Ginger Rogers

July 14, 2009

by Wendy
Guest Blogger

Is it possible to talk about Ginger Rogers without mentioning Fred Astaire? While the two are inextricably linked in one of the greatest dance partnerships of all time, the ten movies the pair did together are only a fraction of the seventy-plus movies Ginger made. Their first on-screen teaming inFlying Down to Rio marked Fred's second film... and Ginger's twentieth. So even though it may be what she is best remembered for, Ginger's career did not begin (or end) dancing with Fred Astaire.

Her success did start with dancing, however. After winning a Charleston contest at the age of 14, Ginger began touring, eventually performing on Broadway and making her way to Hollywood. While she didn't like being pigeon-holed as only a singing and dancing girl, even in her non-musical films there are often scenes where Ginger dances. Of all her dancing partners, both on and off the screen, who were her favorites? In her autobiography, Ginger explained that for her, part of the joy in dancing came when the man could carry on a conversation without losing the rhythm. Among those getting a ten on her dance card: choreographer Hermes Pan, Jimmy Stewart, and Cary Grant.

Ginger got a chance to step away from musicals and play a more serious role in 1940's Kitty Foyle. For her strong performance, Ginger was nominated for an Academy Award. In the first year the results were kept secret until the ceremony, the suspense ended with Ginger Rogers winning the Oscar for Best Actress, beating out Katherine Hepburn, Joan Fontaine, and Bette Davis -- fierce competition indeed!

In addition to her dramatic skills, Ginger also had a knack for comedic roles. My favorite example of this is Billy Wilder's The Major and the Minor. In a role tailored for her, Ginger plays a woman who gets stuck pretending to be years younger than she really is, all because she wants to get a cheaper train fare home. (Ginger herself used to enact this charade to travel more cheaply during the early days of her career.) The movie also gave Ginger a chance to act with her mother, with whom she had a very close relationship. Ginger said she had more fun making this film than any other except forKitty Foyle, and it shows, for the film is delightful.

That sense of fun is present in many of Ginger's movies, and is part of what adds to her appeal. She makes dancing with Fred look like the best time ever, even though it was definitely a lot of hard work. She's graceful, beautiful, yet manages to display (even while dancing) a sense of humor, making her seem more down-to-earth. She can also be incredibly cute, like in Gold Diggers of 1933 where she sings "We're in the Money" in pig Latin (which came about only because production chief Darryl F. Zanuck heard her practicing that way). There's also a sharpness to her, an alert, intelligent look and a wonderful delivery of witty dialogue. Take Stage Door for an example, where the director listened to the off-camera chit-chat of the actresses and worked it into the lines -- who knows which of the barbs delivered may have come from Ginger?

That range Ginger had keeps me fascinated with her, always happy when I discover another one of her movies. In her films she's tender, natural, funny, smart, amazingly watchable and relatable. Who was she? Actress, dancer, singer, comedienne. Not Fred & Ginger. The very talented Ginger Rogers.


vivienne strauss said...

Very nice portrait and post on Ginger Rogers. I admit that while I never actively watch something just because it has Ginger Rogers in it I have enjoyed just about everything I've seen her in and am heading to Netflix right now to see what I may have missed. Stage Door is one of my faves but now you've got my curiosity up for The Major and the Minor.

Abe Lucas said...

I knew the 1930s were for me the moment I went gah-gah for Ginger. Even among the many chorines in those Busby Berkeley musicals you just knew that she had "it." One of my favorites.

Great write up and great art, as always, ladies.

Millie said...

An amazing post Wendy! I just adore Ginger Rogers...

And, Kate...that drawing is absolutely magnificent! You captured Ginger perfectly!

Elizabeth said...

Terrific post! I love Ginger Roger's movies, especially the ones before Fred where she's a wise cracking chorus girl.

The picture is STUNNING Kate!

Terence Towles Canote said...

That is a great post, and a great portrait of Ginger. I always thought it was shame that most people thought of her only as a dancer (although she was one of the greats), as she was a great dramatic actress as well.

Juliette. said...

How marvelous-- that sketch is perfect!

Whenever I "introduce" Ginger to anyone, I always show either Stage Door or the Pig Latin scene from Gold Diggers to them. :)

Wendymoon said...

Kate, thanks for letting me come play on your blog with this post. Your drawing came out beautifully!

Thanks for the nice comments, everyone. I'm glad I'm not alone in thinking Ginger deserves some credit for her career sans Fred. :-)

BethRose said...

this is a grogeous biography, on my favourite actress! Gotta agree 100% with C.K Dexter, even as part of a chorus Ginger shines, this is for me particularly noticable in 42nd street during the final numbers, especially young and healthy, where perhaps not the most gorgeous, she catches your eye every time she's on camera! And the Major and the Minor is a must!

Anonymous said...

a beautiful drawing wendy :)
I love movies and I enjoy
both kate's and your blogs

Meredith said...

ginger rogers was a true triple threat and i wish more people would recognize her individual talent! i absolutely adore her films with fred astaire, but as you point out there is so much more to her work. as she put it so aptly (i think in an interview i watched with her) it was a partnership, and as much as I love fred it doesn't seem fair that her side of the pairing always gets overshadowed.

i think the major and the minor is probably my favorite of hers. classic!

Juliette. said...

Agreed. Plus, didn't Fred have something in his will saying there were never to be y portrayals of him in films? Which stinks because most people attach him to Ginger, so no Fred biopic likely means none for Ginger either.

Oh, and Meredith-- I checked out you blog, but was unable to leave a comment for some reason. Anyway, it's lovely...I never knew Barbara Stanwyck had a birthday the day after mine. :)