Vilma Ebsen (February 1, 1911 – March 12, 2007) was an American musical theatre and film actress best known for dancing in Broadway shows and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals in the 1930s with her more famous brother, Buddy Ebsen.
Ebsen was born in Belleville, Illinois. During her childhood, her family relocated to Florida. She learned to dance at her father's dance studio in Orlando, Florida, in the 1920s. Vilma and Buddy Ebsen moved to New York in 1928, where they formed a vaudeville act. One of their first appearances together was in Eddie Cantor's Ziegfeld production, Whoopee.
When Whoopee closed after a year and a half, Vilma and Buddy Ebsen took their act to Atlantic City, where they caught the eye of celebrity columnist Walter Winchell. A one-paragraph rave in Winchell's column lifted the Ebsens from obscurity.
Vilma and Buddy Ebsen performed their dance act on Broadway, as well as around the United States in vaudeville theatres and supper clubs throughout the early 1930s. Some of the Broadway productions they starred in were Flying Colors (1932) and Ziegfeld Follies of 1934. They came to Hollywood in 1935, where Vilma Ebsen starred in one film, playing Sally Burke in Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935).
After the success of Broadway Melody of 1936, the studio decided to separate the Ebsens. Vilma Ebsen was not interested in accepting Louis B. Mayer's offer to make her "the next Myrna Loy" and moved back to New York with her husband, composer and bandleader Robert Emmett "Bobby" Dolan, whom she had married on June 24, 1933. Back in New York, she appeared in one more Broadway musical comedy, Between the Devil, with British dancing stars Jack Buchanan, Evelyn Laye, and Adele Dixon. This show ran from December 22, 1937, until March 12, 1938.
She then retired from show business to become a full-time homemaker. She and Dolan moved to Pacific Palisades, California, in 1941. They had one child, a son named Robert, but later divorced in January 1948. Later that year she married tennis player Stanley Briggs. They also had a son, Michael.
In the 1950s she opened a dance school in Pacific Palisades with her sister, Helga, which was also partially funded by their brother, Buddy. Her son Robert Dolan was one of the dance teachers. Another was Arthur Mahoney, a ballet master from New York. The school offered lessons in tap, jazz, ballet, and ballroom dance. It also gave annual dance recitals and cotillions at the Riveria Country Club, Deauville Beach Club, and other notable venues.
The Ebsen Dance Studio was in a large two story building on Swarthmore Drive, and Vilma and Helga lived in a house behind the studio. The studio had a large room below and several smaller dance rooms above. The studio staged a community theatre production of "Teahouse of the August Moon" circa 1960, but thereafter discontinued its community theatre and dismantled the stage to enlarge the space into a larger dance area.
She died at the age of 96 in Thousand Oaks, California.
- "Filmography from Internet Movie Database".
- "Vilma Ebsen, 96, Stage Partner and Sister of Buddy Ebsen, Dies". Associated Press. March 26, 2007.
- Personal recollections of Robert G. Benson, who had direct knowledge of Vilma, Helga, Robert, Arthur, and the operations of the dance studio from the late 1950s through mid 1960s.