Inside The Time Shirley MacLaine Performed The Can-Can For Nikita Khrushchev

Nikita Khrushchev served as head of the Soviet Union from 1958 to 1964. At the time, the Soviet Union was neck deep in the Cold War with the United States. However, Khrushchev had different goals than past Soviet rulers. He aimed for "peaceful coexistence" with his Western adversaries. As part of the Soviet Union's Twentieth Congress, he rejected the brutality of Joseph Stalin who had shaped communism in the years before. This was part of Khrushchev's de-Stalinization of the communist party. Communists at home and in the European nations at the Soviet Union's border did not easily take to this new direction, however. Despite the attitude of peaceful coexistence, competition prevented good feelings between the two superpowers from lasting on the rare occasion that they did exist at all (via Britannica). 

Khrushchev visited President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1959. It was the first time that the head of the Soviet Union set foot in the United States. Khrushchev had already met with Vice President Nixon, but in Moscow.

Nikita Khrushchev visited Hollywood in 1959

Throughout the entire Cold War, few seemed able to break the political barriers of mistrust and competition between Soviet leaders and American leaders. Even American pop culture was limited on Russian land. However, some figures managed to move politics to the back seat for a moment or two. This was true during Nikita Khrushchev's visit in 1959. After spending some time in New York City, which left him shockingly underwhelmed, he went to Los Angeles — Hollywood, that is (via Smithsonian).

At 20th Century Fox's studios, Khrushchev ended up in the same room as Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and Gary Cooper. Maclean's explained that as a fan of the Western genre of film, he took interest in Cooper and spoke to him. He was less fond of those on the set of "Can-Can," at least that is the attitude that he later conveyed after seeing the dancers grab panties from under the skirts of the female dancers.

He met Shirley MacLaine on the set of the film Can-Can

Nikita Khrushchev referred to "Can-Can" as "decadent bourgeois pornography." Perhaps he made this claim due to photos of him smiling quite plainly at Shirley MacLaine's dancing on set (via Maclean's). Granted, the can-can dance and the film that went with it was not family friendly. The film followed a nightclub owner who wanted her performers to be able to do the can-can dance at the club despite its perceived immorality (via IMDb). MacLaine and Frank Sinatra played the two leads in the film, which was released in 1960.

It is not surprising that Khrushchev agreed with the film's fictional antagonists who were against the promiscuous can-can dance. Multiple products of pop culture were frowned upon in the Soviet Union. Songs from Black Sabbath, Tina Turner, and Pink Floyd were on a list of banned or discouraged music deemed erotic or violent by the regime. Even the novel "Gone With the Wind" was banned, according to historian Irina Suponitskaya.

The rest of Khrushchev's visit in the United States was less eventful and less star-studded, and the trip was Khrushchev's only visit to the U.S.