Skip to main content
Select Source:

Rogers, Ginger

ROGERS, Ginger


Nationality: American. Born: Virginia Katherine McMath in Independence, Missouri, 16 July 1911; adopted name of stepfather, Rogers. Education: Attended Benton Boulevard Elementary School, Kansas City; Sixth Ward Elementary School and Central High School, both in Fort Worth, Texas. Family: Married 1) the dancer Jack Pepper (Edward Jackson Culpepper), 1929 (divorced 1931); 2) the actor Lew Ayres, 1934 (divorced 1940); 3) the actor Jack Briggs, 1943 (divorced 1949); 4) the actor Jacques Bergerac, 1953 (divorced 1957); 5) William Marshall, 1961 (divorced 1970). Career: 1925—stage debut in Eddie Foy's vaudeville troupe; then toured for next few years as dancer, first with Jack Pepper, later as a solo act; 1929—New York debut in musical comedy Top Speed; 1930—feature film debut in Young Man of Manhattan; 1933—first film with Fred Astaire, Flying Down to Rio; 1951—on Broadway in Love and Let Love: later stage work in Hello, Dolly! in New York and tour, 1965–67, Mame in London, 1969, Coco on tour, 1971, Our Town in Sherman, Texas, 1972; 1971—fashion consultant to J. C. Penney chain; 1976—formed a nightclub review; 1985—directed play Babes in Arms, performed in Tarrytown, New York. Awards: Best Actress Academy Award, for Kitty Foyle, 1940. Died: In Rancho Mirage, California, 25 April 1995.

Films as Actress:

1929

A Night in a Dormitory (Delmar—short); A Day of a Man of Affairs (Basil Smith—short)

1930

Office Blues (Blumenstock—short) (as secretary); Campus Sweethearts (Meehan—short); Young Man of Manhattan (Bell) (as Puff Randolph); Queen High (Newmeyer) (as Polly Rockwell); The Sap from Syracuse (The Sap from Abroad) (A. Edward Sutherland) (as Ellen Saunders); Follow the Leader (Taurog) (as Mary Brennan)

1931

Honor among Lovers (Arzner) (as Doris Blake); The Tip-Off (Looking for Trouble) (Rogell) (as Baby Face); Suicide Fleet (Rogell) (as Sally)

1932

Screen Snapshots (short); Hollywood on Parade (Oakie—short); Carnival Boat (Rogell) (as Honey); The Tenderfoot (Enright) (as Ruth); The Thirteenth Guest (Lady Beware) (Albert Ray) (as Marie Morgan/Lela); Hat Check Girl (Lanfield) (as Jessie King); You Said a Mouthful (Lloyd Bacon) (as Alice Brandon)

1933

Hollywood on Parade, No. 9 (short); 42nd Street (Lloyd Bacon) (as Ann Lowell, "Anytime Annie"); Broadway Bad (Her Reputation) (Lanfield) (as Flip Daly); Gold Diggers of 1933 (LeRoy) (as Fay Fortune); Professional Sweetheart (Imaginary Sweetheart) (Seiter) (as Glory Eden); A Shriek in the Night (Albert Ray) (as Patricia Morgan); Don't Bet on Love (Roth) (as Molly Gilbert); Sitting Pretty (Harry Joe Brown) (as Dorothy); Flying Down to Rio (Freeland) (as Honey Hale); Chance at Heaven (Seiter) (as Marje Harris)

1934

Rafter Romance (Seiter) (as Mary Carroll); Finishing School (Tuchock and Nicholls Jr.) (as Cecelia "Pony" Ferris); Twenty Million Sweethearts (Enright) (as Peggy Cornell); Change of Heart (Blystone) (as Madge Roundtree); Upperworld (Del Ruth) (as Lily Linder); The Gay Divorcee (Sandrich) (as Mimi Glossop); Romance in Manhattan (Roberts) (as Sylvia Dennis)

1935

Roberta (Seiter) (as Countess Scharwenka/Lizzie Gatz); Star of Midnight (Roberts) (as Donna Mantin); Top Hat (Sandrich) (as Dale Tremont); In Person (Seiter) (as Carol Corliss)

1936

Follow the Fleet (Sandrich) (as Sherry Martin); Swing Time (Stevens) (as Penelope "Penny" Carrol)

1937

Shall We Dance (Sandrich) (as Linda Keene); Stage Door (La Cava) (as Joan Maitland)

1938

Having Wonderful Time (Santell) (as Thelma "Teddy" Shaw); Vivacious Lady (Stevens) (as Frances "Francey" Brent); Carefree (Sandrich) (as Amanda Cooper)

1939

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (Potter) (as Irene Foote Castle); Bachelor Mother (Kanin) (as Polly Parrish); Fifth Avenue Girl (La Cava) (as Mary Grey)

1940

Primrose Path (La Cava) (as Ellie May Adams); Lucky Partners (Milestone) (as Jean Newton); Kitty Foyle (Wood) (title role)

1941

Tom, Dick, and Harry (Kanin) (as Janie)

1942

Roxie Hart (Wellman) (title role); Tales of Manhattan (Duvivier) (as Diane); The Major and the Minor (Wilder) (as Susan Applegate); Once upon a Honeymoon (McCarey) (as Katie O'Hara/Katharine Butte-Smith)

1943

Show Business at War (March of Times series) (short); Tender Comrade (Dmytryk) (as Jo Jones)

1944

Lady in the Dark (Leisen) (as Liza Elliott); Safeguarding Military Information (WWII training film); Battle Stations (as narrator); I'll Be Seeing You (Dieterle) (as Mary Marshall)

1945

Weekend at the Waldorf (Leonard) (as Irene Malvern)

1946

Heartbeat (Wood) (as Arlette Lafon); Magnificent Doll (Borzage) (as Dolley Paine Madison)

1947

It Had to Be You (Hartman and Mate) (as Victoria Stafford)

1949

The Barkleys of Broadway (Walters) (as Dinah Barkley)

1950

Perfect Strangers (Too Dangerous to Love) (Windust) (as Terry Scott)

1951

Storm Warning (Heisler) (as Marsha Mitchell); The Groom Wore Spurs (Whorf) (as Abigail J. Furnival)

1952

We're Not Married (Edmund Goulding) (as Ramona); Monkey Business (Hawks) (as Edwina Fulton); Dreamboat (Binyon) (as Gloria)

1954

Forever Female (Rapper) (as Beatrice Page); Black Widow (Nunnally Johnson) (as Lottie); Twist of Fate (Beautiful Stranger) (Miller) (as Johnny Victor)

1955

Tight Spot (Karlson) (as Sherry Conley)

1956

The First Traveling Saleslady (Lubin) (as Rose Gillray); Teenage Rebel (Edmund Goulding) (as Nancy Fallon); Oh, Men! Oh, Women! (Nunnally Johnson) (as Mildred Turner)

1964

The Confession (Seven Different Ways; Quick, Let's Get Married) (Dieterle) (as Mme. Rinaldi)

1965

Harlow (Segal) (as Mama Jean); Cinderella (Dubin—for TV) (as the Queen)

1984

George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey (Stevens Jr.—doc)

1994

That's Entertainment! III (Friedgen and Sheridan—compilation)



Publications


By ROGERS: book—


Ginger: My Story, New York, 1991.


By ROGERS: articles—

"How I Got My First Job," in Dance, December 1931.

"Roger!," interview with M. Arnold, in Photoplay (New York), August 1949.

"Candid Comments by an Actress," interview with Richard L. Coe, in New York Times, 23 September 1951.

"Doctor Ginger Rogers," interview with R. C. Hay, in Inter/View (New York), October 1972.

"Ginger Rogers: Things Do Seem to Pan Out," interview with Christine Winter, in Chicago Tribune, 1 December 1974.

"Taps for Ginger Rogers," interview with J. Goldberg, in Village Voice (New York), 15 March 1976.

"Ginger," interview with Andy Warhol, in Interview (New York), April 1976.

"And What Is Ginger Up To?," interview with J. Klemesrud, in Esquire (New York), August 1976.


On ROGERS: books—

Richards, Dick, Ginger: Salute to a Star, Brighton, 1969.

Croce, Arlene, The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book, New York, 1972.

Smith, Milburn, editor, Astaire and Rogers, New York, 1972.

Parish, James Robert, The RKO Girls, New Rochelle, New York, 1974.

Dickens, Homer, The Films of Ginger Rogers, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1975.

McGilligan, Patrick, Ginger Rogers, New York, 1975.

Eells, George, Ginger, Loretta, and Irene Who?, New York, 1976.

Topper, Susanne, Astaire and Rogers, New York, 1976.

Delameter, Jerome, A Critical and Historical Analysis of Dance as a Code of the Hollywood Musical, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1979.

Carrrick, Peter, A Tribute to Fred Astaire, London, 1984.

Faris, Jocelyn, Ginger Rogers: A Bio-Bibliography, Westport, Connecticut, 1994.

Morley, Sheridan, Shall We Dance?: The Life of Ginger Rogers, New York, 1995.

Baxt, George, Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Murder Case, (fiction), New York, 1997.


On ROGERS: articles—

Crisler, B. R., "Ginger Takes the Town," in New York Times, 16 February 1936.

"Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers" issue of Visages (Paris), January 1939.

"Dancing Girl," in Time (New York), 10 April 1939.

Strauss, Theodore, "The Young Lady from Independence," in New York Times, 22 February 1942.

"She Adds New Chapter to Her Success Story," in Life (New York), 2 March 1942.

Sarris, Andrew, "Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire Musicals," in Village Voice (New York), 7 May 1964.

Dickens, Homer, "Ginger Rogers," in Films in Review (New York), March 1966.

Current Biography 1967, New York, 1967.

Spiegel, Ellen, "Fred and Ginger Meet Van Nest Polglase," in The Velvet Light Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), Autumn 1973.

"Ginger Rogers Today," in Photoplay (New York), November 1976.

McAsh, I. F., "Just Ginger Rogers," in Films Illustrated (London), May 1978.

Wood, Robin, "Never Never Change, Always Gonna Dance," in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1979.

"Footlights Again for Ginger Rogers," in New York Times, 2 May 1980.

Rickey, C., "Ginger Rogers Is a Great Actress. Really," in Village Voice (New York), 26 May 1980.

Telotte, J. P. "Dancing the Depression: Narrative Strategy in the Astaire-Rogers Films," in Journal of Popular Film and Television, November 1980.

Lauwaert, D., "Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers," in Film en Televisie (Brussels), October 1983.

"Dishonored Lady," in New Yorker, 11 January 1993.

Frank, Michael, "Ginger Rogers: Rolling Back the Rugs in Coldwater Canyon," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1994.

Bergan, Ronald, "Shall We Dance?," in Guardian, 12 April 1995.

Obituary in New York Times, 26 April 1995.

Shales, Tom, "Ginger Rogers, Dancing Chic to Chic," in Washington Post, 26 April 1995.

Obituary, in Variety (New York), 1 May 1995.

Kendall, Elizabeth, "Film View: An Actress First and Then a Dancer," in New York Times, 7 May 1995.

Croce, Arlene, "Ginger Rogers," in New Yorker, 8 May 1995.

"Never to Be Forgotten," in Psychotronic Video (Narrowsburg), no. 21, 1995.


* * *

One of the longest successful Hollywood film careers belongs to Ginger Rogers, a fact frequently overlooked. When fans and historians list those women who survived as stars despite age and changing styles and times, the names usually cited include Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, and Myrna Loy, but Rogers is rarely mentioned. It is perhaps a tribute to her lasting youthfulness that, although there is no question that she is a major star with a lengthy career, she is not thought of as someone who survived or kept her career going after great setbacks. Instead, she is a star who never had to make a comeback because she never left the limelight.

The best-known aspect of the Rogers career is her membership in the most beloved and celebrated dance team in the history of the American musical cinema—the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers combination which was paired in ten dance musicals. Together, from 1933 to 1939, they made nine films for RKO, managing to keep the financially unstable studio afloat for several years. Because many film scholars consider the Astaire/Rogers films to be the greatest dance musicals produced by Hollywood, they have been the subject of extensive analysis. Most of the research concerns the revolutionary aesthetic contributions that have been attributed to Fred Astaire; the integration of musical numbers and choreography with plot and story line, sound recording methods, and the use of camera work to maintain the integrity of the dance numbers.

Historically, the other half of the team, Rogers, has been continually overlooked. As film scholar Robin Wood so aptly states, "One habitually thinks of Rogers as Astaire's partner, rather than the other way around." Some have argued that Astaire, in fact, needed Rogers more than she him.

After Astaire's sister broke up the Broadway dance team of Fred and Adele Astaire in 1932, Astaire found his career in musical comedy faltering and embarked on a career in the motion picture industry. It was a risky undertaking. Already 33 and thin, balding, and not-classically handsome, Astaire did not possess the qualities of the typical Hollywood leading man. Rogers, however, was already well-established in the American film industry. Before being matched with Astaire, she appeared in 19 feature films, including 2 of Warner's Busby Berkeley musicals, 42nd Street and Golddiggers of 1933. During the years in which she and Astaire were a team, Rogers made several films, both dramatic and comedic, without him. According to Croce, "By the end of 1939, RKO considered Rogers its No. 1 star and began laying plans for a straight dramatic career, while Astaire ran out his contract."

In their filmed musical pairings, Astaire and Rogers seemed wrong for one another, gloriously mismatched physically, intellectually, and stylistically. Rogers was down-to-earth, athletic—very much the "all-American" type. In the exaggerated manner of film stars, she represented the ordinary. Astaire was the elegant, European in grace, and so exceptional that he has never been equaled. Yet together, they personified the idiosyncrasy of romance—two people that friends would never match up, but who have been brought together by an inexplicable attraction. This attraction was physicalized and eloquently expressed through their dances. The best explanation of the Astaire/Rogers chemistry is a quote attributed to Katharine Hepburn: "She gave him sex, and he gave her class."

Had Rogers not been so ambitious, she might have settled for lasting fame as Astaire's most popular dance partner. But she wanted more for herself, and knew from her years in films before Astaire that she could play comedy and drama well. She broke off the partnership, a courageous career move for which she is seldom given credit.

Her first major success as a dramatic actress was Kitty Foyle, for which she won the 1940 Oscar for Best Actress. Having thus established herself as a solo performer, Rogers continued to pursue an active career in comedy as well as drama, occasionally returning to the musical format. Her screen image became that of a wise, tough-minded, humorous, hard-working, real-life American woman, an image built to last as it accommodated her advancing age and afforded her the versatility to play in different film genres. In later years, Rogers made a successful transition from films to television, and found equal acclaim in big Broadway musicals such as Mame and Hello, Dolly! Any discussion of the career of Ginger Rogers must give credit to her mother, Leila Rogers, who managed her daughter with determination and intelligence. Together, the two women made the most of all opportunities they had, beginning with young Ginger's first triumph in a Charleston contest. Rogers was not considered the most beautiful woman in Hollywood, nor the best actress, singer, comedienne, or even dancer. But she was an attractive woman who could be glamorous or wholesome, depending on what the role required. She could sing and dance well, and she was versatile, with excellent comedic timing, and ability to mimic, and real dramatic skill. Putting it all together gave her the edge she needed which, supplemented by the Rogers family business acumen, and her own professionalism, made her a top star and kept her there.

Ginger Rogers and her mother represent pioneer career women. Active in politics, shrewd in business, and maintaining control of their careers in the difficult, frequently male-dominated world of Hollywood, they may be thought of as feminists in deed if not by label or self-definition.

—Jeanine Basinger, updated by Frances Gateward

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Rogers, Ginger." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Rogers, Ginger." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/rogers-ginger

"Rogers, Ginger." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/rogers-ginger

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Rogers, Ginger

Rogers, Ginger (1911–95) US actress and dancer. Rogers became famous in the 1930s for several film musicals co-starring Fred Astaire, including Flying Down To Rio (1933) and Top Hat (1934). She also appeared on stage.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Rogers, Ginger." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Rogers, Ginger." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rogers-ginger

"Rogers, Ginger." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rogers-ginger

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Rogers, Ginger

Rogers, Ginger

(b. 16 July 1911 in Independence, Missouri; d. 25 April 1995 in Rancho Mirage, California), Academy Award-winning actress best remembered for the movies she made with Fred Astaire.

Rogers was born Virginia Katherine McMath, the only surviving child of William Eddins McMath, an electrical engineer, and Lela Emogene Owens, a journalist. Her parents were divorced not long after her birth, and her mother got the upper hand in their bitter custodial dispute. Rogers’s father kidnapped the child, and her mother used the incident to gain sole custody. During her early years Rogers lived for long periods with her grandparents in Kansas City, Missouri, as her mother traveled first to Hollywood and later to New York to pursue opportunities as a screenwriter and then worked as a publicist for the U.S. Marine Corps after the United States entered World War I.

In May 1920 Rogers’s mother married John Logan Rogers, and the family moved to Fort Worth, Texas. John Rogers worked for an insurance company, and Lela got a job as a reporter and drama critic for the Fort Worth Record. Ginger, nicknamed by a younger cousin who could not pronounce Virginia, attended the Fifth Ward Elementary School. Although John Rogers did not officially adopt Ginger, she began using his last name. She first thought about becoming an entertainer at age twelve, when she played the lead role in a school play, The Death of St. Denis, which her mother had written. “I started thinking how would it be on the stage, how would it be to be an entertainer,” she said in an interview years later. “And I liked the idea.”

In January 1926, at age fourteen, Rogers entered and won a statewide Charleston contest. First prize included a four-week engagement to perform on the local vaudeville circuit. Her mother helped her put together an act that was successful enough for them to continue on the vaudeville circuit throughout the South and Midwest. It was at this point that Rogers left school and her mother turned her formidable energy from her own career to that of her daughter. Until her death in 1977, Rogers’s mother was instrumental in managing Rogers’s career and in other ways as well. Both mother and daughter were devout Christian Scientists and strong Republicans.

On 29 March 1929, at age seventeen, Rogers married Edward Jackson Culpepper, a dancer and singer known on the vaudeville circuit as Jack Pepper. Her mother angrily returned to Fort Worth, and the marriage soon fell apart. Rogers and Culpepper separated for good after only a few months but did not officially divorce until July 1931. They had no children. Rogers was rejoined by her mother, whose own marriage had ended after she returned to Fort Worth.

In 1929 Rogers and her mother went to New York City, where Rogers landed a role in a Broadway musical, Top Speed. The show opened in December 1929 and ran for 102 performances. While she was still in Top Speed, Rogers began working for Paramount Pictures at Astoria Studios in Queens, New York. She did a series of musical short subjects with Rudy Vallee, then moved on to small roles in feature films. In her first feature, Young Man of Manhattan (1930), she uttered the memorable line, “Cigarette me, big boy.” After Top Speed closed Rogers was offered the role of the postmistress in George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin’s Girl Crazy, which opened on Broadway in October 1930 and ran for 272 performances. In that show she introduced the songs “But Not for Me” and “Embraceable You.”

Shortly after the 6 June 1931 closing of Girl Crazy, Rogers and her mother traveled to Hollywood, where Rogers worked steadily but initially to little avail. She finally made a significant impact as the chorus girl Anytime Annie in Forty-second Street (1933). Then her song “We’re in the Money” opened the movie Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933). She landed a starring role in Don’t Bet on Love (1933) with Lew Ayres, and not long before filming started they began dating. They married on 14 November 1934. They separated in May 1936 but did not divorce until 1940. They had no children.

In April 1933 RKO signed Rogers to a contract and cast her in the Dolores Del Rio musical Flying down to Rio (1933), in which she was paired with Fred Astaire, who had recently arrived from New York. Rogers and Astaire danced “The Carioca” with their foreheads pressed together, the highlight of the film. RKO began looking for another vehicle in which they could be paired, but Astaire first had to return to New York to star in Cole Porter’s The Gay Divorce (1934). Rogers made another six movies, and when Astaire returned to Hollywood in late 1933, The Gay Divorce was revamped as a movie vehicle, The Gay Divorcee (1934), for Astaire and Rogers. They next were cast in supporting roles in Roberta (1935), then they starred in Top Hat (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936), Swing Time (1936), and Shall We Dance (1937).

The plots of most Astaire-Rogers films were slight, but composers like Porter, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and Irving Berlin wrote their music. Their dance numbers, choreographed by Astaire and the dancer-choreographer Hermes Pan, were exquisite. Most significantly, the combination of Astaire and Rogers was perhaps the most potent pairing in Hollywood history.

Rogers was five feet, five inches tall, and although her hair was naturally dark, she was usually blonde in her film roles. Her face was attractive and distinct, but not intimidating. While other stars often projected a chilly aura of glamour, Rogers came across as an ordinary girl—who wasn’t quite ordinary. Perhaps her biggest strength was her ability to simultaneously project two contradictory personalities: down-to-earth yet special, and brassy yet sensitive.

Critics had a hard time explaining the impact of Astaire and Rogers as a pair. Katharine Hepburn offered one of the most famous explanations, “He gives her class, and she gives him sex.” But their quality went further than that. Astaire and Rogers were believable as a couple. Away from Rogers, Astaire often seemed in a realm by himself. Rogers grounded him, and with her he came across as a real man with real emotions. John Mueller, author of Astaire Dancing: The Musical Films (1985), theorized that the special spark Rogers brought to her partnership with Astaire was her acting ability. Whatever the dance was intended to illustrate—enduring love or an initial spark of interest—she was a convincing actress who carried the viewers with her.

By the time Rogers and Astaire made Carefree (1938), however, both were restless. After Shall We Dance, Rogers had a breakthrough role in Stage Door (1937), easily holding her own as Hepburn’s roommate, and she was anxious to prove that she could do more than musical comedy fluff. Astaire, long linked by the public mind to his original partner, his sister Adele Astaire, was unhappy to find himself in another semipermanent partnership. Consequently when Astaire and Rogers made The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939), both felt it was their swan song.

Rogers also had an active social life during this time. Although she was officially married to Ayres until 1940, she had for all practical purposes been single since 1936, and she dated James Stewart, Cary Grant, George Gershwin, Alfred Vanderbilt, George Stevens, and Howard Hughes. After her divorce from Ayres, she was briefly engaged to Hughes.

After the Astaire-Rogers musical partnership ended, RKO cast Rogers in roles that showcased both her flair for comedy, such as Bachelor Mother (1939) and Fifth Avenue Girl (1939), and her dramatic ability, such as Primrose Path (1940). She quickly hit pay dirt, winning the 1940 Academy Award for best actress for her role in Kitty Foyle (1940).

Rogers’s notable movies during the early 1940s include Roxie Hart (1942), in which she is a hungry-for-fame nightclub dancer; The Major and the Minor (1942), Billy Wilder’s directing debut in which Rogers plays a woman who disguises herself as a twelve-year-old to save on rail fare; and Lady in the Dark (1944), the Kurt Weill-Ira Gershwin musical about a fashion magazine editor who undergoes psychoanalysis. In 1945 Rogers was listed as the highest-paid Hollywood star with earnings of $292,159. On 16 January 1943 she married the actor Jack Briggs, who was in the U.S. Marine Corps at the time. They had no children and divorced on 6 December 1949.

Rogers unexpectedly made one last movie with Astaire, The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), when she was brought in as a replacement for Judy Garland. It was Rogers and Astaire’s only movie in color. In 1951 Rogers returned to Broadway in the comedy Love and Let Love, which ran for only three weeks. On 7 February 1953 she married Jacques Bergerac, a French actor and businessman. He starred with her in Twist of Fate (1954). They had no children and divorced on 9 July 1957.

As movie roles began to dry up, Rogers occasionally made television appearances and toured with a nightclub act. She also toured with Annie Get Your Gun (1960), Bell, Book, and Candle (1961), and Calamity Jane (1961). On 16 March 1961 she married G. William Marshall, an actor and producer. They had no children and divorced in 1967. It was Rogers’s last marriage.

Rogers’s last movie was Harlow (1965), in which she played Jean Harlow’s mother. In 1965 she replaced Carol Channing in the hit Broadway musical Hello, Dolly! Rogers played Dolly Levi from 1965 to 1968, first on Broadway and then with the national touring company. She also starred in the London production of Mame in 1969–1970. From 1975 to 1979 she toured frequently with The Ginger Rogers Show, a musical revue featuring songs associated with her career.

During the 1980s Rogers began working on her autobiography, Ginger: My Story, published in 1991. By then her primary residence was a ranch in Oregon that she had purchased in 1940. In 1992 she was one of the recipients of the Fifteenth Annual Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement. For a year before her death of a diabetic coma she was confined to a wheelchair. Rogers is buried in Oakland Memorial Park in Chatsworth, California.

Because of the effortless quality Rogers brought to her work, it is easy to underestimate her. But she was an actress who handled both comedy and drama with aplomb, a powerful singer who performed in Broadway musicals before onstage microphones came into use, and a dancer who held her own with Astaire. In fact the qualities that Rogers brought to her partnership with Astaire were so strong that it is difficult to think about Astaire without simultaneously thinking about Rogers.

Both the Lincoln Center branch of the New York Public Library and the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, California, have clippings files on Rogers. Her autobiography Ginger: My Story (1991) is the most complete source, but it is in no sense a tell-all. A shorter, snippier, and lavishly illustrated biography is Sheridan Morley, Shall We Dance: The Life of Ginger Rogers (1995). For a survey of her movies see Films in Review (Mar. 1966). For an in-depth analysis of her dances with Astaire see Arlene Croce, The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book (1972), and John E. Mueller, Astaire Dancing: The Musical Films (1985). A detailed article on Rogers is in Current Biography 1967. An obituary is in the New York Times (26 Apr. 1995).

Lynn Hoogenboom

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Rogers, Ginger." The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Rogers, Ginger." The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rogers-ginger

"Rogers, Ginger." The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rogers-ginger

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.