Vera-Ellen (born Vera Ellen Westmeier Rohe; b. February 16, 1921, d.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.
Vera-Ellen was born in Norwood, Ohio, a suburb of 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, 18-year-old Vera-Ellen made her Broadway theatre debut in the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein musical Very Warm for May. 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 the 1945 film 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 musicals Three Little Words and The Belle of New York. She had a co-starring role with Donald O’Connor in the Ethel Merman vehicle, Call Me Madam. Vera-Ellen’s second to last film role was the 1954 blockbuster hit White Christmas, co-starring with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney. She starred in only one more film, the 1957 British production Let’s Be Happy.
Vera-Ellen’s last performances were on a November 1958 television episode of The Perry Como Show and a February 1959 broadcast of the The Dinah Shore Show.
During the 1950s Vera-Ellen was known for having the “smallest waist in Hollywood,” and is believed to have suffered from anorexia nervosa.
Vera-Ellen was married twice. Her first husband was a fellow dancer, Robert Hightower, from February 1941 to November 1946.
Her second husband, from 1954 to their 1966 divorce, was millionaire Victor Rothschild. While married to Rothschild, she gave birth to a daughter, Victoria Ellen, who died at three months of age from SIDS in 1963. Following the death of her only child, she withdrew from public life.
Vera-Ellen died of cancer in Los Angeles, California, on August 30, 1981, aged 60. Her remains are buried at Glen Haven Memorial Park in Sylmar, California.