The Wednesday Pop Culture Rant enjoys many things about the holidays, but chief among them is this: Vera-Ellen’s waist in White Christmas. Hypnotic. We can’t look away.
Vera-Ellen1 gets lost in the golden age of Hollywood musicals of the 40s and 50s, but she could match dance steps with anyone in any style. Frail and sick as a child, she started dancing to regain her health. She has no problem keeping up with Gene Kelly in On the Town (1949), where she appears graceful and fit, but in White Christmas (1954), her waist has shrunk to 17 inches or so. Ellen gets to shine in several solo dance numbers as only Danny Kaye can even remotely prove a worthy partner to her. Watching poor Rosemary Clooney trying to execute even the simplest of steps with Ellen, a vague look of terror on her face, gives the movie even more entertainment value.
The Rant always feels for performers like Vera-Ellen. Born at the right moment to make use of her transcendent dancing, she was born at the wrong moment to achieve greater acclaim among an abundance of transcendent dancing in movie musicals of her era. Haunted by anorexia and crippling arthritis (common among dancers), Vera-Ellen also lost a child to SIDS and died early at age 60.
Even with the explosion of social media tracking a celebrity’s every move and utterance, The Rant believes we still want to think of those performers we admire existing within the confines of the frame, the edges of the screen, the measures of the song. In that world, Vera-Ellen is forever spinning in perfect rhythm, the cadences of her tragic life not even an echo to us now. We wonder if she would embrace that as a gift or a curse.