Ginger Rogers (July 16, 1911 Independence, Missouri, USA – April 25, 1995 Rancho Mirage, California, USA) was an Academy Award-winning American actress, dancer and singer. Rogers is considered one of the most legendary actresses of Hollywood”s Golden Age, as in 1999 the American Film Institute named her the 14th greatest actress of all time.
Rogers began his career as a vaudeville and Broadway entertainer, before moving into Hollywood films. He became particularly famous for his musicals with Fred Astaire. Rogers and Astaire starred together in numerous musical films during Hollywood”s golden age and became one of the most powerful film couples of their time. They are considered the most legendary couple in the history of American cinema. Rogers also starred successfully in dramas and comedies. She was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Drama for Kitty Foyle (1940). During her long career, Rogers appeared in films, theatre, television and radio.
Virginia Katherine McMath was born in Independence, Missouri, on 16 July 1911. She was the only child of her parents, William Eddins McMath (1890-1977). Virginia”s father was an electrical engineer and her mother a secretary, newspaper editor and screenwriter. Virginia”s parents were married on 25 December 1908 in Salt Lake City, Utah. They had had their first child in 1910, but the child had died shortly after birth. McMath”s family came from Scotland. Virginia also had Irish ancestry.
Her parents divorced shortly after Virginia”s birth, and Virginia moved with her mother to live with her parents, Walter and Saphrona Owens, near Kansas City. The McMaths” divorce was not easy because of a custody dispute, and Virginia had been abducted twice by her father William. The McMaths” divorce was granted in 1915, and Virginia lived with her grandparents while her mother worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood for two years in the late 1910s. Virginia and her grandfather were close. Virginia was offered her first contract for silent films as early as 1917, when she was only 6 years old. Her mother refused the offer, not wanting to let her daughter enter the industry at too early an age. In 1918, Lela Owens became one of the first women to join the Marines.
Virginia”s young cousin had trouble pronouncing his name correctly, so he shortened it to “Ginga”. Family and friends began to call Virginia by this name more and more, and later the theatre people shaped it into “Ginger”. After her naval service, Mother Lela married a second time to former Marine John Logan Rogers (1887-1960) in May 1920 in Liberty, Missouri. Virginia took her stepfather”s surname, although Rogers had not legally adopted Virginia. In the early 1920s, the family moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where Lela worked as a theatre critic for the local Fort Worth Record newspaper. Virginia attended Fort Worth”s Central High School, but never graduated. As a youngster, Virginia considered a career in teaching, but her interest in theater grew through school play projects and her mother”s work. While waiting for her working mother at a local theatre, Virginia began performing on stage with other theatre actors. She proved to be a talented dancer. Virginia first performed in a benefit show where she had sung and danced with other performers on the stage of Fort Worth”s Majestic Theatre when she was only 10 years old.
Vaudeville and Broadway
Rogers” professional entertainment career was born one night in 1925, when Eddie Foy”s touring vaudeville group in Fort Worth needed a substitute. Rogers was a substitute for Foy”s vaudeville group for a short time, and during this time he performed not only in Fort Worth but also in Dallas. Rogers then entered and won the Charleston Dance Competition on November 9, 1925, which allowed him to go on a six-month tour with two red-headed Charleston dancers. They performed under the name Ginger and the Redheads. In Chicago, Illinois, the redheaded dancers joined another vaudeville group, and Rogers and his mother returned to Fort Worth. From Fort Worth, Rogers and his mother soon began touring the United States with vaudeville. Rogers sang and danced for the next four years, during which time he performed in Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis and other cities. Lela”s mother acted as her daughter”s agent, costume designer and author of performance materials.
The 17-year-old Rogers married entertainer Jack Pepper in 1929, forming a short-lived vaudeville duo named Ginger and Pepper. Rogers and Pepper”s marriage was over within months, and Rogers returned to touring with his mother. Rogers and Pepper”s divorce was not granted until two years later. When the tour arrived in New York in 1929, Rogers stayed in the city and began performing on the radio as a singer alongside his vaudeville act. Rogers made his Broadway debut in the musical Top Speed, which premiered on 25 December 1929 and ran until March 1930. In 1929, Rogers” mother Lela and stepfather John divorced after nine years of marriage.
Next, Rogers was chosen to star in the musical Girl Crazy two weeks after the premiere of Top Speed. Fred Astaire was hired to help the dancers with their choreography. The musical comedy premiered on 14 October 1930 and Girl Crazy made 19-year-old Rogers an overnight star. His co-star Ethel Merman also became a star thanks to the musical. Rogers sang songs such as “(They”re Writing Songs of Love) But Not For Me” and “Embraceable You”. Girl Crazy ran until June 1931.
Early film roles and breakthrough
In 1929, Rogers made his debut in three short films shot in the same year. He signed a seven-year contract with Paramount Pictures in 1930, which also saw the release of Rogers” first feature film, Young Man of Manhattan. In the romantic musical comedy, Rogers starred in a prominent supporting role, with his line “Cigarette me, big boy.” became a common phrase in American speech. In the film, he sings the song “I”ve Got ”It” But ”It” Don”t Do Me No Good”.
Rogers soon terminated his contract with Paramount, and moved with his mother to Hollywood. Rogers had made five films for Paramount at their studio in Astoria, Queens, New York. When Rogers arrived in California, he signed a three-film contract with Pathé Exchange. Rogers” first Hollywood film was The Tip-Off (Rogers” film career had not taken off at the studio). Rogers had made the studio unhappy by making only ”forgettable” films. In 1932, Rogers went freelance, making films for Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, RKO and others. Rogers was selected as one of the 1932 WAMPAS Baby Stars.
In 1933, Rogers made her breakthrough as Anytime Annie in the Warner Brothers musical film 42nd Street, which was a critical and audience success. Rogers sings the song “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” in the film. After 42nd Street, Rogers made many films for various Hollywood studios. Goldfish 1933 was a critical and audience success alongside 42nd Street. In the film, Roger sings the song “We”re in the Money”.
1933-1939: Rogers and Astaire
Rogers became one of the world”s most famous stars in the 1930s with Fred Astaire, making them the most famous film couple of their time. They made nine musical films together between 1933 and 1939. Their first film together was Carioca (1933), followed by the musicals Continental – A Merry Divorce (1934), Roberta (1935), Top Hat (1935), Navy Dances (1936), The Wedding Runner (1936), May I? (1937), It”s a Wonderful Life (1938) and The Dancing Kings (1939). Most of these were both audience and critical successes. Rogers and Astaire revolutionised the Hollywood musical; they performed dance and song numbers in an unprecedented way. Their film songs were composed by the greatest popular composers of the time.
Critics Arlene Croce, Hannah Hyam and John Mueller consider Rogers to be Astaire”s best dancing partner. They say Rogers was able to combine his dancing skills with his natural beauty as both a dramatic and comic actor. Rogers performed 33 dances with Astaire, of which Croce and Mueller have highlighted “I”ll Be Hard to Handle” in Roberta, “I”m Putting all My Eggs in One Basket” in Navy Dances and “Pick Yourself Up” in The Wedding Runner. Other classic dances by Rogers and Astaire include “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” in Roberta, “Cheek to Cheek” in Top Hat and “Let”s Face the Music and Dance” in Navy Dances. Rogers received particular praise for his dance number “Waltz in Swing Time” in the film The Wedding Runner. In “Waltz in Swing Time” Rogers danced with Astaire, and the performance is widely regarded as the best duet performance in an Astaire film. In general, Rogers avoided solo dances in films, while Astaire danced at least one solo in each of their films. Rogers danced only one solo in the dance number “Let Yourself Go” in the film Navy Dances. Astaire and his partner Hermes Pan choreographed the dance numbers. According to them, Rogers invested in his dancing and professionalism even under great pressure, even though he had many other film projects under contract.
When RKO was threatened with bankruptcy, the studio hired Rogers and Astaire for the film It”s Wonderful to Live (1938), which did not do as well as expected. The serious and tragic plot of their next film together, The Dancing Couple, also led to poor commercial success. Rogers and Astaire”s popularity had not waned, but poor box office was caused by the 1930s depression. The budgets for musical films were much larger than those for conventional films, and they were growing faster than they were generating profits. After Dance King and Queen, Rogers and Astaire did not make a film together for ten years.
In the 1930s, alongside his partnership with Astaire, Rogers made other successful drama and comedy films and appeared on radio. In 1935 Rogers starred with William Powell in the mystery comedy The Masked Devil, and The Great Moment, which premiered in 1937, showed his ability as a dramatic performer. Rogers also starred in the commercially successful comedy films His Secret Wife (1938), The Bachelor Mother (1939) and The Woman Behind Everything (1939). In 1936, Rogers visited Washington for President Roosevelt”s annual birthday party.
Years at the top
Rogers enjoyed the popularity of the film audience and critics in the early 1940s, and was the biggest star of RKO. In 1940, he starred in the drama film Narrow Path, directed by Gregory La Cava. In the film, she plays the daughter of a prostitute who tries to avoid her mother”s fate. In 1941, Rogers won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the drama Kitty Foyle (1940), a critical and popular success and Rogers” best-known role.
The comedy The Groom with Every Finger, which premiered in 1941, also proved to be a success. In it, Rogers plays a woman who wants to marry three different men. Roxie Hart and Cadet Fury, released in 1942, were also successful. Cadet Arrow was director Billy Wilder”s first directorial debut in the United States. In The Cadet was played by his own mother, Lela Rogers, the mother of Rogers” character. In the 1940s, Rogers was the highest paid actor in Hollywood.
In the 1940s, Rogers” RKO contract expired and he became a freelance actor. During this period, he made some big blockbusters for other studios, including Tender Comrade (1943), Woman in the Dark (1944), Hidden Shackles (1944) and People in a Hotel (1945). In 1949, Rogers and Astaire made a musical film together, We Dance Again, after ten years. We Dance Again remained the last film Rogers and Astaire made together. In the late 1940s, Rogers” career was at its peak.
A later career
Rogers” film career began to decline in the 1950s. Like many other older actresses, Rogers had difficulty getting roles as young stars made their way to the screen. She starred with Ronald Reagan and Doris Day in the film noir production of Ku Klux Klan (1951) and with Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe in the comedy film Darling, I”m Getting Younger (1952), for which Rogers received a Golden Globe nomination. Rogers and Monroe”s first film together was the romantic comedy Illegally Married, made the same year. Both were popular at the time and have since become Hollywood classics. The success of the two films earned Rogers a reputation as a respected actor in Hollywood”s older generation. In the mid-1950s, Rogers also starred in the film noir films Spider”s Web (1954) and Hot Places (1955). In 1951, he returned to Broadway after a twenty-year hiatus for the comedy Love and Let Love, and received rave reviews for his role. In the mid-1950s Rogers began appearing on television.
After 1957”s Oh, Men, What a Woman, Rogers left film for seven years to work in television and theatre. Rogers appeared in a variety of plays around the United States until he landed the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi in the hit Broadway musical Hello, Dolly!. Rogers played the role successfully from 1965 to 1968, and his performance was again praised by critics. In 1965, Rogers made his last film, Harlow – Sex Girl. The film was not considered a success and was also a commercial flop.
In 1969, Rogers was cast as the female lead in the popular play Mame, which ran for 14 months in London”s West End. Rogers became the highest paid actress in West End history. After Mame, Rogers returned to the United States and appeared in many plays until 1984. From 1975 to 1979, Rogers had her own The Ginger Rogers Show, which toured the United States and abroad. Rogers” last theatrical work was a play called Aunt Charley”s, which was performed in Edmonton, Canada.
Rogers made many television appearances during his career between 1954 and 1987. He appeared six times in the television series What”s My Line? between 1954 and 1966 and in Lucille Ball”s Here”s Lucy in 1971. In the Here”s Lucy episode “Ginger Rogers Comes to Tea” Rogers performs the Charleston dance for the first time in years. In the final years of her career, she appeared in three Aaron Spelling television series, Love Boat (1979), Glitter (1984) and Hotel (1987), in which she played the final role of her career as Natalie Trent in the episode “Hail and Farewell”. In 1972, Austin College in Sherman, Texas, awarded Rogers an honorary doctorate.
In addition to his acting career, Rogers worked as a fashion consultant for J. C. Penney Stores from 1972 to 1975. She was also one of the judges of the 1973 Miss Universe beauty pageant. Around the same time, Rogers began performing successfully in nightclubs around the world. He visited New York, Las Vegas, Sydney, Buenos Aires and Mexico City, among other places. In the 1970s, Rogers was also involved in political activities in Washington. In 1985, the 74-year-old Rogers fulfilled a longtime ambition to direct when he directed the musical Babes in Arms in the New York Village of Tarrytown in Greenburgh. Rogers wrote an autobiography, Ginger: My Story, in 1991 and was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors Award for the Arts on December 30, 1992.
Ginger Rogers married five times, but all her marriages ended in divorce. In the 1930s she was briefly engaged to Howard Hughes.
Rogers first married vaudeville performer and dance partner Jack Pepper (1902-1979) on 29 March 1929 at the age of 17. Rogers wrote in his autobiography that he had known Pepper from his childhood as Jack Culpepper, his cousin”s boyfriend in Texas. They formed a short-lived vaudeville duo, who were named Ginger and Pepper. Rogers and Pepper”s marriage was over within months, but their divorce was not granted until 11 July 1931.
Rogers” second husband was actor Lew Ayres (1908-1996), whom she married on 14 November 1934. Rogers and Ayres had met on the set of the film Don”t Bet on Love in 1933. The couple separated and their divorce was granted on 20 March 1940.
In 1943, Rogers married her third husband, Jack Briggs (1920-1998), on 16 January. Briggs had been an aspiring Hollywood actor before the Second World War, but after returning from the war he had no interest in acting. Briggs had been in the Marines and was nine years younger than Rogers. The marriage lasted six years and the divorce was granted on 7 September 1949.
Rogers married for the fourth time to French actor Jacques Bergerac (1927-2014), 16 years his junior. The wedding took place on 7 February 1953. The couple had met while Rogers was travelling in Paris. Bergerac had been working as a lawyer in France, but he came to Hollywood with Rogers and became an actor. Their four-year marriage ended in divorce on 7 July 1957.
Rogers married for the fifth and last time director-producer William Marshall (1917-1994) on 16 March 1961. The marriage broke down very quickly due to Marshall”s drinking problems and the collapse of their joint production company. Marshall produced The Confession (1964), in which Rogers played the lead role. They were separated for a long time, and their divorce was granted only in 1969.
Other private life
Rogers was his mother”s only child, so they were very close until Lela”s death. Lela died at the age of 86 on 25 May 1977 in Palm Springs, California. Rogers” father, William, had died in 1925, and when Rogers lived with his grandparents as a child, he also became very close to his grandfather Walter. Rogers bought her grandfather a house at 5115 Greenbush Avenue in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles in 1939 so that he could be closer to his granddaughter.
Rogers was close friends with Lucille Ball and Bette Davis. Ball was a distant relative of Rogers on his mother”s side. Rogers, Ball and Davis were early feminists in Hollywood who supported female directors and producers. Rogers also maintained a friendship with his cousin, socialite and writer Phyllis Fraser. Rogers was not the biological cousin of film star Rita Hayworth, as is commonly believed. Hayworth”s mother”s brother Vinton Hayworth married Rogers” mother”s sister Jean Owens.
Rogers and Astaire remained friends until Astaire”s death. Rogers presented Astaire with the Academy Award at the 1950 Oscars, and they served as co-presenters at the 1967 Oscars. They received rapturous applause when they came on stage dancing improvisationally.
Rogers was known as a conservative Republican, and belonged to the Christian Science denomination. As a practitioner of Christian Science, Rogers did not drink alcohol or smoke. In his spare time, Rogers was an outdoor enthusiast and enjoyed a wide range of sports, including tennis, golf, swimming, skeet and fishing. Rogers also enjoyed sculpture and painting.
Rogers owned a ranch called 4-Rs (Rogers”s Rogue River Ranch), which he had bought in 1940. The ranch is located between the towns of Shady Cove and Eagle Point, Oregon. While on vacation, Rogers lived on the ranch with his mother. Rogers sold his Beverly Hills house in 1969 and moved permanently to the farm. He sold the farm in 1990 and then moved to nearby Medford. Rogers considered himself an Oregonian; he had transferred his name to the Oregon books so he could vote and pay taxes there.
In his final years, Rogers spent his winters in Rancho Mirage, California, and his summers in Medford, Oregon. He continued to appear in public even after retirement, until he suffered a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair as a result of partial paralysis. However, Rogers never saw a doctor or went to the hospital because of the stroke. He had two strokes in total. Rogers” last public appearance was on 18 March 1995, when she received the Women”s International Center (WIC) Living Legacy Award.
Ginger Rogers died peacefully in her own bed at the age of 83 from a heart attack following heart failure on the morning of April 25, 1995 at her Rancho Mirage home. Rogers” longtime secretary Roberta Olden was at her side at the time of her death. Olden lived with Rogers and had been his secretary for 17 years. Rogers was cremated and his ashes were buried in Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, Los Angeles. The urn was buried next to his mother”s ashes.
Rogers immortalized his hand and footprints and signed his autograph on a wet concrete slab in front of Grauman”s Chinese Theatre on September 5, 1939, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6772 Hollywood Boulevard on February 8, 1960, for his film career and his work in the entertainment industry. Rogers was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians in Jefferson City, Missouri on August 20, 2009.
In 1926, Rogers had performed at the 18-month-old The Craterian, later renamed in Rogers” honour. The theatre was renamed the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater in March 1997 and is located in Medford, Oregon. While living in Oregon, Rogers had supported the theatre financially. Ginger Rogers Road, located in Rancho Mirage, is named after Rogers.