On the American Film Institute's list of Greatest Screen Legends, she is placed at number 14, but her partnership with Astaire in the ten movies they made together, was so extraordinarily good, so near to the ultimate in dancing perfection, that Ginger is in a sense condemned to have her own solo career forever overshadowed by her Astaire years.
Ginger Rogers was a very talented individual in fields other than acting and dancing. She was a natural athlete and played high standard golf and tennis. She was also a highly skilled artist and showed a great aptitude for painting and sculpting.
BiographyGinger Rogers was born as Virginia Katherine McMath in Independence, Missouri in July, 1911. She was called 'Ginja', a short form of Virginia, as a little girl, and the name stuck with her as 'Ginger'. The family moved to Texas when she was very young, but her parents went through a bitter divorce soon after and Ginger saw her father only rarely. He died when she was eleven years old.
Her mother was a screenwriter and was always very ambitious for her daughter. She left Ginger in the care of her own parents in Kansas City whilst she moved to Hollywood which was rapidly becoming the new venue for movie making and Ginger joined her in 1917. Ginger had already appeared in some commercial movies in Kansas City and she was already in love with the theater and show business. When she was nine her mother married John Logan Rogers and Ginger took his surname, although she was never legally adopted.
Early Dancing SuccessThe family later moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where Ginger went to High School and where she first began appearing in plays and musical revues. She was a naturally talented dancer and at age 14 she won the Texas State Charleston Championship. It was her first big break and the following year she began working the professional vaudeville circuit, as the front person for an act called 'Ginger and the Redheads'. She gained important experience and knowledge and in 1928, after her marriage to Jack Culpepper, the act was renamed 'Ginger and Pepper'.
Movie Actress 1930She was as much a singer as a dancer at this time and she began fronting the Paul Ashe Orchestra in New York. Within a short time she appeared in her first musical on Broadway, 'Top Speed'. She received good reviews during the five month run and attracted the attention of Paramount Pictures who in 1930, put her in 'Young Man of Manhattan', playing a flapper whose line, "Cigarette me, big boy," became a classic phrase in the language.
By now Ginger had star status and her first starring role on Broadway was in 'Girl Crazy' with Ethel Merman. She had two hit songs in the show and both have since become standards: 'Embraceable You' and 'But Not For Me'.
She signed a contract with Paramount and during the next year she divided her time between two successful careers - movie actress by day and Broadway theater star by night. When the Broadway run ended she continued to appear, invariably as the sassy, coquettish blonde, in a string of pictures such as 'The Sap from Syracuse', 'Follow the Leader', both in 1930, 'Honor Among Lovers' in 1931, 'The Tenderfoot', and 'Hat Check Girl' in 1932.
Hollywood 1933Ginger started to make her mark in the classic '42nd Street' in 1933, playing the wise-mouth chorus girl, Anytime Annie. Also in 1933 she appeared in 'Gold Diggers of 1933', the movie which really made her name, and in which she sang 'We're in the Money' and 'Sitting Pretty'. In all Ginger made 19 films for Paramount, before signing up for RKO studios. Her first film for them was 'Flying Down to Rio' in 1933, and it teamed her up with an established Broadway star named Fred Astaire.
Fred and GingerAstaire was a driven perfectionist well known on Broadway for his fierce rehearsals, repeating moves over and over again. He was to say later in his career, that of all his partners, the only one who never once cried during rehearsals was Ginger. She was a very sure, fast and athletic dancer and she complemented the slim, artistic Astaire perfectly. They stole the movie from the star, Dolores del Rio, and the public clamoured for more.
Ginger's life was now changed and her name would henceforth always be linked with that of Astaire. As a partnership they danced sublimely and they went on to make a total of nine movies together for RKO including such classics as 'Gay Divorcee' (1934), 'Top Hat' (1935), 'Follow the Fleet' (1936), 'Swing Time' (1936), and 'Shall We Dance' (1937). In 1949 they made a tenth movie together, this time for MGM - 'The Barkleys of Broadway'.
Solo CareerGinger made sure that her solo career continued during this period and for the next ten years she worked extremely hard making films in addition to those she made with Astaire. Many were quality light comedies such as 'Stage Door' in 1937 with Lucille Ball and Katharine Hepburn, and 'Vivacious Lady' in 1938. The following year she was in 'Bachelor Mother' and 'Fifth Avenue Girl' and in 1940 she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of a confused working-class girl in love with a wealthy man, in 'Kitty Foyle'. She followed this success the following year with 'Tom, Dick and Harry'. She was enjoying a purple patch and she continued with 'Roxie Hart', 'The Major and the Minor', and 'Once Upon a Honeymoon' in 1942, 'Tender Comrade' in 1943, and 'Lady in the Dark' and 'I'll Be Seeing You' in 1944. In 1942 she was the highest paid star in Hollywood. Ginger was on a roll.
Post-war DeclineAfter WWII her popularity faded and her movies lacked the vigour and distinction associated with Ginger. 'Weekend at the Waldorf' in 1945, 'Magnificent Doll' in 1946, and 'It Had to Be You' the following year were all disappointing and even her reunion with Astaire in 1949's 'The Barkleys of Broadway' lacked their pre-war magic.
The decline continued with a series of unsuitably dramatic movies in the 1950's, such as 'Perfect Strangers', and 'Storm Warning' in 1950, 'Dreamboat' in 1952, 'Forever Female' in 1953, and 'Black Widow' in 1954. Her Hollywood career ended with 1957's farcical 'Oh, Men! Oh, Women!', and her movie output slowed to a halt.
In 1965 she made 'Quick, Lets Get Married' and her final movie, 'Harlow' and in the same year she replaced Carol Channing on Broadway in a successful 18-month run of 'Hello! Dolly'.
PersonalGinger was married five times:
1929-31 Jack Edward Culpepper
1934-41 Lew Ayres
1943-49 Jack Briggs
1953-57 Jacques Bergerac
1961-71 William Marshall.
In the early 1970's, Ginger became the spokeswoman and fashion consultant for JC Penney, travelling thousands of miles across the country on their behalf. She continued to work and make public appearances until declining health confined her to a wheelchair. She wrote a well-received autobiography in 1991 entitled, "Ginger, My Story".
Ginger Rogers died from heart failure on April 25th, 1995 in California, at the age of 83. Her ashes are interred at Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, California.
Ginger Rogers Academy AwardsOne Win:
Best Actress ... Kitty Foyle (1940)
No Unsuccessful Nominations:
Ginger Rogers Filmography
A Day of a Man of Affairs
A Night in a Dormitory
Young Man of Manhattan
The Sap from Syracuse
Follow the Leader
Honor Among Lovers
Looking for Trouble
You Said a Mouthful
Gold Diggers of 1933
Don't Bet on Love
A Shriek in the Night
Chance at Heaven
Flying Down to Rio
Twenty Million Sweethearts
Change of Heart
The Gay Divorce
Romance in Manhattan
Star of Midnight
Follow the Fleet
Shall We Dance
Having Wonderful Time
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle
5th Ave Girl
Tom Dick and Harry
Tales of Manhattan
The Major and the Minor
Once Upon a Honeymoon
Lady in the Dark
I'll Be Seeing You
Week-End at the Waldorf
It Had to Be You
The Barkleys of Broadway