Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.
MOVIE URBAN 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.
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.
The legend is…
STATUS: I’m Going With False
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