American Vaudeville Museum

All material © 1998-2011 American Museum of Vaudeville, Inc.  Page 42


Show business was never a safe bet as a career in the best of times, not even for those sublimely gifted. The Great Depression of the 1930s was the worst of times. Compounding the economic collapse of industries and a rapid spread of degrading poverty were changes in technology and public taste.

Tens of thousands of actors, dancers and singers performing simultaneously on the stages of hundreds of theatres coast-to-coast were replaced by a single voice singing into a microphone that transmitted to radio receivers in many American homes. A film that recorded the sights and sounds of musical performers and actors was copied and sent out to movie houses across the country—one performance by one cast replacing hundreds of live performances.

Only the more committed and disciplined talents succeeded. Vera-Ellen was one. She was born in a town outside Cincinnati, Ohio, to parents of German descent, Alma and Martin Rohe. Vera-Ellen was small for her age and bookish. Her parents encouraged her to take dance lessons, an activity that soon grew into a near obsession for their daughter.

American Vaudeville Museum