Born Virginia Katherine McMath in Independence, Missouri in 1911, Ginger Rogers biography reveals that she was one of the biggest stars in film history thanks in large part to her legendary partnership with Fred Astaire.
Ginger Rogers: Backwards in Heels
Ginger Rogers biography starts with vaudeville after winning a Charleston Championship. She immediately hit the road, touring with two other girls in an act called, 'Ginger and the Redheads', her mother Lela always in tow. Ultimately, they landed in New York City.
Rogers, then signed a seven year contract with Paramount in Astoria, Queens, making her feature film debut in 1929's Young Man of Manhattan and playing a sixteen year old flapper. This coincided with Rogers' Broadway debut in Top Speed. She quickly moved on to the Gershwin show, Girl Crazy in 1930 where she first met Astaire who had been called in to choreograph a number. They dated for a while but Rogers was eager to move to Hollywood.
In Hollywood, Rogers moved from flappers to gold-diggers. She finally broke through in the Warner Brothers hit 42nd Street showing her trademark broad-with-brains persona.
Fred and Ginger: The Most Popular Movie Team of all Time
Ginger Rogers didn't truly become a star until she partnered with Fred Astaire, making nine pictures at RKO between 1933 and 1939. As Katherine Hepburn said, "He gave her class, she gave him sex". Rogers' beauty and exceptional acting and comedic skills were the perfect complement to Astaire's magnificent dancing but not so great acting or looks. Their first film together was Flying Down to Rio in which neither had a big part. But with The Gay Divorcee the partnership really took off. By the time they did their famous Cheek to Cheek number in Top Hat they were a hit.
In 1936, their peak year, they were third in popularity after Shirley Temple and Clark Gable. This was the year they performed some of their most legendary dance numbers such as Let's Face the Music and Dance and Let Yourself Go from Follow the Fleet and The Waltz in Swing Time from Swing Time. One of their most memorable and often shown moments is the Pick Yourself Up number from Swing Time when they dance over two sets of railings and right out of the door.
The Magic of Fred and Ginger
Astaire, who always required a lot rehearsal and even more takes, said Ginger Rogers was the only girl who never cried. When they started dancing Rogers couldn't tap and had never danced with a partner. Nonetheless even Astaire had to admit that no one else ever looked as right with him. Her gift was to make everyone long to dance with that funny looking fellow.
Astaire Rogers Filmography
- Flying Down to Rio (1933)
- The Gay Divorcee (1934)
- Roberta (1935)
- Top Hat (1935)
- Follow the Fleet (1936)
- Swing Time (1936)
- Shall We Dance (1937)
- Carefree (1938)
- The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939)
- The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)
Ginger without Fred
While Ginger Rogers' partnership with Fred Astaire lifted them both to stardom, they also longed to prove themselves apart. Ultimately, they went their separate ways in 1939 and Rogers went on to the individual recognition she had longed for. The following year she won an Oscar for her performance in Kitty Foyle. She starred in films such as Bachelor Mother, The Major and the Minor and Monkey Business. In 1945, she was the highest paid female actress in Hollywood. Her leading men apart from Astaire included Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Henry Fonda.
Astaire had made a few major missteps and had 'retired' from films in the mid-1940s until he was called into replace an injured Gene Kelly in Easter Parade. When Judy Garland was forced to withdraw for health reasons from their next vehicle, The Barkleys of Broadway, Ginger Rogers stepped in. Although the film was a hit, it was not enough to revive Rogers' flagging film career.
Ginger Rogers Biography Off-screen
Ginger Rogers split her time between her a 1000-acre ranch near Medford, Oregon and her Beverly Hills home. She was married and divorced five times to dancer Jack Pepper (1929-1931), actor Lew Ayres (1934-1941), ex-Marine Jack Briggs (1941-1949), lawyer Jacques Bergerac (1953-1957) and director/producer William Marshall (1961-1971). She was also an accomplished painter. She died on April 25, 1995 in Rancho Mirage, California of congestive heart failure. Ginger Rogers made seventy-three films over a fifty-year career and she is truly a screen and dance legend.