Question: What ever happened to Vera-Ellen, the superpopular actress/dancer of the '40s and '50s ? It seemed like she was a huge star and then just dropped off the face of the earth. Where did she come from and where did she go?


Answer: Vera-Ellen Rohe was born in Norwood, Ohio, and raised in Cincinnati. She retired from movies in the '50s and died in 1981 of cancer, aged 60. She was a versatile and disciplined dancer from the time she was a child, which is also when her mother began putting her on a series of eccentric diets that may have contributed to her peculiar adult eating habits.

Vera-Ellen dropped her last name and began dancing professionally as a teenager; she worked as a Radio City Music Hall Rockette, in Manhattan nightclubs and on Broadway before going to Hollywood. She made her movie debut in the Danny Kaye picture Wonder Man (1945), and went on to dance with the top musical stars of the day: Gene Kelly in On the Town (1949), Fred Astaire in Belle of New York (1952) — admittedly one of his lesser films — and Bing Crosby in White Christmas (1954), the film for which most people remember her. Vera-Ellen's last film was the English Let's Be Happy (1957). She was married twice, to fellow-dancer Robert Hightower from 1945 to 1948, and hen to wealthy businessman Victor Rothschild from 1954 to 1966; both marriages ended in divorce. In between marriages, her name was linked with Rock Hudson's, but their romantic relationship was just a publicity stunt designed to scotch persistant rumors that Hudson was gay; by all reports they were genuinely good friends. Vera-Ellen's only child, from her marriage to Rothschild, died of SIDS. Her retirement seems to have been the result of a number of factors. The declining popularity of musicals hurt performers associated with the genre, and though she was a fine light-comic actress, she doesn't seem to have been offered many nondancing roles. She also became extremely thin in the '50s, even for someone who had been slight all her adult life, which has led to speculation that she was anorexic and the condition contributed to making her look older than she actually was. After the double blows of her child's death and a second divorce, Vera-Ellen withdrew entirely from public life. She's buried in a Sylmar, Calif., cemetery called Glen Haven Memorial Park.