Vera-Ellen began dancing at the age of 10, and a few years later became one of the youngest Rockettes. She appeared in several Broadway musicals until she was spotted by film producer Samuel Goldwyn in 1945. She was only 24 years old when Goldwyn cast her opposite Danny Kaye in Wonder Man (1945). She danced with Fred Astaire in Three Little Words (1950) and with Gene Kelly in On the Town (1949). Blonde, slim of build, and a dancing sensation, she appeared in a string of light-hearted but successful films. Vera-Ellen retired from acting in the late 1950s.IMDb Mini Biography By: David Westman
One of the most vivacious and vibrant musical film talents to glide through Hollywood's "Golden Age" in the 40s and 50s was Vera-Ellen Westmeyer Rohe, better known to her fans simply by her hyphenated first name. Whether performing solo or dueting with the best male partners of her generation, including Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor, Vera-Ellen gave life to some of the most extraordinary dance routines ever caught on film. Sadly, out-and-out stardom eluded her, and she never did quite earn the recognition or accolades that were bestowed upon many of her musical peers and co-stars.
Born of German descent in Cincinnati, Ohio on February 16, 1921 (some sources incorrectly indicate 1926), the only child of a piano tuner, she was painfully shy and frail as a youngster and had developed severe health issues by age 9. Using dance as both physical and emotional therapy, what was once recreational became a soulful and burning passion, and her talent became obvious nearly from the onset. As a teen she appeared in nightclub acts and became one of the Rockettes' youngest members, quickly graduating to the "Great White Way" for work. Vera-Ellen made her Broadway debut with "Very Warm for May" at age 18 in 1939, which also featured another young hopeful, June Allyson. She then segued into "Higher and Higher" (1940), which also had Allyson in the cast, "Panama Hattie" (1940) which starred Ethel Merman, "By Jupiter (1942) with Ray Bolger, and a revival of "A Connecticut Yankee" (1943).
Blessed with a sweet, apple blossom appeal and elfin charm, Vera-Ellen's movie career started to take shape in 1945. Supposedly her mother thought that since her daughter looked much younger than she was, it might be wise to shave five years off of her age in order to promote the dancing teen sensation image. Her first two films were musical vehicles for the up-and-coming Danny Kaye. Wonder Man (1945) and The Kid from Brooklyn (1946) were both hits and people soon fell in love with the lovely lady's fresh-faced innocence. A hard-working, uncomplicated talent, she paired famously with Gene Kelly in MGM's Words and Music (1948) in which their "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" number was a critical highlight. The landmark musical On the Town (1949), in which she played "Miss Turnstiles" and the apple of Kelly's eye, served as the pinnacle of her dancing work on film. The versatile and acrobatic Vera could be counted on now to perform any kind of dancing requested -- tap, toe, jazz, adagio -- whether solo or with partners and/or props. She became the woman of a thousand dance moves. Her light singing voice, however, was usually dubbed by a more capable song stylist (Carol Stewart, Anita Ellis, Carol Richards, etc.).
Vera-Ellen went on to appear twice with Fred Astaire albeit in two of his lesser vehicles, Three Little Words (1950) (choreographed by Hermes Pan) and The Belle of New York (1952), where their formidable dance numbers outshined the flimsy story. She also shared dance steps with the equally agile Donald O'Connor in Call Me Madam (1953). One of her all-time favorite dances was in this film with O'Connor to the tune of "Something to Dance About," choreographed by the renowned Robert Alton. The warm and fuzzy yuletide favorite White Christmas (1954) is usuallly considered her best-remembered movie in which she played one-fourth of a glamorous quartet consisting of Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and (sister) Rosemary Clooney.
Musicals went out of vogue by the late 50s and, as Vera-Ellen was practically synonymous with musicals, her career went into a sharp decline. But that was only one reason. A light acting talent, she might have continued in films in dramatic roles, as she had in the movie Big Leaguer (1953) with Edward G. Robinson, but dark, outside influences steered her away altogether. Personal unhappiness and ill health would quickly take their toll on her.
Singing films had lost their fashionable appeal in the late 1950s and Vera's cinematic career ended with the bland British musical Let's Be Happy (1957) co-starring Tony Martin in which she appeared to look gaunt and unhealthy. Variety appearances on such TV showcase shows as "The Colgate Comedy Hour," "Kraft Music Hall" and "The Dinah Shore Chevvy Show" dominated the late 1950s career of Vera-Ellen. She also decided to star in a 1955 Las Vegas dancing revue, which wound up highly successful.
Vera's career died down in the late 1950s once filmed musicals lost their fashion. It was later discovered that, due to the dancer's compulsive dieting obsession, she had silently battled anorexia throughout much of the 50s before anyone was even aware or doctors had even coined the term or devised treatments. Moreover, she had developed severe arthritis which forced an early retirement. In order to combat it, she reverted back to taking dance lessons again. The worst blows suffered, however, was in her personal life. On top of of two two failed marriages, she lost her only child, Victoria Ellen Rothschild, to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in 1963. With one unhappy and tragic event compounded by another, she became a virtual recluse.
Little was heard for decades until it was discovered that she had died on August 30, 1981, at age 60 following a long bout with cancer at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. She was buried at Glen Haven Memorial Park in Sylmar, California. Perhaps less remembered today compared to several of the big stars that shared the stage with her, Vera-Ellen was a lithe and lovely presence who deserved a better personal life than she got. Nevertheless, she has provided true film lovers with a lasting legacy and can easily be considered one of Hollywood's finest dancing legends.
|Victor Rothschild||(19 November 1954 - 1966) (divorced) 1 child|
|Hightower, Robert||(4 February 1941 - 28 November 1946) (divorced)|
Her kind smile
Suffered from anorexia for years, which led to premature aging
Went to the same Cincinnati ballroom dance studio as a child as Doris Day. Their parents used to carpool together to the dance studio.
Was once a drum majorette in high school.
On March 3, 1963, she gave birth to a daughter named Victoria Ellen Rothschild, who died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome on June 20th of that same year. All of this took place in Los Angeles County.
She was known to have the smallest waist in Hollywood from the mid 1940s through the 1960s.
One of the few actresses to have danced with both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in the movies, other actresses that have also done this includes Judy Garland, Cyd Charisse, Rita Hayworth, Debbie Reynolds, and Leslie Caron.
Fred Astaire will never say, though he's always asked, which of his dancing ladies was his favorite partner. If you ask me, he preferred the solo turns.
I was called a bookish child. Mother sent me to a ballet teacher in Cincinnati when I was nine years old. I guess I was an awkward child and the family wanted me to be graceful. When I found out I liked to dance and people seemed to like to watch me, I was determined to go places.
I don't remember if I liked [dancing] because I was good at it, or if I was good at it because I liked it. Maybe a little of both.
The six boys who danced with me in this show escorted me to the depot and their farewell wish was to remember me dancing, so right there on the station platform we went into our routine as best we could under the circumstances. Naturally we attracted quite a crowd and we got so involved in our dancing, I almost missed the train but the boys managed to get me on just as the train pulled out.
I'm a dancer and I can never really get away from my career. On the days when I don't dance at the studio, I have to practice for at least an hour in the evening to keep in shape. Dancing is like breathing -- missing a day doing either is very bad.
[on raising eyebrows on Oscar night 1958, wearing a form-fitting gold lame sheath] Why not? It's the way Oscar dresses.
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