This is the fourth in a series of examinations of legends from movies and the people who make them and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous movie urban legends.
MOVIE LEGEND: Vera-Ellen neck had to be covered at all times in the film White Christmas because her neck was ravaged by the effects of anorexia.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
Vera-Ellen was a popular musical actress during the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
She appeared in such legendary musicals as On The Town and White Christmas.
Here she is in On the Town (1949) (she is the third woman in the picture)…
Here, then, are a number of pictures of Vere-Ellen from the 1954 film, White Christmas…
As you might notice, Vera-Ellen’s neck is covered in all of these pictures. In fact, her neck is covered up in the entirety of White Christmas.
Vera-Ellen was an extremely thin woman who died in 1980 (at the age of 61). While never officially diagnosed during her lifetime (heck, the term itself was barely around during her lifetime), Vera-Ellen is alleged to have suffered from either anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa (or possibly both).
Anorexia nervosa is a mental illness pertaining to a distorted view of how skinny a person is that results in many different effects in people, most specifically, the physical problems of having their body waste away due to their belief that they are too fat. Bulimia nervosa is a similar illness where women binge eat and then purge (through vomiting, laxatives or other means) what they eat. Some women alternate between anorexia and bulimia.
Vera-Ellen was an EXTREMELY skinny woman for the rest of her life, and biographers of her have made it pretty clear that she suffered from one or both of the diseases (it was perhaps exacerbated by studio weight requirements, something that afflicted Judy Garland, as well).
While it has not been proven, I do agree that the circumstantial evidence is probably there enough that I would tend to agree that she had SOME sort of eating disorder.
Bill Dennington, a friend of Vera-Ellen, had the following to say on the matter:
Vera-Ellen was a friend for 20 years until her death. I was in L.A. and had lunch with her 2 weeks prior to her death. If you’ve read David Soren’s book Vera-Ellen: The Magic and The Mystery you would have seen my personal photographs of Vera-Ellen. The photographs were taken in the 60’s and 70’s and she looked fine. All of her life she wore something around her neck, a necklace,a choker, a scarf, a collar, etc., etc. It was her “trademark” like Van Johnson wore red socks. I saw her neck many times it was lovely…..like Audrey Hepburns. Hate that people think of her as “the dancer with anorexia” and not just the FABULOUS DANCER WHO HAS BEEN SO OVERLOOKED !!!!!!!!!!!!
Thanks to Bill for his valuable insight.
In addition, Vera-Ellen’s niece, Ileana Rothschild, stopped by to share her thoughts, as well:
I am Ileana Rothschild, and Vera Ellen was my aunt by marriage. I was born in 1967 and my mother and I went for my first visit to my aunt Vera’s home on Outpost Cove in Hollywood, CA.
My mother became one of her very close friends, and Aunt Vera gave her many of her baby Victoria’s personal items for me.
I know for a fact that Vera never stopped taking dance classes and maintained her slim figure always. Vera was an avid swimmer and she took me for my very first swim with her in her beautiful heated pool when I was only one month old.
My mother and Vera stayed good friends and often had dinner together. At times when having dinner at Vera’s home they were accompanied by Vera’s aged mother.
At this time Aunt Vera had been recovering from a mild stroke and would use a regimented swimming program as part of her total recovery: but had no eating disorder.
My aunt Vera Ellen was a fine loving and kind person with a beautifully toned body, which she always maintained.
Thanks for sharing, Ileana!
In any event, to the matter at hand – the story is that Vera-Ellen’s neck had to be covered up in White Christmas because they (quoting from her wikipedia page here, to give you an idea of what the general thought is regarding the situation):
were designed to cover her neck, which was aged beyond her years due to her eating disorder.
If you search around, you’ll get that basic story in lots of places.
However, while I would agree that it seems to be too much of a coincidence that they happened to cover her neck in EVERY shot in White Christmas, I differ about the reason behind it.
One of the great “piece of Hollywood history” films that is available to us is the filming of the premiere of A Star is Born in September of 1954.
White Christmas filmed in late 1953.
Here is Vera-Ellen at the red carpet in September of 1954…
As you can see, Vera-Ellen’s neck is clearly evident in the shots, and her neck looks fine.
Similarly, here is a shot of Vera-Ellen from early 1953, right around the time she was filming Big Leaguer (which was filmed during Spring Training 1953).
So right before she filmed White Christmas and less than a year after she filmed White Christmas her neck looked fine.
This, of course, does not mean that there was not SOMEthing wrong with her neck during the filming of White Christmas, of course.
But the most commonly repeated story about it is that her neck was so ravaged with seeming old age that they had to cover it up, and that’s NOT the sort of thing that would just clear up in a year after not being present just a few months earlier in 1953, so that’s why I’m going with false, even though there could be some OTHER anorexia-related reason for the neck covering (like a general “It looked odd on camera uncovered”).
In addition, as Bill theorized, it could simply be something as simple as a covered neck being her trademark, like Van Johnson always wearing red socks or Flo in those auto insurance ads always wearing an open collar shirt.
Here’s the footage of Vera-Ellen from the 1954 event if you’d like to see her some more…
Thanks to LisaLaLisa92 for the footage and thanks to Doctor Macro for the great scans of Vera-Ellen from White Christmas. And thanks again to Bill and Ileana for their valuable insight into the life of a wonderful dancer who really HAS been far too overlooked in film history.
MOVIE LEGEND: Burt Reynolds turned down an Academy Award-winning acting role that was specifically written with him in mind so that he could do Stroker Ace.
Terms of Endearment was a 1975 novel by Larry McMurtry about the strained relationship of a mother and her grown daughter…
James L. Brooks made his film debut as a writer with the screenplay for the popular 1979 film, Starting Over, starring Burt Reynolds as a divorced man balancing his relationship with his new girlfriend and his ex-wife…
In 1983, Brooks made his film debut as a writer/director with the film adaptation of Terms of Endearment, starring Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger as the mother and daughter.
Brooks decided to add a new character to the film, a romantic interest for MacLaine’s character. The character, Garrettt Breedlove, was a retired astronaut who was a bit of an arrogant boozehound, but with a heart of gold.
Brooks wrote the character with Reynolds in mind, who was in his late 40s at the time.
However, Reynolds at the time had a lead role in an action-comedy called Stroker Ace, where he played a race car driver.
Stroker Ace was a film in the mold of previous Reynolds hits like Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run, so the odds were pretty good that it, too, would be a commercial success.
Brooks, instead, appealed to Reynolds’ ego as an actor, arguing that the role would show off Reynolds’ range as an actor and would give him a very good chance at an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. (Staring Over netted nominations for the two actresses in it, Jill Clayburgh and Candice Bergen)
In the end, though, Reynolds just could not reconcile less money for a smaller role that required him to be a bit of a wreck of a guy in a film that was no sure bet for success, while his other option was a well-paid starring role that let him be the macho hero in a film that was likely to succeed.
So Reynolds turned it down, and after a couple of other actors passed on it as well, James Garner had the role for a bit, but he and Brooks differed on how to play the character, so Jack Nicholson was given basically the same speech from Brooks that Brooks gave Reynolds, and Nicholson was willing to take a pay cut and be a supporting actor.
And as these things often turn out, Nicholson did, in fact, win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and Terms of Endearment ended up being a critical and commercial success, while Stroker Ace was a flop, both critically and commercially.
Reynolds later asserted that it was the worst mistake in his career.
MOVIE LEGEND: People all across the United States were flooded with calls due to their number being shown in the film Bruce Almighty, including a church with a pastor named Bruce!!!
Bruce Almighty was a 2003 blockbuster film starring Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston and Morgan Freeman where God (played by Freeman) gives all of his powers to Bruce (Carrey) to see if he can do a better job than God.
The film’s massive popularity backfired a bit when the filmmakers failed to fully vet a phone number.
In most films, when phone numbers are given, they use the prefix 555, or more specifically 555-0100 through 555-0199 (as 555 numbers outside of this group might actually exist, as they ARE available for use).
In Bruce Almighty, however, in a scene where God pages Bruce, the number given is (no area code) 776-2323. The filmmakers checked that number in Buffalo, New York, Area Code 716, (where the film is set) and found that it did not belong to anyone.
However, they did not check the rest of the country, and soon, people and companies and groups with that number (with different area codes, of course) began receiving calls directed to “God.”
One of the numbers even led to a church, and their pastor’s first name actually WAS Bruce!!!
For the DVD release of the film, the number was changed to 555-0123.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org