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.