Nationality: American. Born: Virginia Katherine McMath in Independence, Missouri, 16 July 1911; adopted name of stepfather, Rogers. Education: Attended Benton Boulevard Elementary School, Kansas City; Sixth Ward Elementary School and Central High School, both in Fort Worth, Texas. Family: Married 1) the dancer Jack Pepper (Edward Jackson Culpepper), 1929 (divorced 1931); 2) the actor Lew Ayres, 1934 (divorced 1940); 3) the actor Jack Briggs, 1943 (divorced 1949); 4) the actor Jacques Bergerac, 1953 (divorced 1957); 5) William Marshall, 1961 (divorced 1970). Career: 1925—stage debut in Eddie Foy's vaudeville troupe; then toured for next few years as dancer, first with Jack Pepper, later as a solo act; 1929—New York debut in musical comedy Top Speed ; 1930—feature film debut in Young Man of Manhattan ; 1933—first film with Fred Astaire, Flying Down to Rio ; 1951—on Broadway in Love and Let Love : later stage work in Hello, Dolly! in New York and tour, 1965–67, Mame in London, 1969, Coco on tour, 1971, Our Town in Sherman, Texas, 1972; 1971—fashion consultant to J. C. Penney chain; 1976—formed a nightclub review; 1985—directed play Babes in Arms , performed in Tarrytown, New York. Awards: Best Actress Academy Award, for Kitty Foyle , 1940. Died: In Rancho Mirage, California, 25 April 1995.
A Night in a Dormitory (Delmar—short); A Day of a Man of Affairs (Basil Smith—short)
Office Blues (Blumenstock—short) (as secretary); Campus Sweethearts (Meehan—short); Young Man of Manhattan (Bell) (as Puff Randolph); Queen High (Newmeyer) (as Polly Rockwell); The Sap from Syracuse ( The Sap from Abroad ) (A. Edward Sutherland) (as Ellen Saunders); Follow the Leader (Taurog) (as Mary Brennan)
Honor among Lovers (Arzner) (as Doris Blake); The Tip-Off ( Looking for Trouble ) (Rogell) (as Baby Face); Suicide Fleet (Rogell) (as Sally)
Screen Snapshots (short); Hollywood on Parade (Oakie—short); Carnival Boat (Rogell) (as Honey); The Tenderfoot (Enright) (as Ruth); The Thirteenth Guest ( Lady Beware ) (Albert Ray) (as Marie Morgan/Lela); Hat Check Girl (Lanfield) (as Jessie King); You Said a Mouthful (Lloyd Bacon) (as Alice Brandon)
Hollywood on Parade, No. 9 (short); 42nd Street (Lloyd Bacon) (as Ann Lowell, "Anytime Annie"); Broadway Bad ( Her Reputation ) (Lanfield) (as Flip Daly); Gold Diggers of 1933 (LeRoy) (as Fay Fortune); Professional Sweetheart ( Imaginary Sweetheart ) (Seiter) (as Glory Eden); A Shriek in the Night (Albert Ray) (as Patricia Morgan); Don't Bet on Love (Roth) (as Molly Gilbert); Sitting Pretty (Harry Joe Brown) (as Dorothy); Flying Down to Rio (Freeland) (as Honey Hale); Chance at Heaven (Seiter) (as Marje Harris)
Rafter Romance (Seiter) (as Mary Carroll); Finishing School (Tuchock and Nicholls Jr.) (as Cecelia "Pony" Ferris); Twenty Million Sweethearts (Enright) (as Peggy Cornell); Change of Heart (Blystone) (as Madge Roundtree); Upperworld (Del Ruth) (as Lily Linder); The Gay Divorcee (Sandrich) (as Mimi Glossop); Romance in Manhattan (Roberts) (as Sylvia Dennis)
Roberta (Seiter) (as Countess Scharwenka/Lizzie Gatz); Star of Midnight (Roberts) (as Donna Mantin); Top Hat (Sandrich) (as Dale Tremont); In Person (Seiter) (as Carol Corliss)
Follow the Fleet (Sandrich) (as Sherry Martin); Swing Time (Stevens) (as Penelope "Penny" Carrol)
Shall We Dance (Sandrich) (as Linda Keene); Stage Door (La Cava) (as Joan Maitland)
Having Wonderful Time (Santell) (as Thelma "Teddy" Shaw); Vivacious Lady (Stevens) (as Frances "Francey" Brent); Carefree (Sandrich) (as Amanda Cooper)
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (Potter) (as Irene Foote Castle); Bachelor Mother (Kanin) (as Polly Parrish); Fifth Avenue Girl (La Cava) (as Mary Grey)
Primrose Path (La Cava) (as Ellie May Adams); Lucky Partners (Milestone) (as Jean Newton); Kitty Foyle (Wood) (title role)
Tom, Dick, and Harry (Kanin) (as Janie)
Roxie Hart (Wellman) (title role); Tales of Manhattan (Duvivier) (as Diane); The Major and the Minor (Wilder) (as Susan Applegate); Once upon a Honeymoon (McCarey) (as Katie O'Hara/Katharine Butte-Smith)
Show Business at War ( March of Times series) (short); Tender Comrade (Dmytryk) (as Jo Jones)
Lady in the Dark (Leisen) (as Liza Elliott); Safeguarding Military Information (WWII training film); Battle Stations (as narrator); I'll Be Seeing You (Dieterle) (as Mary Marshall)
Weekend at the Waldorf (Leonard) (as Irene Malvern)
Heartbeat (Wood) (as Arlette Lafon); Magnificent Doll (Borzage) (as Dolley Paine Madison)
It Had to Be You (Hartman and Mate) (as Victoria Stafford)
The Barkleys of Broadway (Walters) (as Dinah Barkley)
Perfect Strangers ( Too Dangerous to Love ) (Windust) (as Terry Scott)
Storm Warning (Heisler) (as Marsha Mitchell); The Groom Wore Spurs (Whorf) (as Abigail J. Furnival)
We're Not Married (Edmund Goulding) (as Ramona); Monkey Business (Hawks) (as Edwina Fulton); Dreamboat (Binyon) (as Gloria)
Forever Female (Rapper) (as Beatrice Page); Black Widow (Nunnally Johnson) (as Lottie); Twist of Fate ( Beautiful Stranger ) (Miller) (as Johnny Victor)
Tight Spot (Karlson) (as Sherry Conley)
The First Traveling Saleslady (Lubin) (as Rose Gillray); Teenage Rebel (Edmund Goulding) (as Nancy Fallon); Oh, Men! Oh, Women! (Nunnally Johnson) (as Mildred Turner)
The Confession ( Seven Different Ways ; Quick, Let's Get Married ) (Dieterle) (as Mme. Rinaldi)
Harlow (Segal) (as Mama Jean); Cinderella (Dubin—for TV) (as the Queen)
George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey (Stevens Jr.—doc)
That's Entertainment! III (Friedgen and Sheridan—compilation)
Ginger: My Story , New York, 1991.
"How I Got My First Job," in Dance , December 1931.
"Roger!," interview with M. Arnold, in Photoplay (New York), August 1949.
"Candid Comments by an Actress," interview with Richard L. Coe, in New York Times , 23 September 1951.
"Doctor Ginger Rogers," interview with R. C. Hay, in Inter/View (New York), October 1972.
"Ginger Rogers: Things Do Seem to Pan Out," interview with Christine Winter, in Chicago Tribune , 1 December 1974.
"Taps for Ginger Rogers," interview with J. Goldberg, in Village Voice (New York), 15 March 1976.
"Ginger," interview with Andy Warhol, in Interview (New York), April 1976.
"And What Is Ginger Up To?," interview with J. Klemesrud, in Esquire (New York), August 1976.
Richards, Dick, Ginger: Salute to a Star , Brighton, 1969.
Croce, Arlene, The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book , New York, 1972.
Smith, Milburn, editor, Astaire and Rogers , New York, 1972.
Parish, James Robert, The RKO Girls , New Rochelle, New York, 1974.
Dickens, Homer, The Films of Ginger Rogers , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1975.
McGilligan, Patrick, Ginger Rogers , New York, 1975.
Eells, George, Ginger, Loretta, and Irene Who? , New York, 1976.
Topper, Susanne, Astaire and Rogers , New York, 1976.
Delameter, Jerome, A Critical and Historical Analysis of Dance as a Code of the Hollywood Musical , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1979.
Carrrick, Peter, A Tribute to Fred Astaire , London, 1984.
Faris, Jocelyn, Ginger Rogers: A Bio-Bibliography , Westport, Connecticut, 1994.
Morley, Sheridan, Shall We Dance?: The Life of Ginger Rogers , New York, 1995.
Baxt, George, Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Murder Case , (fiction), New York, 1997.
Crisler, B. R., "Ginger Takes the Town," in New York Times , 16 February 1936.
"Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers" issue of Visages (Paris), January 1939.
"Dancing Girl," in Time (New York), 10 April 1939.
Strauss, Theodore, "The Young Lady from Independence," in New York Times , 22 February 1942.
"She Adds New Chapter to Her Success Story," in Life (New York), 2 March 1942.
Sarris, Andrew, "Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire Musicals," in Village Voice (New York), 7 May 1964.
Dickens, Homer, "Ginger Rogers," in Films in Review (New York), March 1966.
Current Biography 1967 , New York, 1967.
Spiegel, Ellen, "Fred and Ginger Meet Van Nest Polglase," in The Velvet Light Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), Autumn 1973.
"Ginger Rogers Today," in Photoplay (New York), November 1976.
McAsh, I. F., "Just Ginger Rogers," in Films Illustrated (London), May 1978.
Wood, Robin, "Never Never Change, Always Gonna Dance," in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1979.
"Footlights Again for Ginger Rogers," in New York Times , 2 May 1980.
Rickey, C., "Ginger Rogers Is a Great Actress. Really," in Village Voice (New York), 26 May 1980.
Telotte, J. P. "Dancing the Depression: Narrative Strategy in the Astaire-Rogers Films," in Journal of Popular Film and Television , November 1980.
Lauwaert, D., "Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers," in Film en Televisie (Brussels), October 1983.
"Dishonored Lady," in New Yorker , 11 January 1993.
Frank, Michael, "Ginger Rogers: Rolling Back the Rugs in Coldwater Canyon," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1994.
Bergan, Ronald, "Shall We Dance?," in Guardian , 12 April 1995.
Obituary in New York Times , 26 April 1995.
Shales, Tom, "Ginger Rogers, Dancing Chic to Chic," in Washington Post , 26 April 1995.
Obituary, in Variety (New York), 1 May 1995.
Kendall, Elizabeth, "Film View: An Actress First and Then a Dancer," in New York Times , 7 May 1995.
Croce, Arlene, "Ginger Rogers," in New Yorker , 8 May 1995.
"Never to Be Forgotten," in Psychotronic Video (Narrowsburg), no. 21, 1995.
* * *
One of the longest successful Hollywood film careers belongs to Ginger Rogers, a fact frequently overlooked. When fans and historians list those women who survived as stars despite age and changing styles and times, the names usually cited include Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, and Myrna Loy, but Rogers is rarely mentioned. It is perhaps a tribute to her lasting youthfulness that, although there is no question that she is a major star with a lengthy career, she is not thought of as someone who survived or kept her career going after great setbacks. Instead, she is a star who never had to make a comeback because she never left the limelight.
The best-known aspect of the Rogers career is her membership in the most beloved and celebrated dance team in the history of the American musical cinema—the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers combination which was paired in ten dance musicals. Together, from 1933 to 1939, they made nine films for RKO, managing to keep the financially unstable studio afloat for several years. Because many film scholars consider the Astaire/Rogers films to be the greatest dance musicals produced by Hollywood, they have been the subject of extensive analysis. Most of the research concerns the revolutionary aesthetic contributions that have been attributed to Fred Astaire; the integration of musical numbers and choreography with plot and story line, sound recording methods, and the use of camera work to maintain the integrity of the dance numbers.
Historically, the other half of the team, Rogers, has been continually overlooked. As film scholar Robin Wood so aptly states, "One habitually thinks of Rogers as Astaire's partner, rather than the other way around." Some have argued that Astaire, in fact, needed Rogers more than she him.
After Astaire's sister broke up the Broadway dance team of Fred and Adele Astaire in 1932, Astaire found his career in musical comedy faltering and embarked on a career in the motion picture industry. It was a risky undertaking. Already 33 and thin, balding, and not-classically handsome, Astaire did not possess the qualities of the typical Hollywood leading man. Rogers, however, was already well-established in the American film industry. Before being matched with Astaire, she appeared in 19 feature films, including 2 of Warner's Busby Berkeley musicals, 42nd Street and Golddiggers of 1933 . During the years in which she and Astaire were a team, Rogers made several films, both dramatic and comedic, without him. According to Croce, "By the end of 1939, RKO considered Rogers its No. 1 star and began laying plans for a straight dramatic career, while Astaire ran out his contract."
In their filmed musical pairings, Astaire and Rogers seemed wrong for one another, gloriously mismatched physically, intellectually, and stylistically. Rogers was down-to-earth, athletic—very much the "all-American" type. In the exaggerated manner of film stars, she represented the ordinary. Astaire was the elegant, European in grace, and so exceptional that he has never been equaled. Yet together, they personified the idiosyncrasy of romance—two people that friends would never match up, but who have been brought together by an inexplicable attraction. This attraction was physicalized and eloquently expressed through their dances. The best explanation of the Astaire/Rogers chemistry is a quote attributed to Katharine Hepburn: "She gave him sex, and he gave her class."
Had Rogers not been so ambitious, she might have settled for lasting fame as Astaire's most popular dance partner. But she wanted more for herself, and knew from her years in films before Astaire that she could play comedy and drama well. She broke off the partnership, a courageous career move for which she is seldom given credit.
Her first major success as a dramatic actress was Kitty Foyle , for which she won the 1940 Oscar for Best Actress. Having thus established herself as a solo performer, Rogers continued to pursue an active career in comedy as well as drama, occasionally returning to the musical format. Her screen image became that of a wise, tough-minded, humorous, hard-working, real-life American woman, an image built to last as it accommodated her advancing age and afforded her the versatility to play in different film genres. In later years, Rogers made a successful transition from films to television, and found equal acclaim in big Broadway musicals such as Mame and Hello, Dolly! Any discussion of the career of Ginger Rogers must give credit to her mother, Leila Rogers, who managed her daughter with determination and intelligence. Together, the two women made the most of all opportunities they had, beginning with young Ginger's first triumph in a Charleston contest. Rogers was not considered the most beautiful woman in Hollywood, nor the best actress, singer, comedienne, or even dancer. But she was an attractive woman who could be glamorous or wholesome, depending on what the role required. She could sing and dance well, and she was versatile, with excellent comedic timing, and ability to mimic, and real dramatic skill. Putting it all together gave her the edge she needed which, supplemented by the Rogers family business acumen, and her own professionalism, made her a top star and kept her there.
Ginger Rogers and her mother represent pioneer career women. Active in politics, shrewd in business, and maintaining control of their careers in the difficult, frequently male-dominated world of Hollywood, they may be thought of as feminists in deed if not by label or self-definition.
—Jeanine Basinger, updated by Frances Gateward