Posted by medusamorlock on February 19, 2007
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. 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 in 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 Broadway, 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 Christmas – 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 dresses 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 around 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
MovieMorlocks.com is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
Popular terms3-D Action Films Actors Actors' Endorsements Actresses animal stars Animation Anime Anthology Films Autobiography Avant-Garde Aviation Awards B-movies Beer in Film Behind the Scenes Best of the Year lists Biography Biopics Blu-Ray Books on Film Boxing films British Cinema Canadian Cinema Character Actors Chicago Film History Cinematography Classic Films College Life on Film Comedy Comic Book Movies Crime Czech Film Dance on Film Digital Cinema Directors Disaster Films Documentary Drama DVD Early Talkies Editing Educational Films European Influence on American Cinema Experimental Exploitation Fairy Tales on Film Faith or Christian-based Films Family Films Fan Edits Film Composers Film Criticism film festivals Film History in Florida Film Noir Film Scholars Film titles Filmmaking Techniques Films of the 1980s Food in Film Foreign Film French Film Gangster films Genre Genre spoofs Guest Programmers HD & Blu-Ray Holiday Movies Hollywood history Hollywood lifestyles Horror Horror Movies Icons independent film Italian Film Japanese Film Korean Film Leadership Literary Adaptations Martial Arts Melodramas Method Acting Mexican Cinema Moguls Monster Movies Movie Books Movie Costumes Movie locations Movie lovers Movie Magazines Movie Reviewers Movie settings Movie Stars Movies about movies Music in Film Musicals New Releases Outdoor Cinema Paranoid Thrillers Parenting on film Pirate movies Polish film industry political thrillers Politics in Film Pornography Pre-Code Producers Race in American Film Remakes Revenge Road Movies Romance Romantic Comedies Russian Film Industry Satire Scandals Science Fiction Screenwriters Semi-documentaries Serials Short Films Silent Film silent films Social Problem Film Spaghetti Westerns Sports Sports on Film Stereotypes Straight-to-DVD Studio Politics Stunts and stuntmen Suspense thriller Swashbucklers TCM Classic Film Festival Tearjerkers Television The British in Hollywood The Germans in Hollywood The Hungarians in Hollywood The Irish in Hollywood The Russians in Hollywood Theaters Thriller Trains in movies Underground Cinema VOD War film Westerns Women in the Film Industry Women's Weepies