Even at age 100, one-time Las Vegas showgirl, actress and songwriter Janet Kellman still has star power. When Janet arrived at Cedars-Sinai‘s drive-through COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Beverly Center on Jan. 27, the nurse who administered her shot, Gena Smith-Woods, sensed that her patient had a special background. Janet came across as someone who,
Even at age 100, one-time Las Vegas showgirl, actress and songwriter Janet Kellman still has star power.
When Janet arrived at Cedars-Sinai‘s drive-through COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Beverly Center on Jan. 27, the nurse who administered her shot, Gena Smith-Woods, sensed that her patient had a special background. Janet came across as someone who, Gena says, “had great pride in how she presented herself.”
“I was so intrigued with her whole disposition,” Gena adds, noting the “very sweet smile” that lit up Janet’s face. “You could tell she was some form of an entertainer because of the way that she was able to bring you in to where she was.”
Gena, a 25-year Cedars-Sinai veteran, was on target. She learned from Janet’s youngest daughter, Cindy Cooper, that Janet danced in Las Vegas shows and had bit parts in movies in the 1940s.
The centenarian also was in a vaudeville variety act in San Francisco with the magician “Think-a-Drink” Hoffman. Later she ran a small record label and wrote a campy song, “No! No! Cleo,” that was a “Music City Top 40” single in Southern California in 1963.
Janet, whose storytelling skills have withstood the years, describes the path of her life as “unrealistic.”
“No matter what I thought I would like to try, I would try,” she explains. “I wouldn’t question, ‘Can I do it? Am I capable? Will I be rotten?’ I just went ahead and tried.”
Born in Poland in 1920, about five months after her father died of smallpox, Janet—then Szajna Kuffert—came to the U.S. at age 5 with her mother. They lived in New York, and Janet won a “Miss Brooklyn” title 18. Within a few years, she moved to Los Angeles. Instead of discovering a life of glamour, she wound up running a gas station in the San Fernando Valley.
Janet soon found the gas station work tiresome, but still made lots of friends with big shots from the nearby movie studios. When she heard dancers were needed for an upcoming musical, she saw an opportunity.
As Janet wrote at age 89 in an unpublished, 24-page memoir, “With just a few tap dancing lessons under my belt, but lots of moxie, I decided to give it a try. I dyed my black hair blonde, put on a sexy outfit and headed for the studio.”
As Janet elaborated in a recent interview, “They didn’t really know I wasn’t a real dancer. I was a pretty good faker.”
Before long, she landed a year-long dancing job at the El Rancho Vegas, one of the first resort casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.
“It was marvelous. We had so much fun,” she says. After the shows, the performers would go out together. During the days, “we’d hang around the swimming pool, we’d meet all the guests. We’d do anything we wanted. The time was ours.”