The LITTLE EGYPT Files
Films with Rhonda Fleming that have not yet been released in good quality on DVD or Blu-ray are presented in the “Files”
„Little Egypt“ was the stage name for three popular belly dancers. They had so many imitators, the name became synonymous with belly dancers generall. Fahreda Mazar Spyropoulos, (c. 1871 – Apr. 5, 1937), also performing under the stage name Fatima, appeared at the “Street in Cairo” exhibition on the Midway at the World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893.
In 1893, at the Egyptian Theater on the World’s Columbian Exposition Midway in Chicago, Raqs dancers performed for the first time in the United States. Sol Bloom presented a show titled “The Algerian Dancers of Morocco” at the attraction called “A Street in Cairo” produced by Gaston Akoun, which included Spyropoulos, though she was neither Egyptian nor Algerian, but Syrian. Spyropoulos, the wife of a Chicago restaurateur and businessman who was a native of Greece, was billed as Fatima, but because of her size, she had been called “Little Egypt” as a backstage nickname.
Spyropoulos stole the show, and popularized this form of dancing, which came to be referred to as the “Hoochee-Coochee”, or the “shimmy and shake”. At that time the word “bellydance” had not yet entered the American vocabulary, as Spyropoulos was the first in the U.S. to demonstrate the “danse du ventre” (literally “dance of the belly”) first seen by the French during Napoleon’s incursions into Egypt at the end of the 18th century. Today the word “hootchy-kootchy” generally means an erotic suggestive dance and is often erroneously conflated with the group of dances originating in the Middle East that we now call bellydance.
LITTLE EGYPT is a highly fictionalized 1951 film about the legendary World’s Fair dancer, produced by Universal International, and starring Rhonda Fleming in the title role. Its storyline: When a con man (Mark Stevens) and a New Jersey woman (Rhonda Fleming) try to scam a tobacco tycoon, the woman pretends to be an Egyptian princess and performs a suggestive dance to catch his eyes, only to be arrested and charged with indecent exposure.
In the press:
„The Johnston office has strict rules about such movements, whether they are historical or not. The bump, a forward motion of the hips, is verboten. Miss Fleming has to do it with a sideways movement. The grind, which is a clock like motion of the hips, is also banned. Miss Fleming can make only a semi circular movement. That is, from one to six o’clock, rather than the full 12 hours … The navel can’t be photographed in Hollywood movies“ (“Little Egypt’s Dance Too Hot For The Movies,” in: Daytona Beach Morning Journal, Dec. 1, 1950).
„[Shelley] Winters disliked the part so much that she purposely put on so much weight that she was replaced by Rhonda Fleming“ – (“Casting Might-Have-Beens,” Jefferson, North Carolina/London 2015).
„I guess she was the forerunner of the present day burlesque queen. But she did it in an oriental and more refined way“ – (Dec. 1, 1950).
„Every hunch in my body told me to say no. I told myself I wasn’t a dancer, and Little Egypt earned her fame by dancing so how could I do the role justice? I said I was a redhead so I couldn’t possibly play a girl with jet black hair. I read the script and realized it was a diffucult acting assignment and doubted that I had the ability to handle the part“ – (Jan. 7, 1951).
„I have gotten more fan mail about it than I have from any other picture I have ever made. The letters have all been very nice, too – nothing offcolor at all. A lot of them are from soldiers who request photopgraphs“ – (Oct. 8, 1951).
„I ran it the other night because I hadn’t looked at it for years. And I thought, well, it was OK. I don’t know how well I did as a dancer though. I guess I did fairly well. But it was fun and sort of campy“ – (2008).
The LITTLE EGYPT Gallery:
Click on thumbnails to see gallery
USA 1951 (Universal International Pictures), 82 min., 35 MM (1.37:1), Technicolor.
Producer: Jack J. Gross; Director: Frederick De Cordova; Screenplay: Oscar Brodney, Doris Gilbert, Lou Breslow; Cinematography: Russell Metty; Technicolor Color Consultant: William Fritzsche; Editor: Edward Curtiss; Music: Joseph Gershenson; Art Direction: Robert Clatworthy, Bernard Herzbrun; set decoration: Russell A. Gausman, Joseph Kish; Make-up: Bud Westmore; Costume Design: Bill Thomas.
Cast: Mark Stevens (Wayne Cravat), Rhonda Fleming (Izora), Nancy Guild (Sylvia Graydon), Charles Drake (Oliver Doane), Tom D’Andrea (Max), Minor Watson (Cyrus Graydon), Steven Geray (Pasha), Verna Felton (Mrs. Samantha Doane) and others.
World premier: Aug. 7, 1951 (Chicago); US box office rank (in the year of release): 118; US domestic actual box office grosses: $3.1 million; US box office (net earnings): $1.1 million; salary for Rhonda Fleming: $35.000.