Ginger Rogers Biography

Virginia Katherine McMath, 16 July 1911, Independence, Missouri, USA, d. 25 April 1995, Rancho Mirage, California, USA. A charming and vivacious actress, dancer and singer, Ginger Rogers became a movie legend after partnering Fred Astaire in a series of memorable musicals between 1933 and 1949. She grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, and, after winning a Charleston contest at the age of 15, worked in vaudeville for a time before making a big impression in the 1929 Guy Bolton - Bert Kalmar - Harry Ruby Broadway musical Top Speed. A year later she played the lovelorn postmistress Molly Gray, introducing George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin’s lovely song ‘But Not For Me’, in Girl Crazy. Also in 1930, Rogers made her first feature film, Young Man Of Manhattan, which was followed by several others, in which she generally played streetwise blondes (after dying her hair), including 42nd Street (as Anytime Annie) and Gold Diggers Of 1933. That was also the year in which she was teamed with Astaire in RKO’s Flying Down To Rio, the first of 10 light-hearted and tuneful musicals, through which they became the most beloved dance duo in movie history. The films were The Gay Divorcee, Roberta, Top Hat, Follow The Fleet, Swing Time, Shall We Dance?, Carefree, The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle, and - after a break of 10 years - The Barkleys Of Broadway (1949). Even before the two stars went their separate ways in 1939, Ginger Rogers had been playing critically acclaimed dramatic roles in films such as Stage Door, and, during the rest of her film career, she continued to excel in both serious and comedy parts, winning the best actress Oscar for her outstanding performance in Kitty Foyle (1940). After making her last picture, Harlow, in 1964, she returned to the stage in the following year, taking over the leading role from Carol Channing on Broadway in Hello, Dolly!, and subsequently touring with the show. In 1969 she opened at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane in another Jerry Herman musical, Mame, the first time British audiences had been given the opportunity to see the show. On her return to the USA she formed the Rogue River Revues, out of which came the Ginger Rogers Show which toured major cities in the USA in the late 70s and played two weeks at the London Palladium. In later years she became a fashion and beauty consultant and also spent a good deal of time pursuing her hobby of painting. In 1986 Rogers attempted to block the distribution of Federico Fellini’s film Ginger And Fred, which told of two small-time entertainers who do an impression of Astaire and Rogers, because ‘it depicted the film’s dance team as having been lovers’. In real life Ginger Rogers was married five times, first to Jack Pepper with whom she danced for a time in the early days, and then to actor Lew Ayres, US marine Jack Briggs, actor Jacques Bergerac, and finally actor-director-producer William Marshall. In 1993, more than 60 years after she came to prominence when playing Molly in Girl Crazy, Ginger Rogers attended a performance of the hit Broadway production Crazy For You, which was adapted from that very same Gershwin show. She made another rare public appearance in December 1994 to receive a dedication at the European launch of the annual International Achievement in Arts Awards at London’s Dominion Theatre.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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