April 12, 2016

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Poetry Postcard 10

The 44 Postcard Project has taken me to some strange and unexpected places. One of the most fascinating -- researching the life of MGM dancer and starlet Vera-Ellen.

Children's author (Hugging the Rock) and poet Susan Taylor Brown donated this postcard for my project:

Susan shared that this postcard was
sent to her mother by a pen pal from Holland.
Vera Ellen? I'm a fan of movie musicals, but she didn't look familiar. She should have.

Vera Ellen, who started dancing as a way to gain strength after a childhood illness, partnered with the greatest onscreen dancers. Ever.

She was in:

On the Town, opposite Gene Kelly
White Christmas, opposite Danny Kaye

and Three Little Words,
with the great Fred Astaire.
Inexplicably, Vera Ellen never broke through to the level of fame that her co-stars achieved. Remember this scene from White Christmas?

She had a difficult life, which you can read about here, and died as a recluse.

The postcard Susan sent me is a publicity shot from On the Town. It comes from a lengthy dance number: "Miss Turnstiles."

My poem went out to a Baltimore poet who shares my love for classic musicals. I'll follow it with my favorite Vera Ellen dance routine, also from White Christmas.

Vera Ellen

learned to dance at ten
after an illness made her weak,
took to it, tap danced on her toes
from Ohio to Broadway,
partnered Kelly and Astaire,
the studio loved
her apple blossom appeal,
her tiny waist -- the smallest
in showbiz -- a debt
to anorexia that she
must repay, but not before
vamping on the red carpet
in skintight gold lamé
that shocked reporters,
she quipped, Why not?
Isn’t this what Oscar
always wears?

by Laura Shovan

Just WOW.

Thank you so much for sending the card, Susan. I loved watching the old movie clips. And I feel life my life is a little bit richer because I learned -- and learned to appreciate -- Vera Ellen.

P.S. Project watchers. I went hunting in my basement office for some old art postcards I thought I'd saved. Can you believe I found a stash of over 40 cards, some of them dating back to my 1989 summer at the University of London.

Here's a peek:

I'll post details on my postcard stash later.


Diane Mayr said...

I can't tell you how many times I've seen White Christmas, yet I never learned Judy's real name. Thanks for the re-introduction!

Author Amok said...

Hi, Diane. Thanks for checking out the post. After researching Vera-Ellen, I want to go back and watch White Christmas and On the Town again. I don't think I've ever seen Three Little Words. They are all going on my list. She was so talented!

Tabatha said...

Great ending to your poem! What a story. Thanks for letting us know about Vera Ellen. Your art postcard collection looks inspiring!

Author Amok said...

Thanks, Tabatha. I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds her fascinating.

I have some cards from postcard books: Matisse, a set of contemporary women artists, a set of famous authors. But I also have cards from museums in New York and London. And then some random stuff. I couldn't believe how much was there!

Linda B said...

Sad to think we all 'know' who she is, but couldn't place her name. Maybe it was the name that didn't work? I'm amazed that any one with anorexia could be so physical. Your poem gives her a lovely tribute, Laura. My sister-in-law & I used to watch those old movies tougher & loved "sisters". Thanks for telling about her. And great that you found more postcards. Your project is opening up new memories, isn't it?

Author Amok said...

Hi, Linda. I'm glad this post struck a chord with so many people. I don't know if it's true anymore, but I remember reading a ballerina's memoir in high school (1980s) that said anorexia is common among dancers. Pressure to be thin, have the perfect tiny, toned body, especially in ballet.

Yes, I'm surprised where this project is leading me! Lots of bird-calls in the last week.

Liz Steinglass said...

I really love the end of the poem and her "Why not?"