Vera Ralston: Skated Through Life

Today, a smattering of applause for classic cinema’s second favorite ice skating movie star, Vera Ralston (Věra Helena Hrubá, ca. 1920-2003) The first is of course Sonja Henie. So don’t mix her up with her — or with Esther Ralston, Jobyna Ralston, Vera-Ellen, Vera Zorina or Vera Vague.

Vera Ralston was a Czech figure skater who competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Hitler gobbled up her country shortly thereafter, so she moved to the U.S., where Herbert J. Yates, founder and head of Republic Pictures was to feature her in 27 vehicles. Her first two: Ice-Capades (1941) and Ice-Capades Revue (1942), made a modicum of sense but Yates was clearly smitten with the young athlete, and he began to star her in film acting roles (in spite of a dearth of both experience or aptitude). The best known or remembered of these was The Fighting Kentuckian (1949) with John Wayne and Oliver Hardy. Ralston had a very heavy accent which typically had to be dealt with by the plot in some way; in The Fighting Kentuckian her character was French. Some other early films included The Lady and the Monster (1944), Storm Over Lisbon (1944), Dakota (1945), Murder in the Music Hall (1946), and Plainsman and the Lady (1946).

In 1952 Yates doubled down on his devotion to Ralston by marrying her. He continued to star her in Republic Pictures until 1958, when he was ousted from his leadership role at the studio. Ralston was never hired to work as an actress by anybody ever again.

For more on the history of show business, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.