Ginger Rogers, Soaring Past Fred Astaire's Shadow
The Best Way To Remember Ginger Rogers: Backwards
If I start out by telling you that Ginger Rogers (See ), a devout Christian Scientist, died at age 83, unattended by a physician but soothed by prayers, you'd be right to say I'm telling the story backwards. Ginger: My Story
But isn't that exactly how she's best remembered - doing every step Fred Astaire did, backwards? And in high heels?
Astaire, whose own dance steps defied gravity, is said to have remarked that Ginger deserved most of the credit for their success.
That she did so well in the arms of the demanding Astaire becomes even more impressive when you learn that Ginger had never danced with a partner before dancing with him.
According to Astaire,
"She faked it an awful lot. She couldn't tap and she couldn't do this and that ... but Ginger had style and talent and improved as she went along. She got so that after a while everyone else who danced with me looked wrong."
During their years together, Ginger was frustrated when RKO, where the 's films were made, refused to pay her as much as Astaire. Revenge was sweet, though, after the dance team separated and she made movies on her own. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
With a string of hits, she became the highest paid performer in Hollywood.
It's ironic that, before and after her unforgettable series of films with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers scored independent successes that get lost in the bright lights radiating from her shorter dancing career.
Unforgettable, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire - Or Should That Be Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Backward
The may nine movies together. Here are some collection that let you get your hands on some or all of them.
Fred and Ginger built an act that no one could ever duplicate, probably because there was only one Fred and he found his perfect match. It's too bad neither really got to show off their acting skills. They were too busy dancing.
Best of Fred and Ginger, Complete Films
Another collection to pick from at an impressive price.
Limitless Range in Characters
A Song And A Dance In Her Heart
Ginger Rogers Was Born To Star
With only a little vaudeville, radio singing and a single Broadway show to her credit, Ginger became an overnight star at 19, sharing the spotlight with Ethel Merman in George and Ira Gershwin's Girl Crazy.
Never fully appreciated for her voice, she introduced their classics Embraceable You and But Not For Me in the show.
In her films with Astaire as a duet, she also introduced I'm Putting All My Eggs In One Basket, a classic from the legendary pen of Irving Berlin; Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields' A Fine Romance; and another Gershwin tune that's never left the pop repertoire, Let's Call The Whole Thing Off.
But no matter how you pronounced potato or tomato, Ginger was an original who earned her fame with Astaire, but was also a standout actress who won an Oscar for her serious role in Kitty Foyle, a 1940 film that finds her trapped in the class struggles Americans endured before World War II brought a new unity to the nation.
By 1941, only two years after her string of hits with Astaire ended (They'd reunite for The Barkelys of Broadway, ten years later.), her popular film roles - without dancing - led TIME magazine to call her,
"...the flesh and blood symbol of the United States working girl,"
a compliment few would have have predicted while she and Astaire mesmerized audiences with numbers that seemed impossible and were - for any other team.
(Photo credit for Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle, Creative Commons license)
Two years after she and Fred made their last RKO picture, Ginger won an Academy Award for this role.
Oscar Winner - Kitty Foyle
Ginger Rogers, A Movie Star In Her Own Right
It may be blasphemy, but the Ginger Rogers of her partnership with Fred Astaire strikes me as a kind of ice queen, remote and aloof.
The dancing is astonishing, but although critics have claimed that, in spirit, Fred gave Ginger class while she gave him sex appeal, it wasn't that way for me.
Give me the Ginger Rogers of Tom, Dick and Harry, Roxy Heart, and Kitty Foyle, and that doesn't count her matching postures with Katharine Hepburn in Stage Door, while still making movies with Fred Astaire.
Those characters are more down to earth and more closely aligned with Ginger's real life personality. There wasn't much "second fiddle" in Ginger, and with her in the lead, movies burned with special energy.
Taking first the not so well-known Tom, Dick and Harry, Ginger, then 30 years old, convincingly plays a girl in her first job out of high school, boy crazy, and beautiful as she is, a trap for George Murphy, Burgess Meredith and Alan Marshal, all three at the same time.
Murphy is a smug car salesman who tries to possess her, Marshal a wealthy business owner who wines and dines her, and Meredith a proto-beatnik with a kicked back, non-materialist take on the world. What makes the movie even more fun is Phil Silvers who pops in for several comedy turns.
In the end, Burgess Meredith wins, driving off with Ginger, much to the consternation of Murphy, an arch-conservative who later became a U.S. Senator and blamed the film for helping foment the hippie movement more than twenty years later. Really.
It was during the filming of Tom, Dick and Harry that Ginger won her Academy Award for Kitty Foyle.
The roles were very different, one perky, one resilient and determined, but both were all Ginger Rogers.
Speaking of her skill at adapting to roles, a year later, she starred in The Major and The Minor, at 31, playing a woman masquerading as a 12 year old.
In the same year, she played the title role in Roxy Heart, a role that later inspired the long running Broadway Musical Chicago.
In this movie, Ginger was the complete opposite of her characters with Fred Astaire, all grown up, sexy, strong enough to stand on her own and a drama queen. She takes the blame for a murder her husband, Amos, commits and goes through a trial, a divorce, and competing marriage proposals before rejecting a wealthy man in favor of regular guy with whom she has six children.
Now is that versatile, or what?
(Image credit: Ginger Rogers, Working Girl, Creative Commons license)
Ginger Rogers Without Fred, Songs or Dances
Ginger Rogers will probably always be best remembered for her work with Fred Astaire. But she made her greatest mark while performing solo. These films may not be as well known, but they helped her make a lot more money.
Favorite Movies With Ginger Rogers - My Favorites, Anyway
At 30, she plays much younger in "Tom, Dick and Harry," and then, a year later, she plays a woman masquerading as a 12 year old. Amazing.
30 years old, Ginger plays a perky, sexy 20 year old and has men bouncing off the walls in competition for her.
Then, she played a 12 year old. Convincingly.
Here, in a major role while still teaming with Fred Astaire elsewhere, she joins a cast that includes Katharine Hepburn and one of my favorites, Ann Miller.
Ginger Before Hollywood and Fred Astaire
When Not In Front Of A Camera
Not the Life of a Star
What makes Ginger Rogers stand out most is that her successes came in spite of the fact that she was so off type. She was not “Hollywood.”
She neither drank nor smoked, and she stayed devoutly religious all of her life.
On the day Ginger Rogers died, she asked her caregiver to get call her designated Christian Science healer, not a doctor, and in her last hour, he read her passages from the Bible as she eased into the afterlife.
But the way she’d found resonance in roles of not so nice girls through her career suggested an awareness of the not so sanctified corners of reality. The realities of the show business life weren’t something she closed her eyes to.
In fact, to go along with affairs with Cary Grant and Howard Hughes during her years as Fred Astaire’s dance partner, Ginger was married - and divorced - five times.
Aside from her irrepressible talent and her religion, the one consistent element in her life was her mother Lela, a remarkable character in her own right, who was her coach, manager and most loyal fan.
(Image credit for Ginger Rogers at 20, Creative Commons license)
Embraceable You, Introduced by Ginger Rogers - George and Ira Gershwin Classic
Originally, she sung this in her first Broadway hit, "Girl Crazy."
Ginger Rogers Playing The Vivacious Nice Girl - In "Tom, Dick and Harry"
With the man who wins her heart, a young Burgess Meredith
Honored by The Nation At The Kennedy Center - Ginger Rogers, An Official Legend
Ginger's Resting Place
What Happens After The Late Movie Ends
Ginger Rogers Finishes Her Career On Stage
Twenty years after leaving Broadway for movie stardom, Ginger Rogers returned to the stage where she'd first found success.
By 1959, her career on film was dwindling and her return to the theatre a renewed success. She starred in productions from Annie Get Your Gun to Hello Dolly.
In 1969, probably her greatest stage achievement came when she took the title role in Mame at the Drury Lane Theater in London.
She was, at that moment, the highest paid performer ever in the British counterpart of Broadway, the West End.
By then, her last movie was four years behind her and only periodic stage work followed. In her late years, her performances included some minor roles on television, including an episode of Here's Lucy, in 1971, with her pal Lucille Ball.
Beyond the glare of her stardom as a dancing actress with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers was a meteoric success at everything she tried (except marriage.)
After her mother died in 1977, she saw the curtain slowly fall on her public career, the key to the success of which she believed was "to be warm" with her audiences. In that way, she melted all ice anywhere nearby, including her own.
Ginger always ended her telephone conversations with, "God bless you," and in fact, the Creator she believed in certainly did, including her as well as her audiences.
(Image credit: Ginger Rogers Grave With Her Mother's)
Ginger Rogers, An Inside Look
Ginger Rogers autobiography tells the story as it happened on the far side of the camera.
One Last Dance with Fred Astaire
© 2013 David Stone