The talented beauty was born in Missouri but relocated to Hollywood with her divorced mother as a toddler. Her mother being a screenwriter found work in Tinseltown where the adorable Ginger was noticed at a studio and offered a contract at the age of six. Fortunately for her, mama turned it down. Several years later after Ginger won a Charleston contest and an offer to dance in vaudeville her mother deemed her ready so Ginger's career officially started at age 17. She spent a few months traveling around with a vaudeville show titled "Ginger and the Redheads" before marrying Jack Pepper in 1928. He then joined her show and the name was officially changed to "Ginger and Pepper". (No word on what happened to the "Redheads" so hopefully they were okay : 0)!
In the early days of Ginger's career before the studio had her dye her brunette hair blonde.
Ginger was chosen to appear in Rudy Vallee's short "Campus Sweethearts" in 1930 among a couple others which opened doors for her to dance and sing on Broadway in "Top Speed" that same year. It didn't take Hollywood long to notice Ginger's talents and Paramount offered her a part in "Young Man in Manhattan" 1930. Between a blossoming movie career Ginger appeared with Ethel Merman in "Girl Crazy" on Broadway before signing a movie contract with Paramount. They allowed her to film movies at their Astoria, NY studio in order for her to continue doing her Broadway show in the evenings.
Working under hectic conditions Ginger churned out four more films during 1930 before asking out of her contract with Paramount. She then signed with RKO in 1931 when her Broadway show ended and relocated to Hollywood where she appeared in "Honor Among Lovers" 1931 with Claudette Colbert and Fredric March then in "The Tip Off" (a light comedy centered around a gangster and his girlfriend) starring Eddie Quillan that same year. By 1932 she had been dropped by RKO after her third film under their guidance the previous year "Suicide Fleet" received bad reviews. She was also divorced from Jack Pepper by the end of 1931. (Perhaps a word of advice is to never appear in a film with "suicide" in the title)!
Free from a studio contract Ginger free lanced after appearing in "Carnival Boat" where she received top billing for the first time. Fortunately she was cast opposite Joe E. Brown in the comedy "The Tenderfoot" in 1932 followed by the thriller "The Thirteenth Guest" opposite Lyle Talbot. But it would be her role in "42nd Street" the following year that would propel her to stardom. The Busby Berkeley musical with it's all star cast including Warner Baxter, Una Merkel, George Brent, Bebe Daniels, Ruby Keeler, and Dick Powell showcased Ginger's dancing skills and star power. This lead her to a starring role in the mega hit "Gold Diggers of 1933" , her second Busby Berkeley extravaganza. (If you haven't had the pleasure of seeing a Busby Berkeley picture please watch one. The synchronized dance scenes and flamboyant production'a are a lot of fun).
Ginger looking fabulous in "Gold Diggers of 1933"
Ginger appeared in seven more successful films during 1933 including "Flying Down To Rio" opposite Dolores Del Rio, Gene Raymond and an up and comer named Fred Astaire who was fresh off of Broadway. Luckily RKO asked her back and signed her to a multi year contract after her success in "Gold Diggers of 1933" She accepted and thanks to their suavy business since she was cast opposite Fred Astaire and the most famous dancing duo was born. Ginger starred in a couple of not so memorable films in 1934 before the studio paired her with Fred Astaire once again that year in "The Gay Divorcee". The very successful musical was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar but lost out to "It Happened One Night".
Fred and Ginger
Ginger with Dolores Del Rio in "Flying Down To Rio" 1933
1934-1935 would turn out to be a very productive and successful two years for Ginger on and off of the set. She married actor Lew Ayres and continued churning out musicals with her equally accomplished dance partner Fred Astaire. They starred in "Roberta" in 1935 then in "Top Hat" later that year which received another Oscar nod for Best Picture. (It lost out to |Mutiny on the Bounty"). Ginger voiced her opinion to RKO about starring in other vehicles that weren't dance centered and the studio did cast her in great films like "Change of Heart" opposite Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell then in the romantic comedy "Star of Midnight" opposite William Powell. But the studio knew what their audience wanted and it was to see Ginger in glossy dance numbers with Fred.
click on photos and Ginger's autograph from my collection for a closer view.
1937 brought "Follow The Fleet", "Swing Time" and "Shall We Dance" which were all successful dance centered musicals with Fred Astaire before Ginger paired with Kate Hepburn in "Stage Door" that same year. The two worked brilliantly together in the comedy, solidifying Ginger's ability to bring money to the studio without appearing in just dance numbers. She had great comedic timing and the passion she had for the stage carried over well in dramas and comedies.
The most beautifully matched dance duo, Fred and Ginger
Ginger and Fred paired one last time for "Carefree" in 1938 after Ginger starred in the critically successful "Vivacious Lady" opposite James Stewart. Ginger and Fred both felt it was time to move on and branch out into other types of roles. Ginger starred in the romantic comedy "Have a Wonderful Time"1938 with Douglas Fairbanks Jr then "Bachelor Mother" opposite David Niven in 1939. Ginger slowed down and chose just three films a year in 1939 and 1940 before appearing in only one film during 1941. Ironically she won her Oscar in 1940 for her role as Kitty Foyle in the hit "Kitty Fole: The Natural History of a Woman" 1940, proving that she could find success in romantic dramas.
in "Vivacious Lady" with James Stewart
Ginger and Lew Ayres divorced in 1941 as Ginger's career slowed down that year. Her only film was the successful "Tom, Dick and Harry" co-starring George Murphy. 1942 brought us the wonderful "Roxie Hart" (the character in which the play and film "Chicago" is centered around in later years). Then Ginger co-starred with the young Henry Fonda, Rita Hayworth and Charles Boyer in "Tales of Manhattan" 1942. Ginger's great reviews in the film had Paramount calling once again and offering her a three year deal. One stipulation would be that she star in the musical "Lady in the Dark" 1944 co-starring Warner Baxter and Ray Milland.
Ginger behind the scenes
Ginger starred in "Magnificent Doll" in 1946 opposite David Niven and Burgess Meredeth. A fun historical piece with Ginger playing the lovable Dolly Madison. 1947 came and went with Ginger starring in one film that year, "It Had to Be You" co-starring the talented Cornel Wilde. Yet another successful comedy for Ginger, the genre she did with such ease. (I've seen so many of Ginger's films and even though I love watching her and Fred Astaire create magic on the dance floor I'm still drawn to her comedic roles). Ginger had married for a third time to Marine Jack Briggs in 1943 and they spent the majority of their free time at the spacious Oregon ranch and dairy farm that Ginger had purchased in 1940. Their marriage would end in divorce in 1949. Jack who was just back from overseas duty during WWII had no interest in Hollywood or acting to the dismay of Ginger.
After a year's hiatus Ginger returned to Hollywood in 1949 to appear with Fred Astaire one last time in "The Barkley's of Broadway". That would be her only film that year and she would appeared in only one film in 1950 the hit "Perfect Strangers" with Thelma Ritter and Dennis Morgan. Throughout the 1950's Ginger spent less time on set and more time enjoying herself at her Oregon ranch between trips to Europe. While traveling abroad in 1953 Ginger met her fourth husband, Frenchman and barrister Jacques Bergerac who happened to be 16 years her junior. He came back to Hollywood with her and tried his hand at acting without much success. They would find themselves divorced by the end of 1957.
Beautiful without makeup or her hair styled.
Ginger and Cornel Wilde in the very funny "It Had to be You" 1947
Ginger continued to work sporadically throughout the 1950's in a few not so memorable films and in the hits "Monkey Business" with Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe in 1952 and "We're Not Married" with Marilyn that same year. Ginger found her way back to Broadway in 1965 where she had a very successful run playing Dolly Levi in "Hello Dolly". Ginger took a few movie parts throughout the 60's and 70's while finding her way to television and guest spots until she retired from acting for good in 1987. Of course during this time Ginger found love once again with Director/Producer William Marshall. They were married in 1961 but things eventually got rocky when Marshall turned his attention to alcohol after the collapse of their joint business venture. They attempted to start a film production company in Jamaica which left them nothing but financial debt and divorced in 1971.
Ginger looking very stylish while camping in her trailer
Ginger in "Hello Dolly"
Upon retiring Ginger remained at her Oregon ranch until 1990 when she sold it and moved into Medford Oregon. Her last public appearance was in March of 1995 when she received the Woman's International Center Living Legacy Award. Ginger died just a month later from congestive heart failure. She was cremated and her ashes were interred at Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, CA. She's buried next to her mother Lela Rogers and not far from her friend and co-star Fred Astaire. Ginger's grave site can be viewed HERE. Ginger's long career lasted over 8 decades where she appeared in over 110 films, plays and television shows. You can view two of Ginger's early Hollywood homes HERE and HERE.
Ginger relaxing on a tilt table between takes on the set. The tilt table was used to allow actors to relax between takes without sitting down, which would cause their costumes to wrinkle. (I'm pretty sure the little bit of foot elevation did a lot to prevent swelling after standing in those heels all day too).
Ginger Rogers Facts:
Her birth name is Virginia Katherine McNath. She was given the name Ginger by a younger cousin who couldn't pronounce Virginia correctly.
Ginger and Lew Ayres divorced over the tension of their careers. Ginger's career was skyrocketing and Lew's was on a steady decline during their marriage. (I'll be doing a post on Lew at a later date)
Ginger's Oregon ranch which was located on the Roque River supplied dairy products to nearby Camp White, a cantonment established during the duration of WWII.
Ginger remained life long friends with Lucille Ball and appeared in her show "Here's Lucy" where she gives a Charleston demonstration in high heels. She also considered fellow actor Bette Davis a close friend.
In her autobiography Ginger: My Story she claims she dated Howard Hughes and he in fact proposed to her which she declined after finding out about his many infidelities.
Ginger was one of the first stars to fight hard for salary rights and better scripts which caused much tension between her and RKO. She felt very strongly that she should be paid equally to Fred Astaire's salary as well as a percentage of the film profits like Astaire was offered. Sadly RKO would not budge on the issue so they parted ways.
Ginger sued Hollywood fitness guru and radio personality Sylvia of Hollywood when Sylvia claimed Ginger appeared on her radio show. Ginger was in fact no where near the radio station where Sylvia claims this bizarre appearance took place.
She was the fashion consultant for the J.C. Penney Department Store chain from 1972-1975.
She was a Christian Scientist. She never drank alcohol and she preferred ice cream sodas. She had an ice cream fountain installed in her home.
She was a very talented artist and she spent a lot of her free time painting, sculpting and sketching but she could never bring herself to sell any of her work.
Fred Astaire said of her: "Ginger was brilliantly effective. She made everything work for her. Actually she made things very fine for both of us and she deserves most of the credit for our success".
Ginger and Fred remained close friends throughout their lives. Ginger presented Fred with his Honorary Oscar in 1950. They were also co-presenters at the 1967 Academy Awards. When they appeared on stage doing an impromptu dance they received a standing ovation.
Ginger was given the Kennedy Center Honor in 1992.
Ginger's mother Lela, who Ginger remained close to throughout her life was successful and well established in her own right. She was a successful Hollywood screen writer and producer as well as one of the first women to enlist in the Marine Corps. She also founded the Hollywood Playhouse for up and coming actors and actresses on the RKO lot.
She was known as the outdoorsy type, where she enjoyed fishing, was considered a top line shot and a near-champion tennis player.
In 1945 she was the highest paid actor in Hollywood after making $300,000 that year.
According to Fred Astaire when he first paired with Ginger during "Flying Down to Rio" Ginger had never danced with a partner so she faked it a lot. Luckily her musicality and grace under pressure allowed her to trudge along and by the end of the movie she looked like a pro.
Both of Ginger's parents fought very hard for custody of her during their divorce with her father kidnapping her twice. She eventually moved in with her grand parents then later rejoined her mother in Hollywood.
Ginger remained very close to her grandfather, buying him a home near her studio once she became successful so they could see each other often.
Thanks for joining me and spending some time with Ginger. I would love to hear about your favorite Ginger Rogers film so please leave a comment. I hope you enjoy the below clip of Ginger dancing in "Swing Time"