Hand color tinted photo of Vera Ellen from the 1954 movie, White Christmas
Vera-Ellen (February 16, 1921 – August 30, 1981) was an American actress and dancer, principally celebrated for her filmed dance partnerships with Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Danny Kaye and Donald O’Connor.
She was born Vera Ellen Westmeier Rohe in Norwood, Ohio, an enclave within Cincinnati, to Martin Rohe and Alma Catherine Westmeier, both descended from German immigrants. She began dancing at age 10 and quickly became very proficient. At 16 she was a winner on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour, and embarked upon a professional career.
In 1939 Vera-Ellen made her Broadway theatre debut in the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein musical Very Warm for May at age 18. 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 Wonder Man.
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 MGM musicals, Three Little Words and The Belle of New York (1952). She had a co-starring role with Donald O’Connor in the Ethel Merman vehicle, Call Me Madam for 20th Century-Fox, and with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney in Paramount’s blockbuster hit, White Christmas, in which she was partnered with Clooney (“Sisters”), Kaye (“The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” and “Choreography”) and dancer John Brascia. Let’s Be Happy was Vera-Ellen’s final film.
During the 1950s she was known for having the “smallest waist in Hollywood”, and is believed to have suffered from anorexia nervosa. She retired from the big screen in 1957, and retired completely after the death of her 3-month old daughter in 1963. Guest appearances on the television variety shows of Dinah Shore and Perry Como in 1958 and 1959 were among the last of her entertainment career.
Personal life and death
Vera-Ellen was married twice. Her first husband was fellow dancer, Robert Hightower (married from 1941-46). Her second husband was millionaire Victor Rothschild (married from 1954-66). Both marriages ended in divorce. While married to Rothschild, she gave birth to a daughter, Victoria Ellen Rothschild, who died at three months of age from SIDS in 1963. Following the death of her only child, she withdrew from public life.
She died of cancer in Los Angeles, California in 1981, aged 60.