Vera Ralston

Vera Ralston
Vera Ralston

Vera Ralston was born in 1919 in Czechoslovakia.   She was very famous as an ice skater before making films.   She emigated to the U.S. in the early 1940’s.   She married Herbert J. Yates the owner of Republic Studios and made over 25 films including “Fair Wind to Java”, “Storm Over Lisbon” and “Dakota”.   Vera Ralston died in 2003.

Ronald Bergan’s obituary in “The Guardian”:

There were few Hollywood actors of the studio era who suffered from as many snide remarks as the Czech-born ice-skater-turned-star Vera Hruba Ralston, who has died aged 81. This was not only because her acting was rather wooden, and her accent thick, but because she was married to Herbert J Yates, the head of Republic Pictures, the man who foisted her on an unwilling public.

Her performance improved slightly from picture to picture, whether in thrillers, romances, westerns or costume dramas, but she was never a box-office attraction. Yates’s fixation was such that he forced exhibitors to run her films by threatening to withhold more popular Republic products from them; it was one of the reasons for the studio’s demise.

She first caught Yates’s attention in 1939 when she toured the US with a show called Ice Vanities. As Vera Hruba, she had won a silver medal at the 1937 Berlin Olympics; she had gone to America with her mother after the Nazis invaded Prague.

In 1941, Yates cast Vera – and the entire company of Ice-Capades – in a film of the same name, an inconsequential musical which revolved around skating numbers. This was followed by Ice-Capades Revue a year later. Then, in 1943, Yates signed Hruba to a long-term contract, adding Ralston to her name. Four years later, at 67, he left his wife and children for the 27-year-old, before marrying her in 1952. He had hoped that Ralston would rival Henie, at 20th Century Fox, billing her as a star who “skated out of Czechoslovakia into the hearts of America”. But after Lake Placid Serenade (1944), she was rarely seen on ice.

Her first real acting role was opposite Erich Von Stroheim and Richard Arlen in The Lady And The Monster (1944), all three of them appearing in Storm Over Lisbon the same year. Still in the B-movie category was Dakota (1945), in which Ralston waited patiently at home while husband John Wayne settled railroad disputes. She co-starred with Wayne again in The Fighting Kentuckian (1949).

Mainly, Ralston was confined to more than a dozen films made by Republic’s journeyman director Joseph Kane. According to Kane, “Vera could have made it rough on everyone, but she never took advantage of that situation. Although she never became a good actress, she was cooperative, hardworking and eager to please.”

Despite this, it was reported that Wayne threatened to leave the studio if forced to work with Ralston again, and Sterling Hayden was offered a bonus to appear opposite her in Timberjack (1955).

Kane directed Ralston in perhaps her best film, Fair Wind To Java (1953), a good adventure yarn with Fred MacMurray as a cynical captain, who falls for native girl Ralston while in search of south seas treasure. The fact that she had a Czech accent was not explained.

In 1956, two Republic stockholders filed a lawsuit against Yates for using company assets to promote his wife as a star, and giving her brother producer status at a salary far beyond his worth. Two years later, Yates had to relinquish his post, and Ralston retired. When he died in 1966, Yates left his wife half of his estate, valued at more than $10m. In 1973, she married businessman Charles DeAlva, 11 years her junior, who survives her.

· Vera Hruba Ralston, ice skater and actor, born June 12 1921; died February 9 2003

The above “Guardian” obituary can also be accessed online here.

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