Chapter 14-16

Chapter 14
Broadway and Drury Lane

         Ginger finds herself returning to her roots as Dolly gets a DASH of GINGER.  On August 9, 1965, Ginger replaces Carol Channing as Dolly Levi on Broadway.  Ginger had turned down the part three times but said yes to the fourth proposal.  Ginger admits that she has been wrong in the past and figured David Merrick and Gower Champion must see her differently than she does.  Still fit and fetching, Ginger goes back to Broadway and the St. James Theatre.
        Garson Kanin writes an article about Ginger for the New York Times January 19, 1967.  He recounts an incident in which he greeted Ginger with “How do you do, my partner?” She answered with the second line, “How do you do today?” They then ended together, “Let us dance in a circle. I will show you the way!”  I believe this is a universal Kindergarten dance of a certain age.  I remember dancing it as a youngster.  They greeted each other every morning during the filming of Bachelor Mother and Tom, Dick and Harry with the appropriate gestures and dance steps.  The occasion for the article was in conjunction with the Gallery of Modern Art in New York City tribute to Ginger featuring twelve of her feature films.  This is quite an honor considering Ginger is still going strong at the age of 55 with a hit play on Broadway, Hello, Dolly.  Usually such a film festival tribute is reserved for yesterday’s stars of which she is but Ginger also embodies the here and now along with the future as she is bigger than life on the stage night after night.  Ginger spends her evenings entertaining those who have come to watch and partake in the excitement of being in the presence of a truly remarkable woman and legend. 
Garson writes, “The first time I saw Ginger was in 1928 when she was doing songs and dances and snappers in front of Paul Ash’s band at the Paramount Theater.  The last time I saw her was at a Christmas party only the other day.  The impressions are interchangeable, because Ginger is a genuine, high-class, A-one, 24-karat movie star and, therefore, an image, a personality, and a presence.  The power of her spirit demolishes any manifestations of passing years.  People grow old, but stars remain.  A movie star is a creation, the substance of which, like a painting or a statue or a symphony, does not age.”
Garson explores what makes some actors stars.  It is so much more than talent.  We can go back to the “IT” factor or as Garson surmises, it is “magnetism”, “human warmth”, “mass appeal”, “identification”, and “universality”.  Whatever you call “IT”; Ginger had and has it in abundance.  This appeal is manifested in the fact that Anne Frank’s favorite moooovie star was Ginger Rogers.
        Garson quotes Robert Burns who in his day, yearned:

‘”O wad some Pow’r the  giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!”’

Garson continues, "He did not foresee the film or the television screen.  I hope that Ginger Rogers will attend her festival daily and, by means of this Pow’r the giftie has gie her, will see herself as the rest of us see her.  If so, she will be proud of her honorable contribution, content with work well done, and understand why hundreds wait for her to emerge each evening from the St. James theater after “Hello Dolly” so that they can see her plain and wave and smile and call her name.”  During her curtain call Ginger exclaimed, “Gosh, they have me in a museum!”
Ginger did attend the festival in her honor but like all of us who look back at old photos and regale in stories of yesteryear feel as though we are watching “Just images, light, and shadows.  Me’s here.”  Ginger again lives in the here and now and never the one to dwell on pass glories but is forever pushing forward with her life does enjoy this short respite into her past life.  Ginger gives her audience a déjà view experience as they view her films of the Golden Age of Hollywood and watch her perform in the flesh as the delightfully engaging Dolly Levi on the stage.
After Ginger’s run on Broadway ends she continues as Dolly on the road.  Everyone was glad to have her back among them again for 1,116 performances. 
Ginger goes to London and finds a tremendous welcoming as she crosses the pond in 1969.  Ginger cements her legendary status as she takes on the persona of the wildly enchanting Mame Denis.

Chapter 15
Ginger Goes on the Road

  The early 1970s finds Ginger as a fashion consultant for JC Penney. She is asked to sell “Ginger” colored panty hose. I remember feeling emancipated when I casted off my girdle and garter belt and replaced them with panty hose. Ginger helps design a wardrobe for “Mrs. America”. She then travels across the nation becoming a traveling saleslady if not the The First Traveling Saleslady. Ginger is radiant, vibrant, effervescent, and ever so stunningly slender.
        Ginger is interviewed ubiquitously and her fans follow her even while she is shopping. Ginger is appreciative of her fans and explains their loyalty to her stems from more than her talent as an actress but because of the way she has led her life. “I have a wonderful group of fans. They always make me feel there’s hope for the future…After all, a lot of people have talent. But staying on top takes more than that. A lot of my popularity is due to the fact that my fans can identify with me and what I stand for…And most important, consideration for other people.”
I am very fortunate to have been able to obtain a few issues of The Friends of Ginger Rogers Society, which were published after her death. They are informative and give background on Ginger’s career, but what I enjoy the most are the narratives from people whose lives were enriched because of their associations with Ginger.
      I have an affinity with Ginger I could never put my finger on, because our political views are miles apart, until I recently read about an incident that happened while Ginger was in Medford in 1942 for a war bond drive. The high school band was playing for the event. All the boys in the band had gone out and bought sport jackets to wear. Bill McCord hurriedly called his mother from work at the Medford, Oregon Postal Telegraph office so they could pool their meager funds for a sports jacket like the other boys were wearing. His mother was unable to purchase a sports jacket and bought a coat-type sweater. Bill was not going to be made a fool of because he did not have a sports jacket. He just was not going to play in the band. The rally was being held on Main Street right in front of the postal office. Ginger stopped in and inquired after Bill. Bill told Ginger of his dilemma and decided he was going to go home.
Ginger walked over to Bill, straightened his tie, proceeded to put his arms in his sweater, and told him to get his horn. Ginger walked up to the stage arm in arm with Bill. Bill went to go to his seat but Ginger did not let go of his arm. She waved to the crowd in acknowledgement of their cheers and pulled Bill over to the microphone. “I want you nice people to meet my special guy. He had to work all day and didn’t have time to go home and change. I told him if he didn’t come up here and play for me, I wouldn’t come up either.” As I read this, the tears began to weld up in my eyes. Bill goes on to say that Ginger then turned toward him “and planted a great big kiss on” him before allowing him to stumble to his seat with the band. The tears are now streaming down my face, as Ginger again is perceptive of others and their feelings. Ginger continues to be human first and a star second. This genuine connection with people endears her to me. Bill continues, “She made a bashful young boy feel special that night, and her encouragement changed my outlook on life. Since then, I’ve never accepted, ‘No, it can’t be done.’…I believe it’s better to try, even if you fail, than not to try at all.”
This is why Ginger’s films resonate with me. Ginger is a deeply caring person and does whatever she can do to help anyone if it is within her power. She is down to Earth and personable. She reflects this realness on the screen through her characters even when she is portraying Mama Jean or Lottie Maren.   Ginger endows her character with the genuineness she needs to make her believable to the viewer. 
George Carpozi Jr. interviews Ginger on her new adventure as fashion consultant with JC Penney and comes away with, “Ginger Rogers has been placed in a museum, but like any masterpiece she’ll never change or grow old. Her star made its ascent in the Hollywood heavens more than 40 years and 73 movies ago, and today its magnitude still is undiminished – for Ginger Rogers is like a rare jewel whose preciousness only grows with time.” Besides Ginger’s tremendous talent as an actress, this is true because of Ginger’s human nature to put others first.
From 1975-1979 Ginger entertained the country with her one-woman show. The Ginger Rogers Show is another venture for her to tackle. I wished her act would have been filmed or Ginger would have cut an album featuring the songs she sang in her act. Ginger did record an album with EMI while in London in 1978 entitled Miss Ginger Rogers. I sing along with Ginger often.
March of 1976 found Ginger performing in the Empire Room in the famed Waldorf-Astoria. A press agent who worked with Ginger when she did “Hello Dolly” remarked to the press that she is “wonderful to work with, always a positive attitude; if she had an appointment for four, she would be there five minutes to 4.”
Among the friends in the audience one night was her cousin, Phyllis, the current Mrs. Wagner and wife to the former mayor. After an evening of songs, a bit of soft shoe, waltzes, and the Carioca, Ginger is inundated with a standing ovation nightly. The young men she dances with call her Miss Malvern because of her role as a movie star in Weekend at the Waldorf in which her name was Irene Malvern.
Ginger evokes a time that is “Gone with the Wind” but is dear to those who come to watch her in the flesh. The young who have know Ginger on the small screen and the older patrons who have know Ginger on the big screen have come to reminisce with her of a long ago dream world but one that still burns deep within their souls.
Kay Keavney reports, “But there’s a bonus: she’s good. Ginger isn’t a sad geriatric trading on nostalgia. She’s a star. The feet twinkle, the firm long legs flash, the patter is polished, the husky voice still true. The illusion of time frozen is nearly perfect. Fred isn’t there but she evokes him with a top hat.” Ginger ends her act in top hat and tails with a tribute to Fred Astaire. Ginger blows a kiss to a lone spotlight as she says “Goodnight” to Fred.
Ginger takes her nightclub act across the pond and down under. An adoring public welcomes Ginger wherever she goes as she travels to Canada, Australia, and London’s Palladium. Lee Graham comments that, “…this “Dreamboat” of a “Magnificent Doll” was a “Vivacious Lady”…Ponce de Leon may have failed, but this untarnished Golden Girl succeeded in finding the fountain of youth.”
Richard J. Moore observes, “Her night club act is one of perfection. The timing, the lighting, the songs, and, of course, the dancing have no comparison. While other performers have larger back-up singers and dancers, flashier costumes, even moving sets for production number; Ginger Rogers does not need this. A blank stage and a good orchestra, the likes of Ernie Hechster, and she provides by her mere presence, enough magic for a dozen night club acts.” This is Ginger’s formable talent she is the consummate entertainer.
Ginger is interviewed at every turn. When asked if she miss not having any children she states reflectively, “Yes, in a way, I do. It would be nice to have children, to see them grow.” While in London performing at the Palladium Ginger tells Iain F. McAsh that in Roxie Hart she actually kicked the panel out of the closet door. The door was made out of balsa wood and was not very dense. I had wondered if it had been her or not. I also wonder if it was Ginger rolling around on the floor with the other inmate during their catfight and if it was she when the matron knocked their heads together. She is asked once again if there is a film in the offering with Mr. Astaire. “Another film with Mr. Astaire? He would only have to ask me…!”
The seventies end with a tribute to Ginger at Masquers, a show business club. Fred Astarie, Dennis Morgan, Joseph Cotton, Eve Arden, Pat O’Brien, Barry Sullivan, George Montogomery, Virginia Mayo, and Carol Lynley were among those in attendance. She received congratulatory messages from ailing Jimmy Stewart, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, and Pandro Berman. Ginger cried with heartfelt sentiment upon receiving her well-deserved tribute.
The year 1980 finds Ginger dancing with the Rockettes on the stage at Radio City Music Hall. In its 48-year history, Ginger has appeared on their movie screen more than any other actress with 21 films. Ginger performs an abbreviated show of her nightclub act in A Rockette Spectacular for three weeks in May. Pam Stacey, a five-year veteran of the Rockettes remarks that her mother asked her to send her an autographed picture of Ginger Rogers. Pam was a bit puzzled by the fact that with all the well-known and famous performers she has worked with her mother has never asked for an autographed picture of anyone before Miss Rogers graced the Music Hall stage. “Ginger is a Knockout!”
Ginger finds herself in the unique position of being the symbol of Hollywood’s Golden Age but is still actively pursuing her career on the stage. THE HOLLYWOOD IMAGE is a magazine dedicated to paying tribute to stars who have created the “The Hollywood Image”. Ginger is accorded the respect of being the first star so honored. “We are honored to feature Ginger Rogers in our premiere issue, eternal beauty and the legendary star of Hollywood, truly synonymous with THE HOLLYWOOD IMAGE.” 
Ginger speaks of her career and her films with Astaire. After appearing on the Academy Awards show together as presenters and doing a few steps together talk of making a picture came up again. Ginger had found a vehicle for them and talked to Fred about it but he was not interested. “He didn’t mind acting but he didn’t want to dance anymore because he didn’t want to disturb the image he had created over the years.” Ginger continues to move forward with her life and career. She is bringing joy to those who come to see her entertain them.
Ginger and Fred come together again as they strike the same pose in front of a photo of them dancing in Swing Time after taking a few steps together around the dance floor. The occasion was RKO’s donation of their film archives to UCLA in June 1982. Ginger tells John Austin that Swing Time “was my favourite musical. It had such class, such beauty, such romance…it had what was probably one of the most romantic routines in it of all time, ‘Never Gonna Donce!’ This, and many people agree with me, was one of the most romantic four-and-a-half minutes ever put on film.” Swing Time is the greatest musical ever filmed! Not only are the songs and dancing of a higher caliber but the dialogue and direction are superb!
Dina Di Mambro writes, “The dance team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers represented the epitome of graceful elegance. As Ginger once described it, “We were both as one in thought and action.” It was not just their incredible dancing that made them one of the most popular screen teams ever, in addition to that it was their chemistry, sense of comic timing, the splendor of their sets, their clothing, all providing the enchanting atmosphere of a romantic fairy tale.” Ginger and Fred will perpetually symbolize “la belle, the perfectly swell romance” and an exquisite partnership.
Ginger had expressed her desire to direct for years. A columnist brought up Ida Lupino and expressed her opinion that Ida was doing okay as a director when Ginger shot back, “Look at Ida. She’s bursting with talent, but she has to beat people on the head to get jobs.” In 1985, Babes in Arms affords Ginger the opportunity to fulfill a lifetime dream to direct. Her good friend Robert Kennedy produced the play, which opened in Tarrytown, New York. Ginger helped every actor, female and male, realize his or hers character’s identity by taking on the persona of each character herself. One young man was having trouble twirling his lasso while jumping in and out of it. Ginger asks if he would like her to show him. He answers in the affirmative and Ginger does just that. Simply amazing and Ginger is 74 years old!
Karen Ziemba, who won the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical in 2000 for her performance in Susan Stroman’s Contact, remembers Ginger’s advice to her. “While working on the song My Funny Little Valentine…she (Ginger) taught me the importance of stillness. To allow the poetic and emotional lyrics of Lorenz Hart and the soaring, yet soft spoken music of Richard Rogers to affect me deeply, inside – without busy gesticulation that can dissipate one’s performance. I learned that in an actor’s performance stillness, like silence, can be powerful.” Ginger was the master passing on to another generation the secret of greatness when it comes to putting over a song or characterization. Another actor Dwight Edwards continues by quoting Ginger saying, “Don’t move, just sing the lyrics” and went on to explain what Ginger meant by telescoping.
“Imagine looking through a telescope from the wrong end. The image is confined and concentrated to a small area. It may be smaller, but everything is focused in a telescope the same way. Don’t move and present out to them, let them come to you. Sing the lyrics and let the universality of the emotions pull the audience in. Bring all that energy into that small area.”
        Ginger had use this technique while performing in Girl Crazy. She sang But Not For Me while sitting on the apron of the stage with everything behind her blacked out with a lonely spotlight on her. She also sang When It’s Cactus Time in Arizona alone in front of the closed curtains while the crew was changing the scenery in order to set up the next scene. This is why all those Astaire songs were so successful because Ginger knew how to listen conveying her feelings with a facial expression or a slight movement. When they danced, she responded to his every moment in kind. Ginger knew how to “let the universality of the emotions pull the audience in.” This was Ginger’s forte. Her ability to connect emotionally with those who watched her performance in person and on the big or little screen was the secret to her popularity and success.
In March of 1986, Ginger and Fred were invited by the Joffrey Ballet to attend a tribute dinner for their dear friend Hermes Pan. Ginger enjoyed the evening honoring Hermes and visiting with Fred and his second wife Robyn a former jockey. Fred’s first wife Phyllis had died in 1954 while he was filming Daddy Long Legs. This was to be the last public appearance for Ginger and Fred together and the last time they saw each other before his death in June of 1987.
Throughout the remainder of Ginger’s life, many honors were bestowed upon her. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts honors Ginger in December 1992. Tom Selleck introduces the segment of the program honoring Ginger. The occasion is marred because Robyn Astaire refuses to let any film clips or photos of Fred and Ginger be shown to the television audience without monetary compensation. Fred would be shocked at Robyn’s behavior. He would be there giving his support to Ginger in her moment to be recognized for her many accomplishments.
On March 18, 1995, Ginger is honored by the Women's International Center's Living Legacy Award. This is her last public appearance as she died five weeks later in Rancho Mirage, California, on April 25th at the age of 83.

Chapter 16
The Legend

I was hooked on Ginger’s non-Astaire films long before I ever gave Ginger’s films with Astaire a look. I had seen Astaire’s films with other actresses other than Ginger and did not find them very appealing. I was extremely disappointed in Easter Parade as Judy Garland is one of my favorite actresses. When I finally broke down and watched Top Hat and Swing Time the difference was Ginger. Therefore, I added her films with Astaire among my favorites. Ginger was what Fred needed to balance his style of dancing and demeanor perfectly. I find Ginger’s performance is the outstanding factor that enhances the presentation of anyone who has the privilege of sharing a scene with her. Later on in life Astaire admits, “She deserves most of the credit for our success.”
  Ginger’s and Fred’s offerings were many and brought paradise to us on Earth. When they spoke, we listened with delight and affection in our hearts. When they danced, we were brush away into perpetual ecstasy never wanting to return to mortality. The feather dress in the “Cheek to Cheek” dance is divinely romantic and the beaded dress in the “Face the Music” dance is dramatically sincere and renewed hope in the struggle of life together with someone you love. The embers that Ginger and Fred ignite are hotter and more seductive than any movie showing two people going at it. Ginger and Fred were able to get across their point in a more passionate and arousing way. Their dances were love making in motion with deep emotional significance. Even their playful duets brought another layer of understanding to their characters’ relationship.
There has never been a dancing or acting duo that has captured the hearts of the public before or since Ginger and Fred first stepped in front of the cameras to this magnitude. They are the number one duo in any category.
         Ginger always took care of her mother and extended family without fanfare. She was a very caring person and she tried to lend her name or person to causes that helped others in need up until the end of her life. The people who really knew Ginger only have nice things to say about her. The harsh and unkind statements about Ginger come from jealously. She did become a little sharp in her later years with interviewers who insisted on not giving her credit for her amazing career and talent. These uninformed interviewers tried to attribute all of her success to Fred. It takes two to tango. Ginger and Fred both give each other equal credit for the success of their ten pictures together. Their films are haunting, dramatic, intense, and riveting with interjections of sexual tension and tenderness sprinkled with playful comedic enjoyment as they tease each other. I like the picture of Ginger and Fred dancing at the Mocambo in the fall of 1942. Ginger sat down and talked awhile with Fred and his wife and then danced with Fred and Randolph Scott. It was an unusual night out while shooting "Once Upon a Honeymoon" with Cary Grant. Cary had just married Barbara Hutton. Ginger and Fred loved dancing together whether it was for fun or work.

March 21, 2010 – International City Theatre Long Beach, California Backwards in high heels: The Ginger Musical

        I was so nervous that I would not like the depiction of Ginger in the musical play. I wanted to like it soooo much. I had to remember that any biopic takes liberties with the truth. So I needed to sit back and enjoy and not be overly critical and ruin the night by saying that is not how that happened and this is what really happened. Take a deep breath and enjoy.
The audience enjoyed the evening’s entertainment. It was an intimate affair between the actors and the audience. The songs associated with Ginger and her career were pleasantly dispersed through the musical.
The play starts with Ginger’s birth and follows her career from vaudeville to her best actress Oscar win for Kitty Foyle. Lela was portrayed as a harsh but caring mother. She wanted to protect Ginger from the sadness she had experienced with Ginger’s father. Lela idolized Ginger because she was a living miracle. Ginger was her only child who survived birth and she was not going to lose her under any circumstances. Eddins McMath kidnapped his young daughter and Lela went through hell and high water to get her precious child back with her not just once but twice. An unbreakable bond was formed between mother and child.
Ginger’s first love was Jack Culpepper. Embraceable You is used here as a lovely duet between Ginger and Jack. Young love blossoms but it does not take long for the bloom to die.
Anna Aimee White performs Were in the Money in Pig Latin a la Rogers. It was delightful. She portrays Ginger’s struggles to become her own person. The supporting cast performed their various characters with charm. Robin De Lano nailed Ethel Merman. Girl Crazy made her a Broadway sensation.
Even though at the time of the play’s end, Ginger has only been married and divorced twice the writers have included the song Change Partners from Carefree to illustrate the coming and going of husbands two through five. Ginger was the happiest when she was working and married. Alas, she would never find a lasting marital relationship with any of her five husbands.
Lela sings You’ll Never Know to express her love and devotion to Ginger to the audience. Ginger sang the song in Dreamboat later in her career to Clifton Webb. For Ginger work, family, friends, and God were the two things that would sustain her through her life.
I attended the play again when it went to San Jose on November 28, 2010. It was like watching an entirely new show as they spruced up the scenery and changed a lot of the dialogue but the writers still wrongly made Ethel the star of Girl Crazy. Ginger was the star and had the lead female role. Girl Crazy was Ethel’s debut and she was the second female lead. George and Ira Gershwin wrote But Not For Me and Embraceable You especially for Ginger. It was Lela and Ginger who had seen a young singer in White Plains and recommended her to the producers. They auditioned a Miss Ethel Merman to play the part of Kate Fothergill and a Broadway Star was born.
The play does not capture Ginger’s essence as a woman or as an actress. Ginger was an enigma because she guarded her real inner self and kept others at arms distance. Her family and friends cherished her and the times they spent with her to themselves, as it should be. She was a remarkable woman and did not waste a minute of her life.
I am trying to purchase as many of the issues of The Friends of Ginger Rogers Society as possible. The personal stories from those who truly knew and loved Ginger bring tears to my eyes as they tenderly extol the virtues of this magnificent woman. Ginger knew her business and was very knowledgeable but she never forgot her humble beginnings and consideration for others.
When TCM was airing Swing Time Robert Osborne reminisced with Rose McGowan about the last time he saw Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It was at a gathering of several stars who were promoting That’s Dancing. Fred was needed for some photos and had trouble getting to his feet. Ginger helped Fred across the floor with her arms around him. Mr. Osborne said that watching Ginger-helping Fred was a very poignant and sweet moment. To me this is the essence of Ginger Rogers. She was human first and a star second. You have to love her.
Ginger and Fred’s movies will live on into the ages. “The first picture Fred and I did together was ‘Flying Down to Rio’ and the team worked like magic. I adore that man. I have always adored him. It was the most fortunate thing that ever happened to me, being teamed with Fred: He was everything a little starry-eyed girl from a small town ever dreamed of. The pictures we did together were romantic. We had fantasy.” Their dance duets were the icing on the cake in addition to their wonderfully entertaining interactions on the screen. Madonna immortalized them in her song Vogue, “Fred Astaire Ginger Rogers, dance on air They had style, they had grace”. I like to think of Ginger and Fred up there on Mt. Olympus still smiling and dancing together with the same elegance, grace, style, sophistication, and class while musing to themselves about the fact we mere mortals still savor every celluloid moment they have given us.
In 1992, Ginger was one of the recipients of the 15th annual Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement. Anna Kisselgoff, the main dance critic of The New York Times, observed, “Ginger Rogers was a better dancer than most people gave her credit for. She may have swooped and dipped into many a romantic swoon, but her footwork was as precise as Astaire’s.” Alan Scott wrote, “... she made all her performances look as her dances with Freddie had – casual, easy, so natural that they seemed impromptu – an effect only a skilled technician can accomplish.”
Ginger’s incalculable talents were executed with supreme exactness while giving her performances the appearance of effortlessness, elegance, poise, and polish of a true professional gained through dedicated hard work. Ginger never gave up on herself or allowed herself to take it easy. Ginger never sat on her laurels and was involved in some project dealing with theatre most of her life. She has earned her “LENGENDARY” status.