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Vera-Ellen was born Vera Ellen Westmeier Rohe in Norwood, Ohio. Her parents, Martin Rohe and Alma Catherine Westmeier, both descended from German immigrants.
She started dancing at age 9 and rapidly became highly skilled. At 16, she was a winner on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour, and so her career began.
She married twice, to dancer Robert Hightower (1941–1946) and later to the millionaire Victor Rothschild (1954–1966). Both marriages ended in divorce.
With Rothschild she had a daughter, Victoria Ellen Rothschild, but the baby died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in 1963.
Following Victoria's death, Vera-Ellen withdrew from public life. She eventually died of cancer in Los Angeles, California, on 30 August 1981.