'Happy Go Lovely,' in Classic Cool Context

This Saturday at 9 p.m., KCET brings you the 1951 musical comedy, "Happy Go Lovely," which stars Vera-Ellen as a chorus girl given top billing in a broke producer's show after rumors link her with a Scottish millionaire. The film was directed by H. Bruce Humberstone and also stars David Niven and Cesar Romero. This is the latest entry in KCET's "Classic Cool Theater" series, which aims to give you not only a great film but also a vintage cartoon, two newsreels and an of-the-era musical number. All those extras add up to what makes "Classic Cool Theater" so special: context. In the spirit of this unique package, we're offering you a peek at the America -- and the Los Angeles -- that received "Happy Go Lovey" on July 25, 1951.

Though she stood only 5 feet, 4 inches tall with a waist that measured a mere 20 inches, Vera-Ellen was full of charm and grace evident both in her personality and dancing style.

Watch Ellen combine magnificent ballet and tap dancing skills in her first movie, the 1945 Danny Kaye starrer, "Wonder Man":

In the book, "Vera-Ellen: The Magic and Mystery," film historian David Soren says many industry insiders considered Ellen to be "the greatest dancer of her generation," better even than Ginger Rogers. Soren concludes that Ellen "should have been one of Broadway and Hollywood's most enduring stars." Unfortunately, "should" is the key word in that sentence. Despite memorable performances in films like "Words and Music," "Call Me Madam," and "White Christmas," Ellen vanished from the silver screen after appearing in "Let's Be Happy" in 1957 at the age of 36.

That's partly because audiences grew tired of movie musicals in favor of more dramatic fare, but personal issues are primarily to blame. Ellen battled severe arthritis as well as anorexia that led to premature aging of her body. She also suffered clinical depression following two failed marriages and the death of her only child to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in 1963.

Vera-Ellen divorced her first husband, fellow dancer Robert Hightower, in 1946 after a three-year marriage. An AP wire story at the time reported that Ellen claimed Hightower "ridiculed her art ... was extremely temperamental," and that his mood swings caused her "great fear and mental depression."

In 1954, Ellen married her second husband, Lord Victor Rothschild, of the famous banking dynasty. Rothschild's multi-faceted life as a scientist, politician, cricketer, banker, oilman and alleged Soviet spy contains enough intrigue to fill several volumes. His family name is routinely brought up in "Illuminati" conspiracy theories. Rothschild and Ellen divorced in 1966. The couple's daughter, Victoria Ellen, died while only three months old.

Ellen retreated from public life for the next 15 years before dying of cancer in Los Angeles. She was 60 years old.

Take a Closer Look Back

Ellen wasn't the only former Broadway star to appear in "Happy Go Lovely." Best known for his later turn as "The Joker" in the 1960s T.V. series "Batman," Cesar Romero was already an international heartthrob at the time of the film's release.

In 1946, 20th Century Fox chief Daryl Zanuck sent Romero and his good friend, Tyrone Power on a 10-week goodwill tour of 24 Latin American countries. The duo were swarmed with fans wherever they went and greeted by heads of state.

Romero (right) stands in front of Power's plane after the pair arrived back in Los Angeles. Image via UCLA Archives.

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I saw this movie last evening...what a breath of fresh air...this is the first time I heard of Vera. She was more talented than any actress including
the stars of today!!! Charming movie, keep showing it...so sorry the rest
of her life was so hard on her...