Vera-Ellen (born Vera-Ellen Westmeier Rohe; February 16, 1921 – August 30, 1981) was an American dancer and actress. She is remembered for her solo performances as well as her work 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 White Christmas (1954) with Kaye.
Vera-Ellen in 1941
Vera-Ellen Westmeier Rohe
February 16, 1921
Norwood, Ohio, US
|Died||August 30, 1981 (aged 60)|
Los Angeles, California, US
|Resting place||Glen Haven Memorial Park, Sylmar, California|
Robert Hightower (m. 1941–1946)
(m. 1954; div. 1966)
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 were 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. 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.
Starting in 1945 with Wonder Man, her first film, her singing was dubbed. However, the Decca Broadway Original Cast Album of 1943's revival of A Connecticut Yankee has two vocals by Vera-Ellen, “I Feel at Home with You” and “You Always Love the Same Girl,” both duets with Chester Stratton. Her style is of a comic soubrette.
She danced with Gene Kelly in the Hollywood musicals Words and Music 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 penultimate 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.
Vera-Ellen was a reasonably frequent guest on US variety programming in the mid-to-late 1950s. Her final performances were on a November 22, 1958, television episode of The Perry Como Show and a February 14, 1959, broadcast of The Dinah Shore Show. Following that, Vera-Ellen retired from performing.
Vera-Ellen was an extremely thin woman for much of her adult life. A Hollywood rumor that her neck was always covered during the filming of “White Christmas” because of wrinkling caused by supposed anorexia persists to this day. However, pictures and video taken at the same time show her neck appearing normal and undamaged.
A friend, Bill Dennington, who knew her during the last 20 years of her life, dismissed the story about her neck, and added that he hated “that people think of her as ‘the dancer with anorexia’ and not just the fabulous dancer who has been so overlooked. “
Her niece by marriage, Ileana Rothschild, who was born in 1967, remembered that her Aunt “never stopped taking dance classes and maintained her slim figure always.” She was also an “avid swimmer,” who used a swimming program to recover from a mild stroke late in her life. According to Rothschild, she had no eating disorder.
Vera-Ellen was married twice. Her first husband was a fellow dancer, Robert Hightower, to whom she was married from February 1941 to November 1946.
Her second husband was millionaire Victor Rothschild of the Rothschild family. They were married from 1954 to 1966, when they divorced. While married to Rothschild, she gave birth to a daughter, Victoria Ellen, who died in 1963 at three months of age from SIDS. Following the death of her only child, she withdrew from public life.
Vera-Ellen died at The University of California Los Angeles Medical Center on August 30, 1981 of ovarian cancer. She was 60 years old. She is buried at Glen Haven Memorial Park in Sylmar, California, a Los Angeles suburb.
|1945||Wonder Man||Midge Mallon||Singing voice dubbed by June Hutton|
|1946||The Kid from Brooklyn||Susie Sullivan||Singing voice dubbed by Suzanne Ellers|
|1946||Three Little Girls in Blue||Myra Charters||Singing voice dubbed by Carol Stewart|
|1947||Carnival in Costa Rica||Luisa Molina||Singing voice dubbed by Pat Friday|
|1948||Words and Music||Herself|
|1949||Love Happy||Maggie Phillips|
|1949||On the Town||Ivy Smith|
|1950||Three Little Words||Jessie Brown||Singing voice dubbed by Anita Ellis|
|1951||Happy Go Lovely||Janet Jones||Singing voice dubbed by Eve Boswell|
|1952||The Belle of New York||Angela Bonfils||Singing voice dubbed by Anita Ellis|
|1953||Call Me Madam||Princess Maria||Singing voice dubbed by Carol Richards|
|1954||White Christmas||Judy Haynes||Singing voice dubbed by Trudy Stevens, except for Sisters in which Rosemary Clooney sings both parts|
|1957||Let's Be Happy||Jeannie MacLean||Singing voice dubbed by Joan Small|
(final film role)
- "Vera-Ellen, Dancer in Movies". The New York Times. NYTimes.com. 2 September 1980. p. 17. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- Handsaker, Gene (March 22, 1946). "Hollywood". Altoona Tribune. p. 14. Retrieved June 27, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- Soren, David (2003). Vera-Ellen: The Magic and the Mystery. Luminary Press. ISBN 978-1-887664-48-6.
- West, Alice (April 12, 1953). "Behind Scenes at Hollywood". The Ogden Standard-Examiner. p. 20. Retrieved June 27, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- Kiesewetter, John (December 13, 2012). "Vera-Ellen danced into hearts". Cincinnati.com. Retrieved 27 June 2015.
- "Vera-Ellen dead at age 55". Ukiah Daily Journal. September 1, 1981. p. 17. Retrieved June 27, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Perry Como Show". The Decatur Daily Review. November 22, 1958. p. 6. Retrieved June 27, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "TV Listings". The Oregon Statesman. February 14, 1959. p. 11. Retrieved June 27, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Did Vera-Ellen's Neck Have to be Covered During the Filming of White Christmas Because it was Ravaged by the Effects of Anorexia?". legendsrevealed.com. 2012-09-13. Retrieved 2018-12-24.
- 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"
- "Vera-Ellen, Dancer in Movies", The New York Times, Hollywood: The New York Times Company, Associated Press, September 2, 1981
- Kirby, Walter (May 10, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 50. Retrieved June 27, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.