Ginger Goes Solo
Some of my best-loved movies of Ginger’s are her films right after she and Astaire separate. Firstly, there is Bachelor Mother with David Niven and Charles Colburn in 1939. When you think of the greatest movie year ever, Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz come to mind. This movie was pushed to the background as there were so many exceptional movies released that year. Bachelor Mother was RKO’s biggest moneymaker of the year and left no doubt in anyone’s mind that Ginger was a star in her own right. Bachelor Mother is a top notched comedy and gave David Niven a chance to stand out in his first co-starring role. Ginger and David have an electrifying rapport and empathy for each other as they fall in love. Ginger and David will meet again on screen in Magnificent Doll in 1946.
David’s career started to go places after this movie but the war in Europe put it on hold until the conflict ended. Rumor has it that during the Battle of the Bulge, Niven had been asked by a couple suspicious American sentries who had won the World Series and admitted that he did not know but he went on to say, “But I did co-star with Ginger Rogers in Bachelor Mother.” My first introduction to David Niven was when my parents took my siblings and me to see Around the World in 80 Days. We sat in the balcony and the splendor of going to the movies was born in me. David’s Best Actor Oscar for Separate Tables was richly deserved. Even though Rita Hayworth’s on screen time is short, this is the performance that caused me to revisit her ability as an actress. She does a tremendous job. This film also brought to my attention the very capable Deborah Kerr and Wendy Hiller. Separate Tables lead to my enchantment with the theatre and attending plays whenever possible. Recently my husband and I saw “The Mousetrap” and my grandchildren and I went and saw “And Then There Were None” again to my utter delight. Love those Agatha Christie plays.
There are those times when Ginger is seen out on the town with Lew even though Howard Hughes seems to have captured more of her free time than some of her other escorts. The movie magazines either have her divorcing Lew and marrying Howard or going back to Lew and making a go at it. It was a shame that neither Ginger nor Lew were willing to take the first step and ask the other to try again. Although, once you have been hurt to the core, you are leery about sticking your neck out to be chopped off again.
One writer prints, “If anyone deserves love happiness it is Ginger Rogers. Here is a girl who has not only brought romance into the lives of millions through her pictures but who is one of the finest personalities in Hollywood. She has unusual charm, great integrity of character, has fought her way to the top through sheer talent and courage, and radiates such wholesomeness that she has become identified as the typical American girl.” However, that typical American dream of a successful marriage to one who loves you has eluded her. Ginger Rogers and I continue to find that special man who will love us unconditionally in the screen romances of her films.
Bachelor Mother June 30, 1939 New York City, New York
Bachelor Mother is referred to as Little Mother until the very moment of its release. Hermes Pan comes up with a jitterbug routine for Ginger and Frank Albertson. Even though the film is not a dancing picture, their dance sequence is too short and is ruined by the numerous cuts and close ups. I am aggravated and will continue to be annoyed by every movie I watch which breaks the Astaire Golden Rule of Dance. Let me reveled in the moment by showing the dancers from head to toe and follow them across the floor as they rejoice in each other’s arm without any cuts! Ginger and Frank do a smashing job of it. Is there a print of the dance in its entirety out there somewhere? I would love to see it!
Polly returns to work to finish her last day of employment when she is summoned to David Merlin’s (David Niven) office. A man from the Atkins Foundling Home asked Mr. Merlin to reinstate Polly so that she may keep her baby son. David tells Miss Parish that her discharge was a mistake and her job is hers for as long as she wants it with an increase of five dollars a week. Mr. Merlin tells Miss Parish that getting her job back at an increase in pay is not her real Christmas present that her real Christmas present is the greatest gift any woman could have. Mr. Merlin tells her she will receive her present that evening. Polly thanks Mr. Merlin and leaves bewildered by his generosity. Ginger’s facial expressions allow me to feel the confusion and perplexity Polly is feeling as she listens to Mr. Merlin reinstate her position at the store.
Freddy invites Polly to be his partner at a dance contest that evening which will net them fifty dollars. He has an in with one of the judges and has been promised second place and a fifty dollar prize that he will split with Polly. Polly agrees.
Polly answers her apartment door expecting Freddy and finds the matron and the man who went to Mr. Merlin’s office from the foundling home with the young child she found on their doorstep, her Christmas present from John B. Merlin and Son. Polly denies fervently that she is the mother and they need to take that child back to the home with them. They are aghast at her lack of motherly instincts and reprimand her by letting her know that through the good graces of Mr. Merlin she is now able to raise her child and should be grateful. They also inform her that they have the child’s footprints and it would be futile for her to try to return the child to the home or elsewhere.
Polly has an instance rapport with the baby but she just does not have any experience with taking care of one. Freddy shows up and Polly tries to beg off as something has come up. When the baby makes itself known Freddy wonders about the baby’s parentage, and wants to call the dance competition off. Polly bundles the child up and demands that Freddy drive her to Mr. Merlin’s home. Polly leaves the child with Mr. Merlin’s butler after all it is Mr. Merlin’s responsibility she is encumbered with this child and he needs to use his influence to get it back into the foundling home. Polly leaves with Freddy for the Pink Slipper dance hall. Freddy is nervous and afraid that Polly’s apparent intimate relationship with Mr. Merlin is going to hamper his position at work. She blows him off and tells him that one place Mr. Merlin will not show up at is the Pink Slipper.
Polly and Freddie are dancing an all too short jitterbug. It appears that Ginger is still dancing with someone named Fred. You would think that RKO would have realized that the audience wants to see the dance routine in one cut and not with short cuts in and out of the action. I want to see the full body one cut jitterbug routine without the cuts but it was not to be. Mr. Merlin witnesses the abomination and tries to pursue Polly on the dance floor. He finds himself intercepted and ejected from the dance hall with butler and child in hand.
Polly and Freddy sadly return to her apartment disappointed with the first place cup and no money. Polly tries to dissuade Freddy from coming in for a nightcap and a smoke when he pushes pass Polly into the apartment where upon both Polly and Freddy are startled to find Mr. Merlin entertaining the child. Freddy retreats rapidly down the stairs and out of the apartment building. Polly again denies parentage and tells Mr. Merlin to take the child back to the foundling home. Now this is David Niven’s best scene in the entire film. He proceeds to tell Miss Parish of his disappointment in a mother who willfully denies her own child and leaves with it with total stranger who might harm the child to go out on the town is contemptible. He goes on to tell her that if she does not take her child back that he will wreck her reputation and no one will hire her. She sees this as being unjustly persecuted. He offers Polly her job again and the chance to raise her child herself. She accepts and starts to tell him that it was not her fault and that the father had hit her with a coffee pot. Mr. Merlin leaves and Polly tells the child thanks for the job. Just as she is going to change the child’s diaper, the landlady, Mrs. Weiss knocks and comes in. She asks what the child’s name is and Polly says, “Joan” as she has no idea of the sex of the baby. Mrs. Weiss knows the child is a boy as she had helped Mr. Merlin with the child earlier and turns the Joan into a John. She proceeds to tell Polly how much the baby looks like her. Polly slumps slowly into a chair remarking, “Really” with a quizzical look on her face. David Niven’s impression of Ginger’s dancing is hilarious. The entire scene is done with an exacting precision, which is a marvel to watch. Kanin’s direction is superlative.
Mr. Merlin becomes David to Polly as their relationship starts to evolve from employer employee to a young couple and a child whom Polly has come to care about as her own. The scene where David comes by with a book on child caring and starts to tell Polly how to feed Johnnie is amusing and delightful. He breaks the Donald Duck windup toy and tells Polly to take it back to the store and exchange it for a new one. She tells him she will just purchase another one as Merlin and Son does not take returns. His dignity is hurt and he promises to show her tomorrow that he can return the duck for another one. To which she said he probably could return it for a grand piano being the boss’s son and David leaves.
The ensuing scene has David in disguise trying to return the duck. When his patience is tested, he goes over to the table with the ducks and starts to throw them about. David takes one and starts to leave when the newly promoted floorwalker Freddy tackles David trying to stop the shoplifter. Polly and I are highly amused and laugh aloud at the ridiculous scene before us. Freddie is demoted and he swears revenge.
David has been preoccupied with Polly and Johnnie and has forgotten to call his girlfriend Louise to firm up their date for New Year’s Eve and she stands him up and attends stag. David sees the replacement duck and thinks of Polly. Polly would love to go out with him but what about the baby. David suggests the landlady for the babysitter. Polly still cannot accept because her choice of dresses would not be good enough for his friends. He has what looks like a silver lame’ dress, stockings, heels, and mink sent over from the store.
David and Polly are pulled into a crowd of people celebrating and are separated. They jump up above the crowd trying to find each other before the clock strikes midnight. They are finally united and wish each other a Happy New Year and kiss. You can see their attraction for each other grow into a longing for each other. David takes Polly home, announces that it is just twelve o’clock in Chicago, and kisses her again ever so tenderly. David asks Polly if she would like to stay up and greet the New Year in Los Angeles, but Polly reluctantly refuses the offer and goes to leave. David not to be thwarted invites her for a drive in the country tomorrow and she declines, as it might be too cold for the baby. David is a little miffed. Polly tells him that she will be in the park just around the corner tomorrow with Johnnie if he wants to join them and goes inside.
Polly finds Johnnie awake and tells him she thinks David likes her a little bit but does not care for him much. Polly tells Johnnie that he is her “fella” and no one will ever come between them. Ginger’s natural affection for children comes through in this heartwarming scene. Ginger had been trying to get the baby to say her name in the movie, Polly, and while filming this scene he called her Polly. The scene had to be reshot. It shows Ginger's great rapport with children. She acts very natural as the baby grabs her finger and proceeds to put it in his mouth. I love how Polly rubs noses with the baby and shows true affection for a baby she considers as her own.
As David and his father are leaving church a young boy takes a note to J.B. Merlin from the disgruntled Freddy informing him of the existence of his grandson. David tells his father he will see him at home and leaves. J.B. follows his son to the park. Polly gets into a “My baby is better than your baby” with another couple. I can feel Polly’s love for her child as she defends her son to the other couple with the love of a mother bear.
J.B. approaches the domestic couple and asks to hold the child. He inquires after the child’s name. When informed that it is John, he thanks his son for that anyway. Polly sees J.B. is visibly move as he wipes away a few tears and asks if there is something, she can do. J.B. tells her she has done it. Both Polly and David are mystified by J.B.’s reactions to the child. He informs David that he will talk about this matter with him at home and leaves. The realization that J.B. has mistaken Johnnie for David’s son horrifies David but Polly breaks out in laughter, as she knows how it feels but her love for Johnnie could not be any greater if she had indeed given birth. The expressions on both Ginger and David as they realize JB thinks his son is Johnnie's father are priceless and make this scene magnificent in its subtlety.
David goes to Polly to inform her of his father’s intentions of taking the child and demanding that he marry Polly. David does not want a readymade family. Polly’s expression on her face, demeanor, and attitude towards David immediately changes as she tells him to leave and to tell his father to leave Johnnie and her alone. Ginger is expressive in performance and dialogue as she shuts David down cold.
Ginger as Polly Parish is captivating. I can feel her growing love and affection for Johnnie and experience with her the new relationship she has with David as friend, confidant, and perspective lover. Ginger never had any children of her own but you can see a true affinity between her and the baby. You see Ginger come alive as she interacts with the child. It is touching and revealing. Ginger opens a door to her inner self as she genuinely enjoys herself while she interacts with Elbert Coplen Jr. after her New Year’s Eve date.
Ginger and David Niven reprise their roles for the Screen Guild Theater on May 6, 1946. Ginger gives an earlier rendition of Polly Parrish to Fredric March’s David Merlin for the LUX Radio Theater on January 22, 1940.
Now that Ginger is regarded as star in her own right, she never forgets her humble beginnings. She declares reminiscing about Queen High, “Boy! If I ever get high-hat or somebody tells me I’m good, just bring out that picture.”
Fifth Avenue Girl August 25, 1939 New York City, New York
Ginger reprises her role as Mary Grey in Fifth Avenue Girl on the LUX Radio Theater on December 16, 1940, with Edward Arnold as Walter Connolly died May 28, 1940.
In March of 1940, Ginger is granted an interlocutory decree of divorce from Lew Ayres. The divorce will become final in March of 1941. Ginger and Lew wanted the other person to make the first move and love was lost as Howard Hughes pushed Ginger’s divorce through the courts so he could possess and marry her.
Lew’s career started to rise in 1938 with his portrayal of Ned in George Stevens’s remake of the 1930 Holiday by the same title. Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn round out the cast and make it an enjoyable undertaking. The film was intended to reunite Irene Dunne with Cary Grant after their successful pairing in The Awful Truth. Dunne is the better comedian as Katharine did not grab my allegiance whereas Lew had me from the very beginning. I initially watched this film because of Cary Grant but after viewing it I became a Lew Ayres fan and was disappointed in Katharine’s performance as I loved her in A Bill of Divorcement and Alice Adams.
Lew followed this success with several Dr. Kildare films. It was interesting to me that Lew was offered the role in the 1960s Dr. Kildare television show but refuse the part because he was opposed to the advertising of cigarettes as a sponsor of the show. I fell in love with Richard Chamberlain and his very dapper, charming Dr. Kildare. I admire Lew for standing up for his principles. Lew was on his way and then the United States entered World War II.
Lew was a pacifist, wanted to join the Medical Corps, and refuse to bear any weapons when he was called upon to serve in World War II. The actor was publicly perceived as a coward and MGM dropped his contract. Lew did not want to carry a weapon because he did not want to be put in the position of taking someone’s life. Lew had studied medicine at the University of Arizona and felt he could support his country by serving in the Medical Corps. He declared himself a conscientious objector and reported to a Civilian Public Service camp. Since Lew was a public figure, it brought unwanted attention to the plight of pacifists. Lew’s stance brought about revisions to the rules regarding pacifists and he was allowed to join the Medical Corps. It was not until after the war that the public learned Lew had served with bravery and distinction in the Pacific theater and in New Guinea as a non-combatant and medical corpsman.
Primrose Path March 22, 1940
Ellie May’s new existence is shattered when Ed meets her family and feels betrayed and made a fool of with his friends, as they were aware of Ellie’s lineage. Ellie May lied to Ed and told him that she was kicked out of her house because of him. She pretended to attempt suicide by jumping off the pier and faints from despair into Ed’s strong and secure arms. Ed’s pride gets in his way and he tells Ellie May to leave and never return even though he loves her deeply. You just want to kick Ed in the pants because you know that Ellie May is the best thing to come down the pike and he is a fool not to see it.
You see a new dimension in Ginger’s screen persona. Everyone had to sit up and take notice of this charming and intriguing young woman. Ginger is convincing as a nineteen-year-old girl without her blond tresses and not much in the makeup department. Ginger only wears enough makeup to give her a little color. She even insists on her beloved freckles to make an appearance on camera. She wears her hair in very unattractive pigtails while sporting a sweatshirt, jacket, skirt, socks, and topped off with a cap. Even when Ginger is married to Joel, her wardrobe is plain along with her hairdo. Ginger’s entire wardrobe cost less than twenty dollars and she purchased it herself in person at Sears Robuck. Now, that would have been a sight, seeing a movie star buying clothes off the rack. Ginger has captured every nuance of Ellie May in a natural and creditable characterization. Primrose Path shows Ginger’s acumen as a dramatic actress and deserving of an Oscar nomination. Ginger has become an artist with an “e” and is regarded as one of the top two or three actresses in the industry. If it had not been for the trouble with some local censors across the nation, she might have received a nomination for best actress along with the statue. The National Board of Review Award for Acting honors Ginger in December 1940 for her portrayal of Ellie May.
Ginger invites Look to her home for a photo shoot. Eddie Rubin, RKO’s publicity man accompanies Earl Theisen to Ginger’s home. RKO protects Ginger at the studio and at home, so this interview and photo shoot is a rare one. Ginger lounges on her terrace with her mother, Lela, books in hand and frolics with her dog. She hits a few tennis balls for the camera and nearly takes Earl’s head off but hits his camera instead. Ginger jumps the net upon request, which results in an extraordinary example of grace nearly giving Eddie Rubin a heart attack.
When Ginger dyed her reddish blonde tresses brunette, she promised the studio to keep them under wraps until Primrose Path premiered. Ginger kept her promise but she was labeled a recluse and on those, few times she went out in public and was recognized she had to ask for the plate of the photograph to be thrown away and was accused of temperament. Anyone who really knew Ginger knows that Ginger was only trying to keep her promise to the studio and Ginger was still the same unassuming young woman she has always been. Finally, she had to resort to wearing a turban to keep her new dye job a secret.
Ginger’s new hobby is sculpting. She made a bust of her mother last Christmas. Ginger’s goddaughter, Joyce Good, Florence Lakes’ daughter, said, “Look-it’s Aunt Lee-Lee.” Ginger felt thrilled by the youngster’s compliment. Ginger continues to be surrounded by her family and close friends.
Ginger has small glass dishes of crystallized ginger in her dressing room and on the soda fountain in her home. Crystallized ginger is a natural homeopathic remedy for dozens of aliments including colds, nausea, cramping, and indigestion. Knowing of Ginger’s religious belief it makes total sense that she would use crystallized ginger for medicinal purposes.
When Ginger blows a line she is very apologetic to everyone on the set and goes over to a corner and repeats to herself aloud, “Aba-daba-aba-daba-aba-daba.” This bit of jargon in theatrical circles is considered an old superstition, which removes the curse from the line you blew and allows you a fresh start. I wonder if the superstition comes from a song called “Abba Dabba Honeymoon” written by Arthur Fields and Walter Donovan and published around 1914. Debbie Reynolds in Two Weeks in Love (1950) later popularized the song.
Lucky Partners August 2, 1940
Lucky Partners with the very romantic Ronald Coleman is full of whimsy, desire, hope, and flight of imagination. Jean Newton (Ginger) is a pragmatic shop girl living in Greenwich Village. David Grant (Ronald Coleman) is an eccentric man hiding from society by getting lost in the bohemian life in the Village.
David Grant wishes Jean Newton “Good Luck” as they pass each other while walking down the sidewalk. Jean turns with a puzzled look on her face, as she has never seen this particular gentleman before. With a shrug of her shoulders, she continues to her destination. Jean is bestowed with a very expensive white bejeweled evening gown and long coat. She remembers the young man’s wish to her. She wonders if luck is on her side now. Does she dare to ask this strange but charming man to join with her and buy a sweepstakes ticket? The winnings would give her the security she would need if her impending marriage does not work out.
Jean is being slowly wooed by the enchantment that surrounds them at Niagara Falls the place of honeymoons. They dance and meet an elderly couple who take them to a bridge. The bridge represents the threshold to whatever they want in life. David picks Jean up and proceeds to the other side as music plays softly in the background. They linger and are transfixed as they gaze into each other’s eyes. They kiss tenderly as the moment envelopes them in the realization of their desire and affection for each other. Their souls melded. The elderly couple jolt David and Jean out of their dream world where they have found undying love for each other. The couple led David and Jean to a magical wishing well and beseech them to throw white rocks into the well to seal their future happiness. Reality comes crashing down upon them and they are forced to return to the real world as Freddy imposes himself upon them.
I find the movie pure escapism but I love it and enjoy watching it often. Ginger and William Powell perform the radio broadcast for Gulf Screen Guild Theater on April 6, 1941, which is equally captivating.