Vera-Ellen: She Was Vera, Vera Talented

A little birthday love for musical star Vera-Ellen (Vera-Ellen Westmeier Rohe, 1921-1981). I’m not sure I would have flagged her for attention in this space if not for the fact that she was in the Marx Brothers last movie Love Happy (1949). But when you look at her overall career, it has its interesting aspects.

Originally from the Cincinnati area, she began dance lessons at age 10 at the Hessler Studio, where one of her fellow students was Doris Day (interesting to note that both performers, as well as studio founder Harry H. Hessler were all of German extraction. Cincinnati has a rich German-American heritage). Vera-Ellen was only 13 when she won Major Bowes Amateur Hour. She next became one of the youngest and shortest (5’4″) of the Rockettes.

This led to Broadway, where was cast in five shows: Very Warm for May (1939-1940), Higher and Higher (1940), Panama Hattie (1940-1942), By Jupiter (1942), and A Connecticut Yankee (1943-1944).

Her transition to film came courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn, who put her in two Danny Kaye movies The Wonder Man (1945) and The Kid from Brooklyn (1946). A dozen more films followed, including the Rodgers and Hart bio-pic Words and Music (1948), the aforementioned Love Happy, On the Town (1949), the Kalmar and Ruby bio-pic Three Little Words (1950), Call Me Madam (1953), and White Christmas (1954). Her last film was Let’s Be Happy (1957). Her forte seems to have been dance rather than singing. Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were frequent co-stars, but her singing was dubbed in no less than five of her films, which is almost a third of them.

She began appeared on television variety shows in the mid 1950s; her last such performance was on The Dinah Shore Chevy Show in 1959. She then retired and was quite well set up to do, for she had married millionaire Victor Rothschild in 1954. In 1963, they had a child, but the baby seems to have died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The tragedy effected Vera-Ellen deeply. She never performed after this. She divorced Rothschild in 1966. Vera-Ellen died of cancer in 1981.