Vera-Ellen was one of the most popular dancers to ever appear in Hollywood and Broadway musicals. She was a very capable and charming actress who could effortlessly match and arguably even outdance many of the leading men of her era. She experienced the height of her fame in the 1940s and 1950s. But unfortunately, her fame quickly faded and nowadays, her name is one that few remember.
A woman of her talent and beauty deserved better. It’s a shame that she fell into obscurity. She could have become one of the hottest stars of her day, but that wasn’t a fate that seemed to be in the cards for her.
If you grew up in the time period when Vera-Ellen was the talk of the town, you might remember her performances alongside stars like Danny Kaye, Donald O’Connor, Gene Kelley, and Fred Astaire. She also made memorable appearances in films like 1949s On The Town and 1954s White Christmas.
So what ever happened to Vera-Ellen? Why someone with such star power destined to be all-but forgotten after her star quickly faded? Join Facts Verse as we explore this fascinating topic. We’ll be covering not only her astounding life story but also a few reasons why she chose to leave Hollywood.
A Star Is Born
Vera-Ellen Westmeier Rohe was born in Norwood, Ohio – a suburb of Cincinnati – on February 16, 1921. Interestingly, her future White Christmas co-star Rosemary Clooney also raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. Vera-Ellen’s father, Martin F. Rohe, was a humble piano dealer and her mother, Alma C. Westmeier, was a homemaker.
She came from a family that descended from German immigrants. Cincinnati is a city that is known for embracing it’s Germanic roots. You can see German influence throughout the city in it’s architecture and cuisine.
Vera-Ellen’s mother chose to give her a hyphenated name after having a dream in which she saw her name ‘in the lights’.
Vera-Ellen started dancing at the age of 10 and quickly became quite adept at it. One of her fellow dance-school students at the Hessler Studio of Dancing what none-other than Doris Day.
When she was 13, Vera-Ellen was one of the winners of the radio program Major Bowes Amateur Hour, thus kicking off her professional career.
Vera-Ellen made her debut on Broadway in the 1939 Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein musical Very Warm for May.
She then earned a spot as the youngest member of the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. This led her to cast in Broadway productions of A Connecticut Yankee, By Jupiter, and Panama Hustle. After spotted by Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwin, she cast opposite Danny Kaye in the 1945 motion picture Wonder Man.
In that film, Vera-Ellen’s singing dubbed over, but she did provide her own vocals on the Original Cast Album for the 1943 Broadway production of A Connecticut Yankee.
In 1948 and 1949 respectively, Vera-Ellen danced alongside Gene Kelly in the Hollywood musicals Words of Music and On The Town. She also made an appearance in the 1949 Marx Brothers film Love Happy. Also in 1951, Vera-Ellen starred in the musical comedy Happy Go Lovely alongside Caesar Romero and David Niven.
The following year she received top billing alongside her co-star Fred Astaire in the musical Three Little Words. In 1952, she starred opposite Astaire once again in the musical The Belle of New York.
She then co-starred with Donald O’Connor in the 1953 Walter Lang-directed musical film Call Me Madam.
It Was All Downhill After White Christmas
Vera-Ellen cast in her next-to-last role in the 1954 box-office hit White Christmas, in which she starred alongside Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, and Rosemary Clooney. After that, she wrapped up her film career with a final role in the 1957 British film Let’s Be Happy.
The reason for Vera-Ellen’s disappearance from the world of cinema is contested. When she was in her thirties, Vera-Ellen became shockingly thin. Her unhealthy eating habits very well documented.
She was also very reclusive. It’s rumored that she started to withdraw from Hollywood after her alleged struggles with anorexia had began to take their toll on her physically and emotionally.
It’s also worth noting that her departure coincides with a time when Hollywood had began to slow down on making musicals. Even though she could act, MGM didn’t seem to take her talents very seriously. Pretty soon, they had stopped offering her roles altogether.
For the remainder of the 50s, Vera-Ellen was a relatively frequent guest-star on television variety show programming, but even those gigs eventually dried up. Her final performances were on an episode of The Perry Como Show in 1958 and a broadcast of The Dinah Shore Show in 1959. After that, she completely retired from performing.
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Don’t go anywhere just yet. Keep watching to learn the truth about Vera-Ellen’s alleged struggles with an eating disorder. While many believe that she suffered from anorexia, her friends and family claim otherwise.
Why She Always Covered Her Neck
If Vera-Ellen had indeed suffered from an eating disorder, it’s wouldn’t be surprising that she would have faced some unwanted side effects from this struggle.
Back in the day, there’s a pretty persistent Hollywood rumor that she always covered her neck during the filming of White Christmas because of wrinkling that was caused by her anorexia. While eating disorders definitely can take a toll on one’s body in fairly troubling ways, production photos and videos taken from around this time show that Vera-Ellen’s neck was normal and undamaged. So, the exact reason why she always seemed to be covering her neck during the filming of that movie remains a mystery.
Bill Dennington, one of Vera-Ellen’s close friends who knew her throughout the last 20 years of her life, has likewise dismissed this rumor as being nothing more than baseless speculation.
He further has claimed that Vera-Ellen wasn’t the ‘dancer with anorexia’ that people thought of her as. To him, she just a fabulous dancer who had ‘overlooked’.
Vera-Ellen’s niece, Leanna Rothschild, who was born in ’67, remembered her as someone that never stopped dancing or taking dance classes and that she merely maintained her slim figure as an avid swimmer. Rothschild, like Dennington, denies that she ever had an eating disorder.
Vera-Ellen married twice throughout her life. Her first marriage was to a fellow dancer named Robert Hightower. The two exchanged marriage vows in 1941 but divorced just five years later in 1946.
Vera-Ellen’s second marriage was with millionaire Victor Rothschild of the famous Rothschild Family. The two wed in 1954 and divorced 12 years later in 1966. While she married to Victor, Vera-Ellen gave birth to a daughter named Victoria. Sadly, she passed away from SIDS in 1963 when she was just three months old.
After her only child died, Vera-Ellen completely withdrew from the public eye.
In her later years, Vera-Ellen suffered from severe arthritis. To combat it, she continued to take dancing lessons. Even so, she spent the remainder of her years completely shut off from the rest of Hollywood.
On the 30th of August, 1981, at the age of 60, Vera-Ellen died of Cancer in Los Angeles, California. She was then buried at the Glen Haven Memorial Park in Sylmar, California.
The story of Vera-Ellen certainly was a sad one. She was such an incredibly talented performer who could have gone on to become one of the biggest legends of her day, but after the entertainment industry was done with her, they spat her out like yesterdays-news. Sure, musicals might have become less popular, but that didn’t mean Vera-Ellen no longer had any value. It just goes to show you, though, what film studios really care about. At the end of the day, it’s all about the bottom line. When a star is no longer considered profitable, the Hollwyood big-wgs would much sooner kick them to the curb than cultivate them into something new.
It’s also a shame that Vera-Ellen’s name is often linked to eating disorders. Whether or not she actually suffered from one will likely be something that remains hotly debated for years to come, but it really shouldn’t matter. She should be remembered for her accomplishments not her private struggles. But just like today, the public of yesteryear was ever-eager for fresh gossip. Whenever a star seemed to be battling with some kind of medical issue, those kinds of stories are what would sell tabloids.
Do you think that Vera-Ellen deserved better than how she was treated by the entertainment industry? And what are some of your fondest memories of her? Let us know in the comments.
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