Leopard Bites Juliet Prowse in Circus Show Rehearsal

Times Staff Writer

Dancer and actress Juliet Prowse was bitten on the neck by a leopard Monday while rehearsing for an upcoming “Circus of the Stars” television show, but she suffered only a minor injury before a trainer quickly punched the 80-pound animal and pushed it away.

Prowse, 51, was driven by the producer of the “Uncaged Leopards” act to Granada Hills Community Hospital after the 9 a.m. attack and received five stitches to close two puncture wounds, one of which was “very close” to her carotid artery, said hospital spokesman David Hughes.

Prowse left the hospital with a bandaged neck and returned to the rehearsal site at California State University, Northridge. She petted the five leopards involved in the act, including Sheila, the 5-year-old that bit her, and continued with the rehearsal of portions of the show not involving the animals.

“I’m fine but very lucky,” she said. “I don’t think Sheila was playing. She actually bit me. She sank her teeth right into me.”


Phil Braverman, producer of the animal acts for each of the 12 annual “Circus of the Stars” shows, said the attack was the first like it on the show. “We have never had a real honest-to-God bite like this,” he said. “There is no reason for it. There is no way of telling why an animal does what it does.”

Monday was the start of the fourth week of rehearsal for the show, which will be taped in early October for an early December broadcast on CBS, Braverman said.

Prowse was bitten shortly after leading the five leopards out of their cages and placing them on individual pedestals, where they were held by leashes.

“I said good morning to Sheila and she licked my hand,” Prowse said. “I turned my back on her to move to the next cat and she grabbed me from behind.”

Prowse and Braverman said the leopards’ trainer, Jilda Cristiani, who was standing within a few feet of Prowse, quickly moved to Prowse’s side, hit the leopard on the nose and pulled open her jaws.

“She got that cat off of me in a matter of seconds,” Prowse said.

The entertainer said later Monday that she would continue rehearsing with Sheila and the other leopards this morning. When the act is taped in a Hollywood studio next month, it will be her first appearance on the show, which each year places entertainers in unusual circus acts.

“This whole thing is kind of funny,” Prowse said, “because they had asked me to be on the show before to do something on the trapeze or on roller skates, but I always said no because I could get hurt. But when they had this animal act I said ‘yes’ because I love working with animals.”