Sunday, February 14, 2010

Favorite Actresses, #3: Ginger Rogers

First Movie I Saw Her In: Stage Door (1937)

Three Favorite Movies: Top Hat (1935); Swing Time (1936); Stage Door (1937).

Honorable Mention: Weekend at the Waldorf (1946)

Favorite Performance: Stage Door (1937)

With Astaire: Top Hat (1935)

Why I Like Her: Ginger’s been covered at length in the Discovering Ginger Rogers entry. However, I could talk about her all day…

Liking Ginger Rogers was easy as pie once I actually saw her on screen. After about thirty seconds of watching Ginger in Stage Door I already considered her one of my favorites. She made me a fan from the start. Right away I was impressed at how modern she was. Ginger wasn’t melodramatic or whiny, she was more like how a real young woman would be during the 1930s; that is, if RKO technicians were tending your hair, makeup, and wardrobe, as well as providing your dialogue. Despite those small details, she came off as strikingly real. Ginger is also solely responsible for getting me interested--make that fascinated--with 1930s movies.

It’s hard to believe that I dismissed her out of hand as Fred Astaire’s untalented other half! My goodness, what was I thinking??? It’s an embarrassing admission but one I must admit to lest I fall into such stupidity again. Confession is good for the soul… However, Ginger was less a great star than a cultural cliché (“Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in heels.”) That’s such a dismissal of her ability. Ginger won an Oscar over staggeringly good competition in 1941 with her win for Kitty Foyle (the merits of the film is grist for another thread) but Astaire never did win a competitive Oscar, so she had that much on him.

Ginger’s comedic ability is second to none as she had great timing and a snappy, breezy way of speaking that made her a great choice for what were referred to as “working gal” roles. She was earthy without being foul, delicate without being helpless and graceful and feminine without sacrificing toughness. She could get into a catfight, moon over a dashing man, and crack wise with the likes of Kate Hepburn and Gail Patrick. She’s also the only actress of her era who could sing a Gershwin tune, dance while conveying a variety of feelings, and excel at drama and comedy—I say that in every entry, don’t I? For my money and for what’s up there on screen, Ginger Rogers is the most talented actress on this list. I’m amazed at all the things that she could do well and she’s alone at the top in that respect. The unfortunate aspect of Ginger’s career is that she turned her back on musicals and dancing which she should’ve kept at and could’ve continued doing, especially after her Oscar win, which put her on the top of the heap.

My interest in Ginger Rogers wanes considerably after 1945. Less interesting roles and films did nothing for her career as well as some inconsistent performances that were strangely out of character. However, from about 1932 to 1945 she was as good as anyone ever was or will be.


  1. A truly great actress, and she thoroughly deserves her place in the top three. Can't wait to see who the top two are though!

  2. She's one of the actors I used to not like, but am slowly changing my mind about. No other actress (and by "no other" I literally mean "no other") could pull off the gig in "The Major and the Minor"! I started watching this film disliking Ms. Rogers (and just wanted to see Ray Milland), so this was the beginning of my appreciation. Maybe I need to rewatch her other flicks.

  3. She was both beautiful and charming, qualities that don't often go together. To me, her movies with Fred Astair are the embodiment of Hollywood dream (Top Hat is my favourite, too), their dancing is so streamlined and perfect that it puts me in mind of a polished marble sculpture. I totally agree with you, she shouldn't have given up musicals, a genre she was cut out for par excellence.

  4. Stefanie: You won't have to wait too long! ;)

    Quirky: I dismissed Rogers for *decades* and she won me over, so there's plenty of hope for you, too! ;)

    Stella: Well said...again!

  5. I really hate it when people try to compare Rogers and Astaire, especially by pointing to the Oscars. They were both great artists but their talents differed. I think that Rogers stopped doing musicals because those she did without Astaire were not that good. Astaire also struggled for a while after they separated. They were perfect for each other, and not only when they danced. And Astaire was able to create dances that made her look as good as possible. He was a very generous partner with all the female dancers he partnered, and he tried hard to design choreography that was best for each. He was after win-win. He was also an excellent actor, but he unfortunately got very few opportunities to do drama like Rogers and that's what is usually rewarded by the Acadamy.

  6. Great post! She really did have much more talent than people give her credit for (for which people give her credit?). And I wish, like you, that she had kept with musicals. She was just as good an actress in them as she was in non-musicals. I do like "The Barkleys of Broadway" - one of her post-1945 roles. I think it's funny that the role was originally intended for Judy Garland because the storyline is strikingly similar to the Fred and Ginger one (without, of course, the marriage part. Okay, there are several differences. But it's still about a musical dance team and the girl breaks away to become a dramatic actress and proves she's good at it in the end).

    Phew! Sorry for the super-long comment! Like you, I could talk all day about her!

  7. She is possibly my favorite comedienne. Very, very witty.

  8. I think Miss Rogers was the perfect actress/star for the depression era audience. She always played universally relatable characters (Tender Comrade) , she was enormously entertaining (The Major and the Minor) and beautiful too (Lady in the Dark) . You should check out the musical segment from the "Lady in the Dark' called 'Poor Jenny' on YOUTUBE.

    Back in the early 80's NYC, I actually saw her walk through a restaurant on route to her White limo ...she was decked-out in her signature floor length white mink was a surreal movie star moment!

  9. CK

    I am unsure if late comments are welcome but will try anyway for I have something to say. I have not read all of your Ginger Rogers postings but she certainly seems to be undergoing a resurgence in recent years. And since the TCM coverage in March, that resurgence has increased exponentially. I was born in the same year that “The Gay Divorcee” was released, so I am partial to it for nostalgic reasons. And it is a glorious entry in the Astaire / Rogers family of films.

    Yet a Ginger Rogers film that gets less attention than it should is William Dieterle’s “I’ll be Seeing You.” Oddly, it was not shown by TCM in March. Ginger gave a beautifully nuanced performance opposite Joseph Cotten and was accompanied by the glorious Spring Byington -- and even a growing up Shirley Temple. It is a simple story with a World War II background, well told by Dieterle -- who did four excellent romantic films in a half dozen year period. It is quiet and subtle -- two troubled people struggling with a prison at one end of their existence and a cataclysmic war at the other.

    You may know the film well. I mention it only because some savvy filmgoers that I know have missed it.

    Gerald of Laszlo’s


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.