Jean Ross

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Jean Ross

Jean Iris Ross (1911-1973) was a British singer and writer. She was the model for the Sally Bowles character in the Berlin stories and novels of Christopher Isherwood.


Brought up in Egypt, the daughter of a Scottish cotton merchant, Ross was working as a nightclub singer in Weimar Germany in 1931. She also performed in the chorus in Max Reinhardt's production of Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann.[1]

In Berlin she shared lodgings with Isherwood, becoming immortalised as the "divinely decadent" Sally Bowles in Isherwood's 1939 memoir Goodbye to Berlin.[2]

Isherwood later wrote that Ross had “a long, thin handsome face, aristocratic nose, glossy dark hair, large brown eyes,” and was “more essentially British than Sally; she grumbled like a true Englishwoman, with her grin-and-bear-it grin. And she was tougher.”[2] Like Bowles, she had a habit of boasting about her various lovers.[2] Bowles has been played by Julie Harris in I Am a Camera, the 1951 adaptation of Goodbye to Berlin, and the 1955 film adaptation of the same name, Jill Haworth in the original 1966 Broadway production of Cabaret, Judi Dench in the original 1968 West End stage version of Cabaret and Liza Minnelli in Bob Fosse's 1972 film adaptation of the musical.


Ross was a lifelong Communist [3] According to Ross's daughter, Sarah Caudwell, she never liked her identification with Bowles, thinking the character more reflective of Isherwood's flamboyant male friends.[3] When Cabaret the musical was first staged in 1966, she was tracked down by reporters, but refused to speak about the subject and turned down invitations to see the show.[4] In addition to acting, Ross wrote under the pseudonym "Peter Porcupine". In the mid-1930s she married Claud Cockburn, a left-wing journalist. They were divorced by 1940. Sarah Caudwell was the only child of this marriage.[3]


She died in Richmond on Thames, Surrey, in 1973, aged 62, from undisclosed causes.[5]

Portrayals in fiction[edit]

Imogen Poots played Ross in the 2011 television film Christopher and His Kind.[6]


  1. ^ Sutherland, John, Stephen Spender: A Literary Life, Oxford University Press, New York, 2005, p. 122.
  2. ^ a b c Garebian, Keith, The Making of Cabaret, Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 6
  3. ^ a b c Peter Edgerly Firchow, Strange Meetings: Anglo-German Literary Encounters from 1910 to 1960. CUA Press, 2008; ISBN 978-0-8132-1533-4, p. 120
  4. ^ Bletchly, Rachel, "Their True Characters", The Mirror, 2 April 2013, p. 26.
  5. ^ Gilbert, Gerard (8 March 2011). "Christopher Isherwood: A singular talent laid bare". The Independent (London, UK). 
  6. ^ Wollaston, Sam (20 March 2011). "TV review: Christopher and His Kind | Civilization: is the West History?". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 

External links[edit]

  • Profile; accessed 8 July 2014.
  • Profile,; accessed 8 July 2014.