Virginia Katherine McMath aka Ginger Rogers is TCM’s Star of the Month for March. Most people only know her through her films with Fred Astaire so this is a great chance for everyone to see her do so much more on her own. When I first became a classic film fan I wasn’t really drawn to Ginger in her films with Fred. But I saw the fantastic film Stage Door and instantly liked her in that. I became a fan of hers and started to watch more of her films such as Bachelor Mother and Kitty Foyle and only then I started watching her films with Fred and finally enjoyed them. Let’s explore he career with and without Fred.
Ginger’s career really started after she won the Texas State Charleston Championship. No surprise she won. After winning part of the prize was to get to perform at various theaters in Texas. She chose the two runner ups to come along with her and they became an act. When her two co stars moved on to another act Ginger married at 17 to an actor she had a crush on since her youth which didn’t last long. After her short marriage Ginger was cast in a Broadway show called Top Speed. She was noticed by critics for doing very well and being very charming. Paramount took notice as well and signed her to a seven year contract to make films at their studio in Long Island.
During this time Ginger starred in the Broadway hit Girl Crazy. This is where the classic Gershwin songs ‘Embraceable You’ & ‘But Not For Me’ were introduced and are some of my all time favorites. This musical was later made into a film by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney with the same title.
When Girl Crazy came to a close Ginger moved to Hollywood. Her earliest films weren’t anything spectacular until she got a part in the film Gold Diggers of 1933. She sang ‘We’re in the Money’ in pig latin, at her suggestion, and it became a hit during the depression ironically.
The year 1933 was the turning part for Ginger she made ten films including her first film with Fred Astaire. Fred and Ginger met earlier before though. He helped stage some dances in one of her broadway shows and they actually went on a date and had a little make out in the back of a limo but nothing happened after. The film that started it all was Flying Down to Rio. Their dance The Carioca became an instant hit. The film’s success helped the RKO studio which was not doing very well at the time, so they instantly were trying to find another vehicle for these two stars that had helped them out of their rut. Gay Divorcee was their next film and eight other films followed starring the dancing duo. The last two films they did before going separate ways, for a time, were The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle and Carefree which weren’t really successful and ended their pairing. Carefree is actually my all time favorite Fred and Ginger film and is the only film of theirs where Ginger is seen on screen more and she gets her first solo The Yam which Fred deemed silly.
Fred and Ginger wanted to do films on their own naturally. Ginger wanted to be seen as more than a song and dance girl but she also wanted to expand and try new things. This is where films like Stage Door and Bachelor Mother come in. In 1940 Ginger made the film Kitty Foyle, a great drama and change for Ginger, which landed her an Oscar win. The movie was made from a at the time racy book and Ginger first opposed making it but her Mother Lela convinced her, good thing.
During the 40’s Ginger continued to make perfectly charming films such as The Major and the Minor directed by Billy Wilder, it was his first film. In 1949 Fred and Ginger were reunited one last time by chance in The Barkley’s of Broadway. Ginger was a replacement for Judy Garland who was unable to film it. This would be the last teaming of Fred and Ginger and their first film shot in Technicolor. A Technicolor scene was planned for the dream sequence in Carefree but didn’t follow through due to expense.
During the 50s Ginger continued her film career with films such as We’re Not Married and Monkey Business with Cary Grant. In the mid 60s Ginger quit making films since roles for older women were few and far between and she thought the scripts she was getting were too risque. She turned to the stage. She made appearances and starring roles in productions such as Mame and Hello Dolly! Her last stage appearence was in 1984 in Charley’s Aunt. Ginger passed away April 25, 1995.
Tune in to TCM starting March 10 to see rare and fantastic films by Ginger Rogers, including the ten with Astaire, every Wednesday this month!
If you are interested in learning more about this wonderful lady I suggest you read Ginger My Story by Ginger Rogers. The book has been recently put back on the shelves as well as Step in Time by Fred Astaire. Both great reads. Ginger’s book is one of my all time favorite autobiographies.
Thanks to tcm.com and Ginger’s autobiography for being my sources.