Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, back again to commend our savvy audience for rising yet again to the challenge of identifying various personalities that, shall we say, were less than household names in their time.
As we noted in our Dec. 15 blog — Who Is Bob Hope’s Classy Leading Lady?— no other comedian in film history starred opposite so many beauties. And From the 1930s to the 1970s, Hope appeared with some of the screen’s most alluring women: Hedy Lamarr, Anita Eckberg, Virginia Mayo, Lana Turner, Jane Russell and, of course, Dorothy Lamour.
All of them were pretty well known at the time they appeared with Hope. But one was, let’s say, less well known. We asked you to name her. (Confession: Joe knew but Frank was clueless.)
No sooner had we posted our Hope blog than the answer came pouring in. Not only was our mystery costar identified, but obscure samples of her movie work were referenced.
That’s Vera Zorina, emailed Taci.
Not long ago I saw her in ‘Follow the Boys’ with George Raft. Incidentally, that’s the movie in which Raft (who is playing her husband) also shows his dancing ability.
Thanks for reminding us about 1944’s Follow the Boys, Taci. The picture is certainly worth another look (are you listening, TCM?). Raft and Zorina share top billing in this movie catchall from Universal designed as a World War II morale booster.
The eclectic cast includes the Andrews Sister, Sophie Tucker, Orson Welles, W.C. Fields, Donald O’Connor, Marlene Dietrich, among others, each contributing specialty bits. Welles, for example, performs a magic show (yes, he was pretty good at it). Arthur Rubinstein turns up on the piano. It was all upbeat, mostly music and comedy bits.
This was an ideal setting for Raft (and Zorina) to show off their considerable dancing skills. Vera was born in Germany in 1917, and commenced a career in ballet at the age of 4 (no kidding.) She later ditched her real name (Eva Brigitta Hartwig) in favor of a Russian sounding monicker largely because the ballet world back then was dominated by Russian-born talent.
By the late Thirties, Vera had been discovered by Samuel Goldwyn, had made her movie debut, had married choreographer-director George Balanchine and was soon destined to costar at Twentieth Century Fox in the movie cited by our next correspondent.
Emailed Whistingypsy: I also recognize Vera Zorina (often simply Zorina) from her role in ‘I Was An Adventuress’ (1940) with Peter Lorre and Erich von Stroheim.
This crime caper directed by Gregory Ratoff is definitely worth another look-see. Zorina portrays a phony European countess in cahoots with a pair of swindlers (Lorre and von Stroheim, all pictured above) but bails out after falling in love with an intended victim (British actor Richard Greene, who turned up as Robin Hood on TV in the Fifties).
The picture is worth seeing alone for the presence of the great Spanish-born character actor, Fortunio Bonanova, best known for his unforgettable turn as Dorothy Comingore’s frustrated vocal coach in Citizen Kane.
By the late Forties, Zorina exited Hollywood. But not, of course, before appearing opposite Hope in 1941’s Louisiana Purchase, the movie version of a the Broadway musical which also starred Zorina. In 1946, she began a long marriage to Goddard Lieberson, a highly influential figure in the classical music world as president of Columbia Records.
Zorina later directed productions at the Sante Fe (New Mexico) Opera Company. She died in Sante Fe in 2003 at the age of 86.