Vera-Ellen (February 16, 1921 – August 30, 1981) was an American actress and dancer, principally celebrated for her lithe figure and animated performances with partners Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Danny Kaye, and Donald O'Connor. She is best known for her starring roles in On the Town with Kelly and the 1954 blockbuster White Christmas with Kaye (below).
Vera-Ellen Westmeier Rohe was born in Norwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, to Martin F. Rohe, a piano dealer, and Alma Catherine Westmeier, both descended from German immigrants. Her hyphenated name originated in her mother's dream in which she had a daughter named "Vera-Ellen."
She began dancing at age 10 and quickly became proficient. (One of her fellow dance students at Hessler Studio of Dancing was Doris Day.) At age 13 she was a winner on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour and embarked upon a professional career.
In 1939, she made her Broadway debut in the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein musical Very Warm for May. She became one of the youngest Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, although she was only 5'4." This led to roles on Broadway in Panama Hattie, By Jupiter, and A Connecticut Yankee, where she was spotted by Samuel Goldwyn, who cast her opposite Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo in the 1945 film Wonder Man.
She danced with Gene Kelly in the Hollywood musicals Words and Music (above) and On the Town, while also appearing in the last Marx Brothers film, Love Happy. She received top billing alongside Fred Astaire in the musicals Three Little Words and The Belle of New York. She had a co-starring role with Donald O'Connor in the Ethel Merman vehicle, Call Me Madam. Vera-Ellen's second to last film role was the 1954 blockbuster hit White Christmas, co-starring with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney. She starred in only one more film, the 1957 British production Let's Be Happy (below).
Vera-Ellen performed on a November 22, 1958, television episode of The Perry Como Show and a February 14, 1959, broadcast of the The Dinah Shore Show.
She was married twice. Her first husband was a fellow dancer, Robert Hightower, from February 1941 to November 1946.
Her second husband, from 1954 to their 1966 divorce, was millionaire Victor Rothschild (above) of the Rothschild family. While married to Rothschild, she gave birth to a daughter, Victoria Ellen, who died at three months of age from SIDS in 1963. Following the death of her only child, she withdrew from public life. The marriage between Vera-Ellen and Rothschild ended in divorce.
Vera-Ellen suffered from anorexia before much was known about the disease. She was celebrated for her lithe figure at the time. Vera-Ellen also developed severe arthritis due to a combination of years of her dancing and anorexia.
She died from cancer at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, on August 30, 1981, at age sixty. Her interment was at Glen Haven Memorial Park in Sylmar, California.
Wonder Man (1945)
The Kid from Brooklyn (1946)
Three Little Girls in Blue (1946)
Carnival in Costa Rica (1947)
Words and Music (1948)
Love Happy (1949)
On the Town (1949)
Three Little Words (1950)
Happy Go Lovely (1951)
The Belle of New York (1952)
Call Me Madam (1953)
Big Leaguer (1953)
White Christmas (1954)
Let's Be Happy (1957)
Very Warm for May (1939)
Higher and Higher (1940)
Panama Hattie (1940)
By Jupiter (1942)
A Connecticut Yankee (1943)
Stars over Hollywood
1. "Vera-Ellen, Dancer in Movies". The New York Times (NYTimes.com). 2 September 1980. p. 17.
2. Handsaker, Gene (March 22, 1946). "Hollywood". Altoona Tribune. p. 14.
3. Soren, David (2003). Vera-Ellen: The Magic and the Mystery. Luminary Press.
4. West, Alice (April 12, 1953). "Behind Scenes at Hollywood". The Ogden Standard-Examiner. p. 20.
5. Kiesewetter, John (December 13, 2012). "Vera-Ellen danced into hearts". Cincinnati.com.
6. "Vera-Ellen dead at age 55". Ukiah Daily Journal. September 1, 1981. p. 17.
8. Several other sources cite her height as 4'11". Unless wearing ballet flats in a dance sequence, she invariably wore very high heels which minimized her short stature.
9. "Perry Como Show". The Decatur Daily Review. November 22, 1958. p. 6.
10. "(untitled TV listing)". The Oregon Statesman. February 14, 1959. p. 11.
11. cf. Soren, pp. 71-72: "The stable, happy marriage with Bob Hightower lasted from their wedding day on February 4, 1941 (some sources say February 1942 or March 17, 1943) to their official separation in 1946 ... Photos of ... Vera Ellen hit the newspapers on November 28, 1946, when a default divorce was granted in Los Angeles"
12. "Victor Bennett Rothschild". Find A Grave.
13. "Vera-Ellen Biography". IMDB.
14. Kirby, Walter (May 10, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 50.
Oderman, Stuart, Talking to the Piano Player 2. BearManor Media, 2009.