Actress Profile: Ginger Rogers (1911-1995)


This post is written in conjunction with the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted by Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence and ScribeHard on Film. A full day of Ginger Rogers films will air on TCM on August 12. 
 
Politics: staunch right wing Republican. She was a founding member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, an anti-Communist group that supported the Hollywood blacklist.
 
Religion: raised in Christian Science and remained an active member her entire life. She regularly attended 28th Church of Christ, Scientist, Los Angeles and wrote extensively about the importance of religion in her life in her autobiography.
 
Marriage: married five times, each marriage lasting less than 10 years. She first married at 17 to her dancing partner Jack Pepper. They divorced in 1931, and in 1934 she married actor Lew Ayres (HOLIDAY, 1938). In 1943 Rogers married budding actor and Marine Jack Briggs, but the couple divorced when he came back from WWII and was no longer interested in an acting career. In 1953 she married French actor Jacques Bergerac, who was much younger than he. They divorced after only four years. She was married longest to her fifth and final husband, producer/director William Marshall, from 1961-71.
Rogers with 2nd husband Lew Ayres
Relationship with her mother: Lela Rogers (1891-1977) was an instrumental on Ginger Rogers’ personal and professional life. At the outbreat of WWI, Lela had been one of the first ten women to join the Marine Corps. Lela had been a successful newspaper journalist, scriptwriter, and producer. While at RKO, Lela ran a workshop for the studio’s new talent, her students including Ann Miller, Joan Fontaine, Eve Arden, and Ginger’s lifelong friend Lucille Ball. Like her daughter, Lela was an active supporter of the anti-Communist movement in Hollywood, and she even testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Lela was also a practicing Christian Scientist. Mother and daughter remained close, and the two are interred together at Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery.
Ginger with her mother Lela Rogers
Relationship with Katharine Hepburn: Although the RKO studio publicity department tried to hype up a rivalry between the two actresses, Rogers and Hepburn’s careers are really too distinct to compare. Hepburn often played wealthy, educated, aristocratic dramatic roles, which Ginger was usually cast as a working girl with sass and sex appeal in musical romantic comedies. In 1937, the two personalities clashed when they were both cast in Gregory La Cava’s STAGE DOOR. Here is what the two had to say about working together (quotes taken from Charlotte Chandler‘s I Know Where I’m Going: Katharine Hepburn, A Personal Biography):

Ginger: She is snippy, you know, which is a shame. She was never on my side.

Hepburn: “Ginger and I didn’t know each other all that well, but there was no bad feeling I ever noticed on her part, and I can guarantee there was none on mine.”

Rogers: “We weren’t girlfriends. We didn’t know each other very well, unless sharing the same man at different times makes for a bond. I don’t think so.” (they both dated Howard Hughes)

Hepburn: “I never focused on my appearance before I went out in front of the camera… Ginger was quite the opposite of me. She always made a great fuss about her hair before she stepped into her scene.”

Rogers: “Katharine Hepburn played such different parts from me, almost opposites, and we were very different from each other. I’m very religious.” (Hepburn was not raised with religion, and both her brother and her father were doctors and this would have ideologically clashed with Rogers’ Christian Science principles. Also, Hepburn was radically liberal politically, while Rogers was incredibly conservative.)

Hepburn: “Though [STAGE DOOR] wasn’t my favorite film, I think Ginger must have only enhanced it.”

Rogers and Hepburn give each other the once-over in STAGE DOOR (1937)

Relationship with Fred Astaire: Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire made ten films together between 1933 and 1949. When they made FLYING DOWN TO RIO (1933), Rogers had already made 21 film, while Fred hadn’t made any (though he and sister Adele had already met fame and fortune as a Vaudeville act). Here are some things Fred and Ginger have said about each other over the years:

Fred: “She may have faked it a little, but she knew we had a good thing going.”

Ginger: “After all, it’s not as if we were Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. We did have careers apart from each other.”

Fred: “Ginger was brilliantly effective. She made everything work for her. Actually, she made things very fine for the both of us and she deserves most of the credit for our success.”

Ginger: “We had fun and it shows. True, we were never bosom buddies off the screen; we were different people with different interests. We were only a couple on film.”

Fred: “Of course [Ginger] was able to accomplish sex through dance. We told more through our movements instead of the big clinch. We did it all in the dance.”

Ginger: “I adore the man. I always have adored him. It was the most fortunate thing that ever happened to me, being teamed with Fred: he was everything a little starry-eyed girl from a small town ever dreamed of.”

From SWING TIME (1936)

These are the films airing tomorrow on TCM that I would recommend. I look forward to hearing about what you watch and which Ginger Rogers movies are your favorites. Enjoy!

As Kitty Foyle

KITTY FOYLE (1940) – 11:00 am: Roger’s one and only Oscar win

BACHELOR MOTHER (1939) – 1:00 pm: this rom-com is directed by Garson Kanin and co-stars David Niven
SHALL WE DANCE (1937) – 4:15 pm: the 7th of Fred and Ginger’s 10 films together includes the famous roller skating routine.
VIVACIOUS LADY (1937) – 6:15 pm: co-stars Jimmy Stewart
42ND STREET (1933) – 8:00 pm: one of the first times Rogers was noticed by audiences

SWING TIME (1936) – 9:45 pm: Fred and Ginger’s 6th film together includes “The Way You Look Tonight” and the famous Bojangles shadow dance sequence

STAGE DOOR (1937) – 11:45 pm: co-stars Katharine Hepburn and a community of wise-cracking theatre broads, including Lucille Ball and Eve Arden

THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY (1949) – 1:30 am: Fred and Ginger’s final film together was the only one they ever made in color, as well as the only film they ever made for MGM

14 thoughts on “Actress Profile: Ginger Rogers (1911-1995)

  • lipranzer

    Hepburn and Rogers may not have gotten along on Stage Door, but they work very well together. It’s on my all-time top 10. People talk about movies like Rio Bravo, American Graffiti, Dazed and Confused and others as great “hang-out” movies, meaning you just like hanging out with the characters. As much as I love those movies, I think Stage Door got there first. At any rate, nice write-up.

    • Margaret Perry

      You are so right. I could watch that movie a million times and still pick up new things each time! It’d actually be cool to watch that movie with the script in front of you to pick up all their littler quips and jibes. Thanks for commenting!

  • Christian Science, Fairfax

    Great writeup, Margie! Back in the late ’80’s my folks lived in Jacksonville, OR and were members of the Christian Science church in Medford, OR. We came to visit them at the ranch one year, and brought Nancy’s folks who were visiting from New York. We all went to church in Medford on Sunday and after church, there in the foyer stood Ginger Rogers! I said to my father in law, “Seth, look! There’s Ginger Rogers!” He looked from me towards where I was pointing with good humored disbelief, but then his eyes focused on her, and got very wide,–and he strode away from me towards her faster than I’d ever seen him move! She saw him coming and never flinched, but smiled and extended her hand to him. He gave her the usual, “I’ve seen ALL your movies” gush…and she couldn’t have been more gracious to a loyal, loving fan. She thanked him for introducing himself and said she hoped he’d enjoy his visit to the Rogue River Valley. She was a little heavier, and wore a bit too much makeup, I thought, but her smile was genuine, and she seemed like a famous actress trying not to be so much in the limelight any more, but she was just a legend in so many peoples’ minds, she knew she couldn’t help it, and had decided to be as gracious as she could be. It was a real life moment I’ll never forget.

  • Margaret Perry

    What a great story – thanks for sharing! I had asked around online on the CS network for stories of Ginger Rogers like this one, but didn’t hear back, so I’m really grateful you shared this. Glad you enjoyed my post!

  • VKMfanHuey

    Great Ginger story, CSF!!! Oh, to have met Ginger… my mom’s next door neighbor met her while they were both working for J.C. Penney in the early 70s… and, yes, I’ve GOTTA get out to Oregon one day, after hitting the Hollywood ‘GingerTrail’!!!

    And thanks for the Ginger post, MP! …while it’s obvious Ginger and Kate were quite opposite, I think they had a ‘fair’ view towards each other… I recently went to the Ginger Rogers Century exhibit at Boston University, and there were actually quite a few ‘nice’ notes and letters back and forth between the two…

    finally, here’s a ‘not-so-subtle’ invite to my blog, Gingerology ( jwhueyblog.blogspot.com) …if you haven’t checked it out, please do…we’d love to see y’all!!!

    As we say on G-ology,

    Keep it Gingery! (KIG)

    VKMfanHuey

    • Margaret Perry

      Would have loved to see those letters between KH and GR! I have been following your blog for a while now and am a huge fan – it’s nice to know there are others out there who choose to specialize in one star that they find fascinating. SO glad you enjoyed my post!

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