centre. In 2008, the ‘Limelighters’ documentary by David Hansen dedicated an episode to Heller. She died on 16 October 2008.

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