I should have written about her last week, but let’s take this opportunity to celebrate Vera Ellen, who was born on February 16th, back in 1921.  Regular TCM viewers – at least the ones who enjoy musicals – have undoubtedly fallen in love with this charming performer, whose relatively sparse movie career nevertheless endeared her to old and new fans.

She was a dancing prodigy back in Ohio where she grew up, and after winning a Major Bowes Amateur Hour competition, found herself in NYC working as the youngest Rockette. 

" /> I should have written about her last week, but let’s take this opportunity to celebrate Vera Ellen, who was born on February 16th, back in 1921.  Regular TCM viewers – at least the ones who enjoy musicals – have undoubtedly fallen in love with this charming performer, whose relatively sparse movie career nevertheless endeared her to old and new fans.

She was a dancing prodigy back in Ohio where she grew up, and after winning a Major Bowes Amateur Hour competition, found herself in NYC working as the youngest Rockette. 

" /> I should have written about her last week, but let’s take this opportunity to celebrate Vera Ellen, who was born on February 16th, back in 1921.  Regular TCM viewers – at least the ones who enjoy musicals – have undoubtedly fallen in love with this charming performer, whose relatively sparse movie career nevertheless endeared her to old and new fans.

She was a dancing prodigy back in Ohio where she grew up, and after winning a Major Bowes Amateur Hour competition, found herself in NYC working as the youngest Rockette. 

" />

Remembering Vera Ellen

Vera Ellen in White ChristmasI should have written about her last week, but let’s take this opportunity to celebrate Vera Ellen, who was born on February 16th, back in 1921.  Regular TCM viewers – at least the ones who enjoy musicals – have undoubtedly fallen in love with this charming performer, whose relatively sparse movie career nevertheless endeared her to old and new fans.

She was a dancing prodigy back in Ohio where she grew up, and after winning a Major Bowes Amateur Hour competition, found herself in NYC working as the youngest Rockette.  Transitioning into full-fledged Broadway musicals, she made her first legitimate theatre debut in 1939, then appeared in a handful of shows, her last a revival of  the Rodgers and Hart musical A Connecticut Yankee which opened inVera Ellen and Danny Kaye in Wonder Man November of 1943.  Hollywood came calling in the form of producer Samuel Goldwyn, who brought her out to the West Coast to debut opposite his newest comedy sensation Danny Kaye in his second movie Wonder Man, released in 1945.  As you can see from the early pictures here, Vera Ellen was a cheery ingénue, with her own unique pert athletic dancing style.  Even though she was a singer/dancer on Vera Ellen in The Kid From BrooklynBroadway, she was never allowed to do her own singing in movies.  (If you can find 78s from the Rodgers and Hart show, check out her singing.  It's just fine, by the way.)

After another movie with Goldwyn and a couple for Fox, Vera Ellen moved over to MGM for a smattering of films, including the exuberant On The Town and the underrated Belle of New York.  Back to 20th for Call Me Madam, then over to Paramount to reunite with Danny Kaye for what’s probably become her best known movie role in White Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen in White ChristmasChristmas – with a few other roles in between – and Vera Ellen was done with movies in 1957.  She did some nightclub work, married, but never kept up the show business profile that her fellow female dancers like Ann Miller or Cyd Charisse had, despite skills that were second to none.

Vera Ellen’s story gets sort of sad at this point, including ongoing struggles with an eating disorder that we’d call anorexia these days.  You don’t get a thinner-than-thin waistline like hers without paying some kind of price, and sharp-eyed viewers will often remark on her penchant for high-necked Vera Ellen and Danny Kaye in White Christmasdresses in White Christmas, which seems to have been a result of covering her aged-looking neck as a result of weight fluctuations.  Even sadder is a divorce from her second husband, and the death of her baby daughter (from SIDS aka crib death), which understandably took a horrible toll on her health and state of mind. 

The onset of arthritis also hit her, and the once ultra-limber dancer resorted to taking dancing lessons again to keep up her mobility.  By this time she had completely dropped out of the show business scene, and though she was still alive when the revival of interest in classic movies started in the early 70s, Vera Ellen never came out of retirement to take part in any of the festivities or salutes.  I do recall a very sad picture of her in the National Enquirer aroundDanny and Vera Ellen Filming White Christmas that time, a candid shot of her, and she looked very little like the lithe sprite that had graced movie screens during the 1950s. 

I was always very interested in her because of her connection with Danny Kaye, and was always so disappointed that she had not been well enough to enjoy some of the accolades that certainly would have been offered to her had she been available to receive them.  Evidently talk show host and fan Mike Douglas used to regularly call to entreat her to appear on his show, but she would always turn him down, saying that the woman on the screen didn’t exist anymore. 

Vera Ellen died of cancer in 1981, far too young, after a life that had treated her far too harshly for all the beauty and delight she had given to us all

20 Responses Remembering Vera Ellen
Posted By Nathania Johnson : February 19, 2007 9:32 pm

Wow. Thanks for that post. Vera Ellen mesmerized me in White Christmas, and she was fantastic in On the Town As Well. I'm sad that her life had so many struggles as it did.

Posted By Nathania Johnson : February 19, 2007 9:32 pm

Wow. Thanks for that post. Vera Ellen mesmerized me in White Christmas, and she was fantastic in On the Town As Well. I'm sad that her life had so many struggles as it did.

Posted By CAP : February 19, 2007 10:48 pm

I read somewhere about her early physical illness and how dancing was the only thing she really wanted to do. And I think she did it wellin spite of anorexia and  the Hollywood system. She was wonderful in White Christmas-cute, perky,   and a whirling dervish of delight on the dance floor.Wish I could have done that!  

Posted By CAP : February 19, 2007 10:48 pm

I read somewhere about her early physical illness and how dancing was the only thing she really wanted to do. And I think she did it wellin spite of anorexia and  the Hollywood system. She was wonderful in White Christmas-cute, perky,   and a whirling dervish of delight on the dance floor.Wish I could have done that!  

Posted By RHS : February 22, 2007 10:49 am

I think I remember reading that National Enquirer story, long before I ever saw Vera Ellen in anything but her tragedies stuck with me as I saw her in her few movie appearances.  Has she really been gone for 25 years? 

Posted By RHS : February 22, 2007 10:49 am

I think I remember reading that National Enquirer story, long before I ever saw Vera Ellen in anything but her tragedies stuck with me as I saw her in her few movie appearances.  Has she really been gone for 25 years? 

Posted By Medusa : February 22, 2007 5:38 pm

Yep, twenty five years!  I have, somewhere on my messy desk, her obit cut out from Variety from way back then.  I'll scan it when I can find it!  I was always so sad that she didn't get to enjoy her rightful place in the classic movie revival that happened in the late 70s.  At least we can remember the forgotten here on Movie Morlocks!

Posted By Medusa : February 22, 2007 5:38 pm

Yep, twenty five years!  I have, somewhere on my messy desk, her obit cut out from Variety from way back then.  I'll scan it when I can find it!  I was always so sad that she didn't get to enjoy her rightful place in the classic movie revival that happened in the late 70s.  At least we can remember the forgotten here on Movie Morlocks!

Posted By T Carpenter : February 22, 2007 5:55 pm

Thanks for such a well-written account of this wonderful entertainer's life and career.  I remember her best for her role in "Three Little Words" opposite Fred Astaire.  I'm no expert on dancing, but she seemed to be up to par with the incredible Astaire.

Posted By T Carpenter : February 22, 2007 5:55 pm

Thanks for such a well-written account of this wonderful entertainer's life and career.  I remember her best for her role in "Three Little Words" opposite Fred Astaire.  I'm no expert on dancing, but she seemed to be up to par with the incredible Astaire.

Posted By Carli : February 25, 2007 7:21 am

Vera Ellen will always be remembered in my mind for her "Miss Turnstyles" dance in On the Town. While a great performance does not compensate for a tumultuous life, Ms. Ellen has left a legacy of dance perhaps not as extensive as some, but no less memorable.

Posted By Carli : February 25, 2007 7:21 am

Vera Ellen will always be remembered in my mind for her "Miss Turnstyles" dance in On the Town. While a great performance does not compensate for a tumultuous life, Ms. Ellen has left a legacy of dance perhaps not as extensive as some, but no less memorable.

Posted By Jeff : April 29, 2009 11:35 pm

I agree. Vera ellen dies way to young

Posted By Jeff : April 29, 2009 11:35 pm

I agree. Vera ellen dies way to young

Posted By Karen S. : June 10, 2009 4:49 pm

How she was taught to even look like that in White Christmas has been beyond me forever! Somebody measure her legs again soon!

Posted By Karen S. : June 10, 2009 4:49 pm

How she was taught to even look like that in White Christmas has been beyond me forever! Somebody measure her legs again soon!

Posted By Jan M. : June 20, 2009 6:13 pm

Watching all these wonderful musicals of the past and realizing how many movies she was in. It amazes me that she wasn’t more “out there” like an Elizabeth Taylor or Doris Day. It kind of looks like she always took 3rd or 4th billing, when in reality she was so much more.

Posted By Jan M. : June 20, 2009 6:13 pm

Watching all these wonderful musicals of the past and realizing how many movies she was in. It amazes me that she wasn’t more “out there” like an Elizabeth Taylor or Doris Day. It kind of looks like she always took 3rd or 4th billing, when in reality she was so much more.

Posted By Donna D : June 21, 2009 12:24 am

Vera Ellen was a great dancer and very pretty. She should have taken top billing in most of the movies I have seen. She seemed to be taken for granted.

Posted By Donna D : June 21, 2009 12:24 am

Vera Ellen was a great dancer and very pretty. She should have taken top billing in most of the movies I have seen. She seemed to be taken for granted.

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