Saturday, December 25, 2010
The Reason Why
I first met Ginger Rogers on the small screen in the living room of my parents’ home. The movie was I’ll Be Seeing You. The screen filled with a swaying sign announcing the film as a David O. Selznick Production. I knew him from Gone with the Wind fame. Ginger Rogers, Joseph Cotten, and Shirley Temple’s names followed the title of the film. I had grown up watching Shirley Temple as a child on the little screen as well as watching her story telling television show. I had screamed with tears running down my face “It is her grandfather!” as I vigorously banged on the top of the television as Heidi yelled for her grandfather as she was driven off in the sleigh. Joseph Cotten’s performance in Portrait of Jennie was enthralling and appealed to the romantic me. I was acquainted with Spring Byington through her television show December Bride. Now, Ginger Rogers was new to me. I knew Ginger was Fred Astaire’s famous dancing partner from the 30s, but when I had tried to watch several of Fred’s movies from the 40s, they just did not click for me. I could not get emotionally involved with the characters and their plight. Besides Fred is not that good looking at first, second, or even third glance. My main obsession was with detective murder mysteries and dramatic movies with a few comedies thrown in. I was not expecting a riveting performance by Ginger Rogers. However, I was blown away! Wow! Wow! That is some actress!
Two lonely people, who are out of sorts with the world around them, meet on a train during the Christmas season. It is the season of miracles when reason leaves for a brief moment. Mary Marshall (Ginger) and Zachary Morgan (Joseph Cotten) are two individuals who have become lost because of circumstances beyond their control. They are trying to make sense out of their lives and come to grips with what they can expect in the future.
Mary is incarcerated for manslaughter while defending herself from rape. She pushed her boss with some force and he fell backward and out of a window on the fourteenth floor of his apartment building. Mary leaves on a furlough from prison granted for good behavior. Zach has been in a hospital while trying to recover from shell shock where the horrors of war in the South Pacific are thrust upon him. Their lives are full of the “ifs” of what could have been disappointments, limitations, boundaries, and confinements.
Mary represents strength to Zach. She is someone who is self-assured and can stand on her own two feet. Zach finds comfort and courage while he is in her presence. Mary gives Zach the necessary courage he needs to believe in himself while harboring her own self-doubts and secrets. Mary sees in Zach the type of man and life she thinks is now lost to her because of her imprisonment. Nevertheless, she can pretend and hope while she spends her time with Zach and her uncle’s family.
I feel what Mary Marshall feels as she and Zach fall in love. I had become one with her. When Mary let the white orchids fall to the ground as she danced with Zach, I understood why they were repulsive to her. I was glad to see them trampled beneath the feet of the other dancers because of what it represented to Mary and me.
My heart ached for Mary when Barbara let slip Mary’s situation and of her eventual return to prison to finish her sentence to Zach. I wept with Mary as all hope of love and romance drained from us. My chest begins to tense up as we walk toward the prison’s door when she detects some movement in the shadows and we stop and look. Zach moves rapidly towards Mary and they embrace as they babble and kiss knowing that they will be there for each other. Life renewed in their embrace and symbolized by their hitting the lamppost with the stones.
My tears are pouring forth as my body shakes uncontrollably with the resounding affirmation that HOPE for a better future is attainable. We can rise above the trials and tribulations of this life when united with another person with whom you share love, caring, and dreams with. Everything is possible. This is when I became a Ginger Rogers fan. She grabbed my soul and touched my heart.
Most of the people who knew Ginger have died. Those who are not, I have no way of contacting, as I am an ordinary fan. This essay is purely an exercise in idol worship. I have spent a lifetime watching and admiring strong women fight for their fair and rightful place through the movies of yesteryear and in life. Up on that screen there was Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanywk, and Olivia de Havilland. Then there was Barbra Streisand and Julia Roberts but you admired them from afar they were unattainable. Sandra Bullock gives me that same type of feeling of approachability Ginger gives me. Their screen presence is one that I can connect with while I share their struggle as we cry, laugh, and overcome the obstacles in our pathway.
To me a legendary figure is someone who inspires and can relate to the common person. So where does one start when waxing poetic about a legendary figure that you idolize?
Ginger represents the struggle of every person who ever takes a breath of air continually striving to better oneself while finding love and romance along the way but still staying true to oneself. Ginger Rogers embodies the average person who through hard work perfected her craft and became one of the Great Movie Legends of all time.
While Ginger’s life has not been an easy one, Ginger and Lela knew they could count on each other no matter what the circumstances required. Ginger learned at a very young age the rewards of hard work and what sacrifices it necessitates as you diligently work to put food on the table and pay the bills. When Ginger lived with her maternal grandparents for a time, she never doubted the love of her mother. Lela was always there loving and caring for her the best way she knew how and her young daughter knew it. Lela provided for Ginger during her growing up years and Ginger provided for Lela during her declining years.