Vera Hruba Ralston was the unfortunate recipient of much teasing during her eighteen year career (from 1941-1958) at Republic. The head of the studio, Herbert John Yates, was madly in love with her and finally married her in 1952. Yates tried to make every single one of Vera Ralston's 26 movies look like it had been made at MGM or Paramount or Universal, anywhere but at lowly Republic. Therein lies the problem with a fair evaluation of Vera Ralston's skills as a film actress. Republic pictures looked their best when their filmmakers didn't try to mask their humble origins and Republic actors did their best work when they didn't feel like they were slumming it because their major studio careers were on the skids. Vera Ralston never worked anywhere besides Republic and she never got over her thrill of escaping her native Czechoslovakia to work in America as an American. (She received her U.S. citizenship in 1946.)
Her road to modest fame began as an ice skater: even though she was not in Sonja Henie's league as a prize winner or as a box office attraction, she did appear in three musical extravaganzas, 1941's "Ice Capades," 1942's "Ice Capades Revue" and 1944's "Lake Placid Serenade." Also in 1944, she was Janie Farrell in "The Lady And The Monster," perhaps her most fondly remembered film. It co-starred many actors who had once been A-players in Hollywood: Erich Von Stroheim as Professor Franz Mueller, Richard Arlen as Patrick Cory, Mary Nash as Mrs. Fame, Sidney Blackmer as Eugene Fulton and Helen Vinson as Chloe Donovan. It was based on Curt Siodmak's classic science fiction novel "Donovan's Brain" and was creepy enough to make everyone in the cast look like they were born to the genre, including the young and inexperienced Vera Ralston. Thanks to the Westerns Channel, I've seen more of Ralston's work over the years and she DID improve as an actress, despite being miscast in nearly every movie she made.
Vera Ralston once said that the role of Loxi Claborne (played by Paulette Goddard in 1942's "Reap The Wild Wind") was the part she most wanted to play. But she never received the guidance of Cecil B. De Mille or any other director of his caliber. Instead she worked with men like Joseph Santley, Bernard Vorhaus, Steve Sekely, John English, George Waggner, R.G. Springsteen, George Sherman, Allan Dwan, John Auer and TWELVE TIMES with her favorite, Joseph Kane, who had nothing but mean things to say about Vera Ralston as an actress. Kane was understandably angry that his boss, Mr. Yates, forced him to cast a Slavic blonde like Mrs. Yates, then 30, as a 14-year-old Asian child in 1953's "Fair Wind To Java." But Ralston herself always seemed oblivious to the studio intrigues that propelled and sustained her career. As for her male co-stars, several were so furious at being loaned out to Republic from bigger studios that they performed most of their romantic sequences opposite Vera Ralston with an indifference that bordered on nausea. Even worse, if TWO of her male co-stars were competing for her attention, they BOTH looked equally bored, sick AND UNPROFESSIONAL! This, of course, did nothing to increase the already dismal box office returns of Vera Ralston on screen.
Still, many years after the lawsuits against the lovesick Mr. Yates, Vera Ralston films can be more fun to watch than a batch of Greta Garbo flicks in which she listlessly wills herself to DIE when she can't have some GUY! Blanche Yurka, a great stage and film actress who worked with Vera Ralston on 1947's "The Flame," said, "Vera worked so hard to be a good actress that she won everyone's empathy." Maybe that's why, in retrospect, I enjoy her work so much. While so many of her less gallant colleagues seem to be disowning their own participation in her films, Vera Ralston took the high road, stayed in the game and did her best. For mm, this is ms.
© 2003 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 2/19/03