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Ginger Rogers, (July 16, 1911 - April 25, 1995), was a legendary American actress and dancer.
Born Virginia Katherine McMath, in Independence, Missouri, the daughter of Eddins McMath and Lela Owens McMath. Her mother Lela separated from Ginger's father soon after she was born, Lela and Ginger went to live with her maternal grandparents in nearby Kansas City. Her parents became estranged, and fought for custody of Ginger, her father even going as far as taking Ginger without consent from Lela. After they divorced Ginger stayed with her grandparents, Walter and Saphrona Owens, while Lela wrote screenplays for two years in Hollywood. Several of Ginger's cousins had a hard time pronouncing her first name Virginia, they shortened it to "Ginga".
When Ginger was nine-years-old her mother remarried, to John Logan Rogers. Ginger took the name of Rogers, although never legally. They lived in Fort Worth, Texas, and Lela became a theater critic for a local newspaper, the Fort Worth Record. As a teenager Ginger thought of teaching school, but with Lela's interest in Hollywood and the theater, young Ginger would get more and more exposure to the theater. Waiting in the wings of the Majestic Theater, for her mother, Rogers began to sing and dance along to the performers on stage.
Five years later her entertainment career was born one night when the traveling Vaudeville act of Eddie Foy (Bob Hope would play Foy in The Seven Little Foys) came to Fort Worth and needed a quick stand-in. She would enter and win a Charleston contest and then hit the road on a Vaudeville tour. Her and Lela would tour for four years. During this time Lela divorced John Rogers. When Ginger was 17 she married Jack Culpepper, another dancer on the circuit. The marriage was over within months and Ginger went back to touring with her mother. When the tour got to New York City, she stayed, getting radio singing jobs and then her Broadway theater debut in a musical called Top Speed, December 25, 1929. Within two weeks of opening in Top Speed she was hired to star in Girl Crazy by George and Ira Gershwin. Fred Astaire was hired to help the dancers with their choreography, and he briefly dated Ginger. Her appearance in Girl Crazy made her an overnight star at the age of 19. In 1930 she was signed with Paramount Pictures for a seven-year contract.
Rogers would soon get herself out of the Paramount contract and head with her mother to Hollywood. When she got to California, she signed a three-picture deal with Pathé, three forgettable pictures. After getting bit parts for singing and dancing for most of 1932, in 1933 she made her screen break-through in 42nd Street with Warner Brothers. She would then make a couple more forgettable films with RKO. But in the second of those, Flying Down to Rio, she again met up with Fred Astaire.
She is most remembered as Fred Astaire's romantic interest and dancing partner in a series of ten all-singing all-dancing Hollywood musicals, but her acting career spanned over thirty years. Her first roles were in a trio of short films made in 1929 — Night in the Dormitory, A Day of a Man of Affairs, and Campus Sweethearts. In 1939, she played opposite David Niven in Bachelor Mother.
In 1941 Ginger Rogers won the Academy Award for Best Actress, for her starring role in 1940 's Kitty Foyle. In 1940 she purchased a 1000-acre ranch between Shady Cove and Eagle Point, Oregon along the Rogue River, just north of Medford. The ranch, named the 4-R's (for Rogers' Rogue River Ranch), is where she would live, along with her mother, when not doing her Hollywood business, for 50-years. The ranch was also a dairy, and would supply milk for the war effort during World War II, to Camp White. Rogers loved to fish the Rogue every summer. She sold the ranch in 1990, and moved to Medford.
She was a right-wing Republican politically, and lived for much of her life with her mother, Lela Owens McMath Rogers (1891–1977), a Christian Scientist (like Ginger) who was a newspaper reporter, scriptwriter, movie producer, one of the first women to enlist in the Marine Corps, and a founder of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. Ginger's mother "named names" to the HUAC, and both mother and daughter were staunchly anti-Communist. This extremely close mother-daughter relationship -- Ginger's mother even denied Ginger's father visitation rights after their divorce -- has been proffered to explain, in part, Rogers's history of marital disappointments and childlessness.
After her first marriage (to her dancing partner Jack Pepper; real name Edward Jackson Culpepper; on March 29, 1929; they divorced in 1931, having separated soon after the wedding), in 1934, she married her second husband, actor Lew Ayres (1908–1996); they separated quickly and were divorced in 1941. In 1943, she married her third husband, Jack Briggs, a Marine; they divorced in 1949. In 1953, she married her fourth husband, lawyer Jacques Bergerac (16 years her junior, he became an actor and then a cosmetics company executive); they divorced in 1957 and he soon remarried actress Dorothy Malone. In 1961, she married her fifth husband, director and producer William Marshall, but separated from him within weeks of their marriage, eventually divorcing him in 1969.
Ginger was good friends with Lucille Ball for many years until Ball's death in 1989, at the age of 77, although Lucy did not seem to share Ginger's political views, but evidently still enjoyed her company, as did Bette Davis, a Democrat who definitely did not share Ginger's views and called her a "moralist", but still professed to enjoying Ginger's company.
She would spend the winters in Rancho Mirage, California, and the summers in Medford, Oregon. Ginger Rogers died on April 25, 1995, of complications from diabetes, at the age of 83, in Rancho Mirage, California, and was interred in the Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, California.
The Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater in Medford, Oregon is named in her honor.
- Campus Sweethearts RKO short subject, 1929
- A Day of a Man of Affairs Columbia short subject, 1929
- A Night in a Dormitory Pathe short subject, 1930
- Young Man of Manhattan Paramount, 1930
- The Sap from Syracuse Paramount, 1930
- Queen High Paramount, 1930
- Office Blues Paramount short subject, 1930
- Follow the Leader Paramount, 1930
- Honor Among Lovers Paramount, 1931
- The Tip-Off RKO, 1931
- Suicide Fleet RKO, 1931
- Carnival Boat RKO, 1932
- The Tenderfoot First National, 1932
- Hollywood on Parade MGM short subject, 1932
- The Thirteenth Guest Monogram, 1932
- Screen Snapshots Columbia short subject, 1932
- Hat Check Girl Fox, 1932
- You Said a Mouthful First National, 1932
- 42nd Street Warner Bros., 1933
- Broadway Bad Fox, 1933
- Hollywood on Parade No. 9 Paramount short subject, 1933
- Gold Diggers of 1933 Warner Bros., 1933
- Professional Sweetheart RKO, 1933
- Don't Bet on Love Universal, 1933
- A Shriek in the Night Allied, 1933
- Rafter Romance RKO, 1933
- Chance at Heaven RKO, 1933
- Sitting Pretty Paramount, 1933
- Flying Down to Rio RKO, 1933
- Twenty Million Sweethearts First National, 1934
- Upperworld Warner Bros., 1934
- Finishing School RKO, 1934
- Change of Heart Fox, 1934
- The Gay Divorcee RKO, 1934
- Hollywood Newsreel Warner Bros. short subject, 1934
- Romance in Manhattan RKO, 1935
- Roberta RKO, 1935
- Star of Midnight RKO, 1935
- Top Hat RKO, 1935
- In Person RKO, 1935
- Follow the Fleet RKO, 1936
- Swing Time RKO, 1936
- Shall We Dance RKO, 1937
- Stage Door RKO, 1937
- Vivacious Lady RKO, 1938
- Having Wonderful Time RKO, 1938
- Carefree RKO, 1938
- The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle RKO, 1939
- Bachelor Mother RKO, 1939
- 5th Ave Girl RKO, 1939
- Primrose Path RKO, 1940
- Lucky Partners RKO, 1940
- Kitty Foyle RKO, 1940
- Tom Dick and Harry RKO, 1941
- Roxie Hart 20th Century-Fox, 1942
- Tales of Manhattan 20th Century-Fox, 1942
- The Major and the Minor Paramount, 1942
- Once Upon a Honeymoon RKO, 1942
- Show Business at War 20th Century-Fox short subject, 1943
- Tender Comrade RKO, 1943
- Lady in the Dark Paramount, 1944
- Battle Stations 20th Century-Fox short subject, 1944
- I'll Be Seeing You Selznick, 1945
- Week-End at the Waldorf MGM, 1945
- Heartbeat RKO, 1946
- Magnificent Doll Universal, 1946
- It Had to Be You Columbia, 1947
- The Barkleys of Broadway MGM, 1949
- Screen Snapshots: The Great Showman Columbia short subject, 1950
- Perfect Strangers Warner Bros., 1950
- Storm Warning Warner Bros., 1951
- The Groom Wore Spurs Universal, 1951
- We're Not Married! 20th Century-Fox, 1952
- Dreamboat 20th Century-Fox, 1952
- Monkey Business 20th Century Fox, 1952
- Forever Female Paramount, 1953
- Screen Snapshots: Hollywood's Great Entertainers Columbia short subject, 1953
- Black Widow 20th Century-Fox, 1954
- Beautiful Stranger United Artists, 1954
- Tight Spot Columbia, 1955
- The First Traveling Saleslady RKO, 1956
- Oh, Men! Oh, Women! 20th Century-Fox, 1957
- The Confession Golden Eagle, 1964
- Harlow Magna, 1965
Quotations about Rogers
- "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, and she did it backwards and in high heels." Faith Whittlesey, former US ambassador to Switzerland. Responsibility for this quote also has been traced to a 1982 Frank and Ernest cartoon.
- "Fred gave Ginger class, and Ginger gave Fred sex." Katharine Hepburn, actress. Variants include "Astaire gave her class, and Rogers gave him sex" and "He gave her class, and she gave him sex."
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