16 December 2018

Madge Bellamy

Madge Bellamy (1899-1990) was a beautiful and temperamental leading lady of the silent era, known for such classics as John Ford's first Western The Iron Horse (1924). She appeared in about fifty silent films and also in a dozen sound films, including the cult favourite White Zombie (1932). By the late 1930s, her film career had virtually ended, but in 1943 she became again fodder for the press when she was arrested for shooting her former lover.

Madge Bellamy
French postcard in the Les Vedettes de Cinéma serie by A.N., Paris, no. 194. Photo: Fox Film.

Madge Bellamy
French postcard in the Les Vedettes de Cinéma serie by A.N., Paris, no. 200. Photo: Fox Film.

Madge Bellamy
French postcard by A.N., Paris, no. 203. Photo: Fox Film.

Madge Bellamy
Italian postcard by G.B. Falci Ed. for Cioccolato Talmone al Latte Unica. Photo: Fox.

The Most Beautiful Girl On Broadway


Madge Bellamy was born Margaret Derden Philpott in Hillsboro, Texas, in 1899. She was the daughter of William Bledsoe Philpott, a professor of English, and Annie Margaret Derden. She was the cousin of the actor Tom Forman.

Raised in Texas, she lived in San Antonio until she was 6 years old. Then the family moved to Brownwood, also in Texas, where her father was teaching at Texas A&M University. Madge took dancing lessons and soon began to aspire to become a stage performer. She made her stage debut dancing in a local production of Aida, at the age of 9. When she turned 10, the Philpotts went to live in Denver, Colorado.

Shortly before she was to graduate from high school, Bellamy left home for New York City.  She immediately found work on Broadway as a dancer.  After appearing in the chorus of the Earl Carroll show The Love Mill (1917), she decided to try acting. In 1918, she was the protagonist of Pollyanna, a production that also took her on tour. Critics took notice and Madge was billed 'The Most Beautiful Girl On Broadway'.

In 1919, Madge met and married Carlos Bellamy in Colorado, but they divorced when she decided to leave Colorado to pursue her acting career. Her big break came when she replaced Helen Hayes in the Broadway production of Dear Brutus (1919) opposite William Gillette. Bellamy also appeared in the touring production of Dear Brutus.

While appearing in Dear Brutus, Bellamy was cast in a supporting role in her first film The Riddle: Woman (Edward José, 1920), starring Geraldine Farrar. In November 1920, she signed an exclusive contract with Thomas H. Ince, who wanted her for his new production company Triangle. Her first film for Triangle was The Cup of Life (Rowland V. Lee, 1921), starring Hobart Bosworth.

Madge Bellamy
French postcard in the Les Vedettes de Cinéma series by A.N., Paris, no. 187. Photo: Fox Film.

Madge Bellamy
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1639/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Max Munn Autrey / Fox.

Madge Bellamy
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 797. Photo: Fox Film.

Arrested for Having Shot Three Times at her Former Lover


Madge Bellamy's breakthrough came in Lorna Doone (Maurice Tourneur, 1922) - hence she was 'the exquisite Madge'. For Triangle she appeared in several melodramas. When her contract with Ince ended she moved over to Fox, where she acted for John Ford in his first Western The Iron Horse (John Ford, 1924) with George O'Brien, and in the comedy Lightnin' (John Ford, 1925), with Jay Hunt.

As Bellamy favoured light comedy only, she got into trouble with the studios, as she refused a role in the mega-epic Ben-Hur (Fred Niblo, 1925), starring Ramon Novarro. Because of her off-set temperament, she was nicknamed 'Miss Firecracker' in the fan magazines. Her 1928 marriage to stockbroker Logan Metcalf lasted only four days. Metcalf filed for divorce claiming that while the two were on honeymoon, Bellamy had refused to speak to him because of his fondness for eating ham and eggs, which she considered 'plebeian'. Despite her poor behaviour off-set, she was still a fairly popular performer and was named an 'American Beauty' by the Hollywood Association of Foreign Correspondents

Madge did not encounter problems when switching from silent to sound. In 1928, Bellamy was cast in Fox's first part-talking film, Mother Knows Best (John G. Blystone, 1928), fictionalising the life of Vaudeville star Elsie Janis. However, in 1929, she left Fox. She walked out on her contract after refusing to star in the planned film adaptation of The Trial of Mary Dugan, a 1927 hit Broadway play  that the studio had bought especially for Bellamy. The role was later given to Norma Shearer and The Trial of Mary Dugan (Bayard Veiller, 1929) became one of Shearer's biggest early successes.

Bellamy tried to find work as a freelance actress but did not work until 1932. Then she returned to the set to play in B-films for Poverty Row studios. Her best known film from this period is White Zombie (Victor Halperin, 1932) starring Bela Lugosi. The film got negative reviews, but was a great financial success for an independent film at the time. Today, White Zombie is a cult favourite and is described as the first feature length zombie film and as the archetype and model of all zombie movies.

Despite the relative success of White Zombie, the film career of Madge Bellamy went nowhere. By the mid 1930s she was reduced to bit parts and walk-on parts, and by the early 1940s, her career had virtually ended. In 1943, Bellamy was arrested for having shot three times at her at her former lover, wealthy lumber executive Albert Stanwood Murphy, after he deserted her to marry another woman. She was given a suspended six-month sentence and one year of probation. Bellamy made her last screen appearance in Northwest Trail (Derwin Abraham, 1945). She returned to the stage in 1946 in the Los Angeles production of Holiday Lady, after which she retired.

She had some holdings in real estate and owned a retail shop in which she worked to support herself. In her spare time, she wrote screenplays and novels which were never purchased. In the 1980s, Madge Bellamy was rediscovered by film historians and silent film fans. She sold the retail shop  and lived in relative financial comfort for the rest of her life in Ontario, California. She died in 1990 in a hospital in Upland, California, at the age of 90. Her biography, A Darling of the Twenties, was published shortly after her death.

Madge Bellamy
British Real Photograph postcard.

Madge Bellamy
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3192/2, 1928-1929. Photo: Max Munn Autrey / Fox Film.

Madge Bellamy
Big German card by Ross Verlag. Photo: 20th Century Fox.

Sources: Tony Fontana (IMDb), Golden Silents, Wikipedia (English and Italian), and IMDb.

15 December 2018

Photo by First National Pictures

First National Pictures was an American film production and distribution company. It was founded in 1917 as First National Exhibitors' Circuit, Inc., an association of independent theatre owners in the United States, and became the country's largest theatre chain. Expanding from exhibiting films to distributing them, the company reincorporated in 1919 as Associated First National Theatres, Inc., and Associated First National Pictures, Inc. Approaching stars' and directors' production companies as a direct buyer, First National eventually signed Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, Mary Pickford, Norma and Constance Talmadge. In 1924 it expanded to become a film production company as First National Pictures, Inc., and became an important studio in the film industry. Among the major players the studio had under contract by then were Richard Barthelmess, Barbara La Marr, Harry Langdon, Colleen Moore, and Alla Nazimova. In September 1928, control of First National passed to Warner Bros., into which it was completely absorbed in November 1929. 

First National Studios, Burbank, California
American postcard by Western Air Express, no. 888. Caption: 'Where Motion Pictures Are Made' An overview of the First National Pictures studio complex in the mid-/late 1920s.

Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin. British postcard by Rotary Photo, no. 11575B. Photo: Albert Witzel.

Mary Pickford
Mary Pickford. French postcard by Europe, no. 160.

Jackie Coogan
Jackie Coogan. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 701/2, 1925-1926. Photo: Transocean-Film-Company, Berlin.

Colleen Moore
Colleen Moore. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3469/2, 1928-1929. Photo: DeFina / First National Pictures.

Against high cost rentals, block-booking, and inferior prints


The First National Exhibitors' Circuit was founded in 1917 by the merger of 26 of the biggest first-run cinema chains in the United States. It eventually controlled over 600 cinemas, more than 200 of them first-run houses as opposed to the less lucrative second-run or neighbourhood theatres to which films moved when their initial box office receipts dwindled.

First National was the brainchild of Thomas L. Tally, who was reacting to the many problems exhibitors had experienced with established distributors, such as the high cost of rentals, block-booking, and the inferior quality of some prints. The exhibitors also wanted to bypass distributors such as Adolph Zukor's Paramount, which had begun to try to control all aspects of the film industry.

In 1912, Tally thought that a conglomerate of theatres throughout the nation could buy or produce and distribute its own films. In 1917 Tally and J. D. Williams formed First National Exhibitors' Circuit. The first film released through First National was the British film, The Mother of Dartmoor (George Loane Tucker, 1916).

A success was Tarzan of the Apes (Scott Sidney, 1918) starring Elmo Lincoln as the first screen Tarzan and based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' original novel Tarzan of the Apes. The film adapts only the first part of the novel, the remainder becoming the basis for the sequel, The Romance of Tarzan (Wilfred Lucas, 1918) starring Elmo Lincoln and Enid Markey.

Between 1917 and 1918, the company made contracts with Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin, the first million-dollar deals in the history of film. Daddy-Long-Legs (Marshall Neilan, 1919) was produced by Mary Pickford, and based on Jean Webster's novel Daddy-Long-Legs. A Dog's Life (Charles Chaplin, 1918) was Chaplin's first film for First National Films. Chaplin's contract allowed him to produce his films without a set release schedule.

However, the production of the feature film The Kid (Charles Chaplin, 1921) ran so long that the company started to complain. To address their concerns Chaplin invited the exhibitors to the studio, and they were so impressed by the project and charmed by the players, especially co-star Jackie Coogan, that they agreed to be patient. That patience was ultimately rewarded when The Kid became a major critical and box office success.

First National's distribution of films by independent producers is credited with launching careers including that of Louis B. Mayer. Mayer produced the Western In Old Kentucky (Marshall Neilan, 1919) starring Anita Stewart. Neilan and Mayer worked often together, but after Mayer became head of MGM in 1924, the two had a falling out.

Charlie Chaplin in A Dog's Life (1918)
Charlie Chaplin. Spanish postcard by Chocolate Amatller, serie 9, no. 11. Photo: publicity still for A Dog's Life (Charles Chaplin, 1918).

Constance Talmadge
Constance Talmadge. French postcard by A.N., Paris in the Les Vedettes de Cinéma series, no. 12. Photo: B. Frank Puffer / First National Location.

Norma Talmadge in Camille/ La dame aux camélias
Norma Talmadge. French postcard by J.R.D.R., Paris, no. 104. Photo: First National. Publicity still for Camille (Fred Niblo, 1926), produced by Joseph Schenck, the later producer of United Artists, and based on the famous novel by Alexandre Dumas fils.

Nazimova and Milton Sills in Madonna of the Streets (1924)
Nazimova and Milton Sills. Danish postcard by Stenders Kunstforlag, no. 39. Photo: First National Pictures. Publicity still for Madonna of the Streets (Edwin Carewe, 1924).

Richard Bartelmess
Richard Barthelmess. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 704/1, 1925-1926. Photo: James Abbe / Transocean-Film-Co., Berlin.

A rustic tale of violence set in the mountains of West Virginia


Adolph Zukor of Paramount Pictures was threatened by First National's financial power and its control over the lucrative first-run theatres, and decided to enter the cinema business as well. With a $10 million investment, Paramount built its own chain of first-run movie theatres after a secret plan to merge with First National failed.

First National Exhibitors' Circuit was reincorporated in 1919 as Associated First National Pictures, Inc., and its subsidiary, Associated First National Theatres, Inc., with 5,000 independent theatre owners as members. First National had new successes with Constance Talmadge in the comedy A Virtuous Vamp (David Kirkland, Sidney Franklin, 1919). It was produced by Talmadge and written by Anita Loos and John Emerson based on the 1909 play The Bachelor by Clyde Fitch. Anita Loos also wrote Two Weeks (Sidney Franklin, 1920), starring Constance Talmadge and Conway Tearle.

Sister Norma Talmadge starred in such dramas as A Daughter of Two Worlds (James Young, 1920), The Branded Woman (Albert Parker, 1920). The latter was also produced by Talmadge with her husband Joseph Schenck through their production company, Norma Talmadge Productions. Later followed such hits as Camille (Fred Niblo, 1926).

Director King Vidor also worked for First National, such as on the drama The Family Honor (King Vidor, 1920) with Florence Vidor. A major box office success was Tol'able David (Henry King, 1921) starring Richard Barthelmess. It was a rustic tale of violence set in the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia. The acclaimed film was voted the 1921 Photoplay Magazine Medal of Honor and is seen by now as one of the classics of silent film.

Associated First National Pictures expanded from only distributing films to producing them in 1924 and changed its corporate name to First National Pictures, Inc. It built its 62-acre (25 ha) studio lot in Burbank in 1926. The Motion Picture Theatre Owners of America and the Independent Producers' Association declared war in 1925 on what they termed a common enemy — the ‘film trust’ of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount, and First National, which they claimed dominated the industry not only by producing and distributing films but also by entering into exhibition as well.

Maria Corda in The Private Life of Helen of Troy
French postcard by Europe, no. 315. Photo: Mercure Film. Maria Corda as Helen of Troy in The Private Life of Helen of Troy (Alexander Korda, 1927).

Ivor Novello
Ivor Novello. Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, nr. 506. Photo: First National Film.

Jack Buchanan
Jack Buchanan. British postcard in the real hand-coloured photograph series, no. 136. Photo: Defina / First National.

Clive Brook in Yellow Lily (1928)
Clive Brook. British postcard, no. 4010/1. Photo: Defina / First National Pictures. Publicity still for Yellow Lily (Alexander Korda, 1928).

Colleen Moore
Colleen Moore. Austrian postcard by Iris-Verlag, no. 5855. Photo: First National-Film.

The Flapper - a new kind of female behaviour


Madge Bellamy became a star with Lorna Doone (Maurice Tourneur, 1922) a film version of Richard Doddridge Blackmore's often filmed novel. Another success was Oliver Twist (Frank Lloyd, 1922), a silent film adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic novel, featuring Lon Chaney as Fagin and Jackie Coogan at the height of his success as Oliver.

One of the major directors at First National was John M. Stahl who made such dramas The Dangerous Age (John M. Stahl, 1923) starring Lewis Stone. Another interesting director was Frank Borzage who directed the drama The Age of Desire (Frank Borzage, 1923) starring Josef Swickard, William Collier Jr., and Mary Philbin.

A popular success was Potash and Perlmutter (Clarence G. Badger, 1923), based on an ethnic Jewish comedy with characters created by Montague Glass and Charles Klein. This film was the first production of Samuel Goldwyn's independent production company. Stage stars Alexander Carr and Barney Bernard reprise their famous roles in this film. The film's success would inspire two Goldwyn sequels, In Hollywood with Potash and Perlmutter (Alfred E. Green, 1924) and Partners Again (Henry King, 1926), but the latter was distributed by United Artists.

Associated First National both distributed and produced the drama Flaming Youth (John Francis Dillon, 1923) starring vivid Colleen Moore and Milton Sills. The reaction to the film was enthusiastic, and it firmly fixed in the public's imagination a new kind of female behaviour. There had been several films prior to Flaming Youth which used the flapper as subject matter, such as The Flapper (Alan Crosland, 1920) with Olive Thomas, but the financial success of Flaming Youth made it the film credited with launching a cycle of pictures about flappers and helping Colleen Moore be seen as the original film flapper.

Blanche Sweet was the star of the silent film version of Anna Christie (John Griffith Wray, 1923) based on the 1921 play by Eugene O'Neill. Producer Thomas H. Ince paid a then-astronomical $35,000 for the screen rights to the play. Another success was the fantasy monster adventure film The Lost World (Harry O. Hoyt, 1925) adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel of the same name. The film stars Wallace Beery as Professor Challenger and featured pioneering stop motion special effects by Willis O'Brien, a forerunner of his work on the original King Kong (1933).

Ricardo Cortez in The Private Life of Helen of Troy (1927)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3216/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Defina / First national. Publicity still for The Private Life of Helen of Troy (Alexander Korda, 1927), in which Ricardo Cortez co-starred as Paris opposite Maria Corda as Helen of Troy.

Richard Barthelmess in The Drop-Kick (1927)
Richard Barthelmess. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3475/2, 1928-1929. Photo: Defina / First National. Publicity still for The Drop-Kick (Millard Webb, 1927).

Colleen Moore
Colleen Moore. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3862/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Defina / First-National-Film.

Ken Maynard
Ken Maynard. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4561/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Defina / First National Pictures.

Billie Dove
Billie Dove. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4726/3, 1929-1930. Photo: Defina / First National.

The First National studio as the official home of Warner Bros


The financial success of The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927) and The Singing Fool (Lloyd Bacon, 1928), both with Al Jolson, enabled Warner Bros. to purchase a majority interest in First National in September 1928. Warner Bros. held 42,000 shares of common stock out of 72,000 outstanding shares while Fox Pictures held 21,000 shares; 12,000 shares were publicly held.

Warner Bros. acquired access to First National's affiliated chain of theatres, while First National acquired access to Vitaphone sound equipment. Warner Bros. and First National continued to operate as separate entities. On November 4, 1929, Fox sold its interest in First National to Warner Bros. for $10 million.

The First National studio in Burbank became the official home of Warner Bros.–First National Pictures. Thereafter, First National Pictures became a trade name for the distribution of a designated segment of Warner Bros. product. Forty-five of the 86 Warner Bros. feature films released in 1929 were branded as First National Pictures. Half of the 60 feature films Warner Bros. announced for release in 1933–1934 were to be First National Pictures.

Although both studios produced A and B budget pictures, generally the prestige productions, costume dramas, and musicals were made by Warner Bros., while First National specialised in modern comedies, dramas, and crime stories. Short subjects were made by yet another affiliated company, The Vitaphone Corporation, which took its name from the sound process.

In July 1936, stockholders of First National Pictures, Inc. (primarily Warner Bros.) voted to dissolve the corporation and distribute its assets among the stockholders in line with a new tax law which provided for tax-free consolidations between corporations. From 1929 to 1958, most Warner Bros. films and promotional posters bore the combined trademark and copyright credits in the opening and closing sequences ‘A Warner Bros.–First National Picture’.

Edward G. Robinson
Edward G. Robinson. British postcard. Photo: First National Films.

Joan Blondell
Joan Blondell. British postcard. Photo: First National Films.

Bebe Daniels
Bebe Daniels. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6498/1, 1931-1932. Photo: First National Pictures. Publicity still for Honor of the Family (Lloyd Bacon, 1931).

Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 7297/1, 1932-1933. Photo: First National Pictures.

Leslie Howard
Leslie Howard. British postcard by Real Photogravure, London, no. 64. Photo: Warner Brothers / First National. Publicity still for The Scarlet Pimpernel (Harold Young, 1934).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Oscars.org, and Wikipedia.

14 December 2018

Vera-Ellen

Blonde, slim Vera-Ellen (1921-1981) was one of the most vivacious and vibrant musical film talents to glide through Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s. Whether performing solo or dueting with the best male partners of her generation, including Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor, Vera-Ellen gave life to some of the most extraordinary dance routines ever caught on film. She was a dance sensation in a string of light-hearted but successful films. Vera-Ellen retired from acting in the late 1950s.

Vera Ellen
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin, no. A 320. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Vera Ellen in On the Town (1949)
Dutch postcard, no. 553. Photo: M.G.M. (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). Publicity still for On the Town (Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, 1949).

Vera Ellen and Gene Kelly in On the Town (1949)
French postcard, no. 1. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Publicity still for On the Town (Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, 1949) with Gene Kelly.

Blessed with a sweet, apple blossom appeal and elfin charm


Vera-Ellen Westmeyer Rohe was born of German descent in Norwood, an enclave of the larger city of Cincinnati, Ohio in 1921. Vera-Ellen was the only child of Martin F. Rohe, a piano dealer, and Alma Catherine Westmeier. She was given a hyphen in her name because her mother had a dream when she was expecting that she would have a baby-girl named Vera-Ellen. Later, she told  interviewer Gene Handsaker that she liked simple screen monikers like Margo and Annabella and refused to adopt a synthetic last name for the cinema.

Some sources incorrectly indicate that she was born in 1926. Gary Brumburgh explains at IMDb: "Blessed with a sweet, apple blossom appeal and elfin charm, Vera-Ellen's movie career started to take shape in 1945. Supposedly her mother thought that since her daughter looked much younger than she was, it might be wise to shave five years off of her age in order to promote the dancing teen sensation image."

Vera-Ellen began dancing at the age of 9 (some sources say 10). She was rather frail and studied dancing to build up her body. At age 13 she was a winner on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour and embarked upon a professional career.

At age 18, Vera-Ellen made her Broadway debut with the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein musical Very Warm for May in 1939. She toured with the Ted Lewis Band and became one of the youngest Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. Vera-Ellen eventually broke into Broadway musicals, dancing with Ray Bolger in By Jupiter (1942) and in the revival of A Connecticut Yankee (1943).

She was only 24 years old when she was spotted by film producer Samuel Goldwyn who cast her in Wonder Man (H. Bruce Humberstone, 1945) opposite Danny Kaye in his film debut. Wonder Man (1945) and another Danny Kaye vehicle, The Kid from Brooklyn (Norman Z. McLeod, 1946), were both hits and people soon fell in love with the lovely lady's fresh-faced innocence.

A hard-working, uncomplicated talent, she paired famously with Gene Kelly in MGM's Words and Music (Norman Taurog, 1948) in which their 'Slaughter on Tenth Avenue' number was a critical highlight. The landmark musical On the Town (Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, 1949), in which she played Miss Turnstiles and the apple of Kelly's eye, served as the pinnacle of her dancing work on film.


Vera Ellen
Dutch postcard by DRC, no. F 167 Photo: M.G.M. (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer).

Vera Ellen
Dutch card. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Vera-Ellen
Dutch postcard, no. AX 232. Sent by mail in 1952. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

The woman of a thousand dance moves


The versatile and acrobatic Vera-Ellen could be counted on to perform any kind of dancing requested - tap, toe, jazz, adagio - whether solo or with partners and/or props. She became the woman of a thousand dance moves. Her light singing voice, however, was usually dubbed.

According to Hal Erickson at AllMovie: "In a moment of weakness, Vera-Ellen agreed to co-star in the Marx Brothers' valedictory film Love Happy (David Miller, 1949), where she was 'rewarded' with some of her worst-ever costumes and camera angles."

Vera Ellen went on to appear twice with Fred Astaire, in Three Little Words (Richard Thorpe, 1950) and The Belle of New York (Charles Walters, 1952), both example of MGM's musical unit at the height of its powers. She also shared dance steps with the Donald O'Connor in Call Me Madam (Walter Lang, 1953). Craig Butler at AllMovie: "O'Connor is a delight throughout, as is Vera Ellen as his love interest. Their duets, 'It's a Lovely Day Today' and 'Something to Dance About', are highlights."

The blockbuster and evergreen White Christmas (Michael Curtiz, 1954) is usually considered her best-remembered film in which she co-starred with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney. Craig Butler: "Considering the amount of talent involved, it's surprising - and rather a shame - that White Christmas is only an enjoyable little trifle rather than a truly classic movie musical. (...) But pay special attention to Clooney's creamy, entrancing rendition of the beautiful 'Love, You Didn't Do Right by Me'; this is a genuinely superior musical performance. Throw in such other treats as 'Blue Skies' and 'Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep', as well as the amusing antics of Kaye, the laid-back playing of Crosby, and the effervescent dancing of Vera-Ellen, and most people will be more than willing to sit through the corny script."

Gary Brumbrugh at IMDb: "Musicals went out of vogue by the late 50s and, as Vera-Ellen was practically synonymous with musicals, her career went into a sharp decline. But that was only one reason. A light acting talent, she might have continued in films in dramatic roles, as she had in the movie Big Leaguer (Robert Aldrich, 1953) with Edward G. Robinson, but dark, outside influences steered her away altogether. Personal unhappiness and ill health would quickly take their toll on her." 

Vera's film career ended with the British musical Let's Be Happy (Henry Levin, 1957) co-starring Tony Martin. It was an updated remake of Jeannie (Harold French, 1941), one of the most likable British comedies of the 1940s.

Vera Ellen
Dutch postcard, no. ax 240-157. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Vera Ellen
Belgian postcard, no. 752. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Vera Ellen
Vintage collectors card, no. K 17. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

A lithe and lovely presence who deserved a better personal life


On TV Vera-Ellen appeared in variety shows such as The Colgate Comedy Hour, and The Dinah Shore Chevvy Show. She also starred in the successful 1955 Las Vegas dancing revue.

It was later discovered that, due to the dancer's compulsive dieting obsession, she had silently battled anorexia throughout much of the 1950s before anyone was even aware or doctors had even coined the term or devised treatments. Moreover, she had developed severe arthritis which forced an early retirement.

In order to combat it, she reverted back to taking dance lessons again. The worst blows suffered, however, was in her personal life. Her two marriages failed. Her first husband was a fellow dancer, Robert Hightower, to whom she was married from 1941 to 1946. Her second husband was millionaire oil-man Victor Rothschild of the Rothschild family. They were married from 1954 to their 1966 divorce.

While married to Rothschild, she gave birth to a daughter, Victoria Ellen, who died at three months of age from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in 1963. Following the death of her only child, she withdrew from public life and became a virtual recluse in her house in the Hollywood Hills.

Little was heard for decades until she had died at the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center in 1981, of cancer. She was 60 years old. Author David Soren wrote a book, Vera-Ellen: the Magic and the Mystery, about her life.

Gary Brumburgh: "Perhaps less remembered today compared to several of the big stars that shared the stage with her, Vera-Ellen was a lithe and lovely presence who deserved a better personal life than she got. Nevertheless, she has provided true film lovers with a lasting legacy and can easily be considered one of Hollywood's finest dancing legends."

Vera Ellen
German postcard by Ufa/Film-Foto, Berlin-Tempelhof, no. FK 975. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Vera-Ellen
French postcard by Edition P.I., Paris, offered by Les Carbones Korès Carboplane, no. 26F, 1953. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Sources: Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), David Westman (IMDb), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Craig Butler (AllMovie), Gene Handsaker (Altoona Tribune), Kit and Morgan Benson (Find A Grave), New York Times,  Wikipedia and IMDb.