Hello, Ginger! : A Birthday celebration of Ginger Rogers

"When two people love each other, they don't look at each other, they look in the same direction."
-Ginger Rogers (1911-1995)

Today is Ginger Rogers' Birthday!

1911 - 1995

Virginia Katherine MacMath was born in Independence, Missouri on 16 July 1911

Ginger Katherine Rogers died in Rancho Mirage, California on 25 April 1995 of natural causes.
Academy Award-winning film and stage actress and dancer who appeared in several romantic comedies with her dancing partner Fred Astaire. She also gave several successful dramatic performances. Her films include Swing Time, 1939 and Kitty Foyle, 1940 for which she won her oscar (TM).

She made over eighty-five motion pictures, and a dozen television appearances, and radio interviews with R. Alan Campbell and others.

Alan says, on a Dolly tour in Florida, "She was a delight, humorous and ready to make a personal quip about those she worked with in Hollywood.
She even did a step or two with me so I could say 'I danced with Ginger Rogers', a lovely woman at 72 years of age". She made many broadway and musical comedy tours throughout the United States and Europe, notibly in Mame and Hello Dolly.
On May 18, 1995, Ginger Rogers died of colon cancer in California.

I've always loved her! My earliest recollection of her is as the Queen in Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1965 television version of Cinderella.

Then, of course, The Fred Astaire Ginger Rogers films. She and Carol Channing did Carol's first movie together, The First Traveling Saleslady.
Interesting film. This was Clint Eastwood's first kiss! (with Carol Channing!). It is also supposedly the last film that was ever made at RKO. It is also interesting that 10 years later, Ginger replaced Carol Channing in HELLO, DOLLY!

Ginger replaced Carol Channing for the starring role in Hello! Dolly when Carol left to do the road company. Ginger brought the play new energy, increasing ticket sales and thrilling the producers. She performed to packed houses, standing ovations and an 18-month run, as well as on tour with the national company. In addition, she took Mame to London for a successful 14-month engagement, which included not only a command performance for Queen Elizabeth, but a presentation to the Queen as well.Angela Lansbury never transferred any of her Tony award winning performances to London’s West End.

She starred in the original London production of Gypsy in 1973, but that production transferred to Broadway the following year. Sheila Hancock would be the West End’s first Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. While Lansbury was appearing on Broadway in Dear World, Ginger Rogers was opening in Mame in the West End.
(This picture, of course, is from HELLO, DOLLY!)

The production ran for a little over a year at the Drury Lane Theatre. Lawrence Kasha restaged Gene Saks’ direction while Onna White recreated her own choreography. No original London cast album was made (though there are rumors that one was recorded but never released, as singing was never Rogers’ strongest suit). The show was less rapturously received in London than it was on Broadway, with many of the critics agreeing that the evening hinged on Rogers’ personality and star quality (for better or for worse). Margaret Courtenay was Vera, Burt Kwouk (from The Pink Panther films) was Ito and Julia McKenzie was Gloria Upson. Ms. Rogers was supposed to star in a French version of the show, but that fell through. She later appeared in the role again in Houston (in the round, no less) in late 1971, about the same time she toured in Coco.

“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.” -- Fred Astaire, in 1966, quoted in Ginger: Salute to a Star (1969), by Dick Richards, p. 163

"For anyone who is an admirer of Ginger Rogers, or simply likes to read about true and honest people who have found success in practicing virtues such as hard work, honesty, sobriety, and a spectactularly positive outlook on life will take great joy in learning about this wonderful woman. Dick Richards paints a very honest homage to a woman who is the symbol of the American dream. This has to be one of the most honest biographies I have ever read. It's really tricky to write about the lives of Hollywood stars because of the abundance of gossip and the constant debate about whether or not such and such part of their life is true. But Mr. Richards explains in the beginning that he is in no way trying to write a true biography, which would take much time in interviewing and getting to know Miss Rogers much better, but simply to give some praise to someone who truly deserves it...And rightly so. Ginger Rogers is someone to be greatly admired. Her integrity, her clean, healthy life is an inspiration, especially in her line of work. She was the example of the American dream and what makes you admire her more is not only her worldly reknown beauty, but her fabulous personality and sense of humor. This is a great book for anyone who wants to read about a great woman. It truly makes you want to jump up and be a better person. Though at times Mr. Richards does fall on other tangents, you can really feel how much he respects and worships Ginger Rogers."
-A Fan's Review of Ginger: Salute to a Star, taken from Amazon website

And another: It's not necessary to agree with everything, in a review of someone's life...but in the context of too many nasty and factually incorrect reviews of Ginger Rogers's life...I rate Richards book highly....for his noble attempt at balancing objectivity and empathy. As it turns out, he ended his work, unknowingly, at the end of Ginger's film career...in 1965...so the book has turned out to be more definitive than intended by its author.

He reviews her films in chronology, and rates them from the early period starting in 1930...to her classic period from 1933 to about 1945...and through to her period, more or less, of film decline, from 1945 to 1965. He praises strongly, where warranted...and Ginger Rogers made many timeless and wonderful films...as he points out deficiencies in scripts, indirection, and sometimes in Ginger's acting. He does this frankly, as she later did in her autobiography....and he does it, without recourse to critical rancor. How refreshing.

Ginger Rogers was a imperfect human being...as she reminds us in her autobiography. Part of her private life was subject to public scrutiny which would be difficult for anyone to endure. Richards, in his creditable bio, effectively discusses her personal life; her self-admitted romanticism, mixed with her nitty-gritty realism and clean living, which makes her such an interesting woman.

I don't know why he didn't interview her directly...perhaps at that time, she was just too busy living to take time off....which she eventually did in 1991, with the publication of "Ginger: My Story".

She was many things...a very competent woman, hard to keep up with for any man; a romantic; a homebody who loved being married; very empathetic and helpful with many of her colleagues; a very hard worker; a woman who was on occasion hurt and vulnerable; a genuine super talent in many areas...and plus, a person who had truly tremendous spirit, enthusiasm, strength, and resilience.

In late career, she had a few things to say about all the erroneous things that were said about her over the years. And, so it was, that some (notably, male) critics considered her to have become hard-hearted and egocentric....and for sure, there were instances where she was fully capable of vinegar...but Richards's biography was before her later confrontation with the "fourth estate"...and, before her official autobiography in 1991.

As the saying went about Ginger Rogers, she could do everything that her famous dance partner, Fred Astaire, could do, but she did it backwards and in high heels. That declaration neatly summed up the career of the Oscar-winning actress, which was marked by her seemingly limitless talents, which included starring in 10 sparkling screen musicals with Astaire, as well as subtle comedies like Stage Door" (1937) and "The Major and the Minor" (1942), as well as heartfelt dramas like "Kitty Foyle" (1940).
Rogers had achieved stardom on Broadway before she was 20, and began making feature films shortly thereafter, but it was her collaborations with Astaire that elevated her from movie star to screen icon.
Their dance routines were the epitome of class and grace, as well as possessing a chaste sexiness that transcended the censorial limitations of the period.
Astaire himself would credit her as one of his best screen partners, but their films together were just the start of her long and storied career. A decade's worth of solo features followed her musical heyday, culminating with her Oscar triumph as a headstrong girl determined to find happiness in "Kitty Foyle." Though her movie career declined in the early 1950s, Rogers remained a star on Broadway and nightclubs for another two decades, as well as a welcome figure on television, where she regaled audiences with stories of her past work. Rogers' star never truly dimmed, both in her lifetime and after it, and her screen presence, whether in the arms of Astaire or on her own, remained one of Hollywood's greatest treasures.

She was born Virginia Katherine McMath on July 16, 1911 in Independence, MO, the only child of electrical engineer William Eddins McMath and his wife Lela Emogene Owens, a screenwriter and reporter. From an early age, she was referred to as "Ginja," which came from a young cousin who was unable to pronounce "Virginia." Rogers' parents split shortly after she was born, which resulted in an acrimonious custody battle.

During this time, Lela Owens was working in Hollywood, so Rogers spent part of her childhood at her grandparents' home in Kansas City. Later, her mother married John Logan Rogers and moved with her daughter to Fort Worth, TX to work as a theater critic. Although never formally adopted by Rogers, Ginger took his surname as her own. (From TCM website)

I still regret not seeing Ginger Rogers when she appeared at Radio City Music Hall!

The bubbly child was interested in dance from an early age, performing frequently at local charity shows and school productions, but her passion truly blossomed when her mother brought her along to various stage productions. There, Rogers reportedly danced and sang along with the performers. At 14, she won the Texas State Charleston Competition, which earned her a four-week tour of Texas cities on the Interstate Theatre Circuit. With two redheaded Charleston dancers as her accompaniment, the act, billed as "Ginger and the Redheads," drew such crowds at each stop that the tour was extended to a six-month jaunt through the Western states. Rogers briefly developed a vaudeville act with her first husband, Jack Culpepper, who performed a singing and comedy act under the name of Jack Pepper. Their partnership, billed as "Ginger and Pepper," had an even shorter lifespan than their marriage, which lasted from 1929 until they parted amicably in 1931.

On February 10th, 1967, This was in TIME MAGAZINE! Is Ginger Rogers ready for the museum? Well—yes and no. At 55, she is still a star, hoofing and puffing her way through Hello, Dolly! on Broadway at well over $3,000 a week. On the other hand, she has made more films than Cary Grant and has been a star for almost four decades. So it seemed appropriate last week when Manhattan's Gallery of Modern Art awarded her a "Tribute"—a film festival of her finest hour-and-a-halfs—even though such honors are usually reserved for the likes of Garbo, Chaplin or yesterday's avant-garde directors. Ginger Rogers was happy for the attention, but she was aware of the anachronism. After viewing the mélange, she sighed, "It ain't really me up there. Just images, lights and shadows. Me's here."

Still, those lights and shadows illuminate more than a career. They shed some flickering light on the America of the '30s and '40s, when Hollywood had real home-grown stars and made musical comedies with music and comedy.

Cynical/Rabbinical. To watch the twelve features in the series is to watch Hollywood at its brilliant best and its wilted worst. Her earliest appearance is in Office Blues at 19, when, in spit curls and bee-stung lips, she boop-a-doops: "I hate to urge a man/But he acts like a clergyman . . . I'm so cynical/ He's rabbinical . . ."

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,840847,00.html#ixzz1SHHUg52N

The last time I saw HELLO, DOLLY! on stage, it was with Tovah Feldshuh. Four-time Tony award nominee Tovah Feldshuh starred as Dolly Gallagher Levi, the title role in the musical Hello Dolly at the Paper Mill Playhouse. She "enhanced" her performance with a slight Irish brogue. It could have been a nice touch, one that certainly validated the character's maiden/middle name even if it meant that there was no reason to expect even a trace of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in Tovah's performance. Feldshuh, an actor of considerable dramatic versatility, played Meir to great acclaim (which included a Tony nomination) on Broadway in Golda's Balcony.

I wish I'd seen Ginger in HELLO, DOLLY! But alas we have her movies! They Can't Take That Away From Me!


A CurtainUp Feature

Theatre Aficionado AT LARGE: Ginger Rogers as MAME
Hello Dollys. . .They Never Say Good-Bye

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