April 26, 1995 in Nation/World

Dance Legend Ginger Rogers Dies Starred In Musicals With Fred Astaire

Deborah Hastings Associated Press
 

Ginger Rogers, whose glittering string of Depression-era musicals with Fred Astaire helped Americans forget the emptiness of their wallets and the grumbling in their stomachs, died Tuesday. She was 83.

Rogers, who won an Oscar for the 1940 drama “Kitty Foyle,” died at her home in Rancho Mirage near Palm Springs.

From vaudeville to television, Rogers’ career spanned 65 years.

“She was a genuine, 14-karat gold legend,” said actress and dancer Ann Miller, who at age 14 starred with Rogers in the 1937 classic “Stage Door.”

“She was the one who stuck up for me,” Miller said from her home in Sedona, Ariz. “She got me a speaking part. She’s a very special lady and she was a very dear friend. I’m heartbroken.”

Former President Reagan and his wife, Nancy, were her friends for nearly five decades.

“We are deeply saddened by the death of Ginger Rogers today,” the couple said in a written statement. “She was a dear friend for almost 50 years who delighted millions with her incredible ability to dance and perform.”

“She was one of the truly great ladies of the silver screen, she had few equals,” Bob Hope said.

Rogers became one of Hollywood’s highest-paid female stars in the 1940s, appearing in hits such as “The Major and the Minor,” “Lady in the Dark” and “Weekend at the Waldorf.”

But it was her celluloid partnership with Astaire that made her a legend.

Their most notable pairing was in “Top Hat,” a 1935 musical. The dance numbers, complete with feathers and arcing kicks that sent Rogers’ hem skyward, included “Cheek to Cheek” and “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.”

“Her male counterpart got the lion’s share of publicity but Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did and did it with high heels on and did it backwards,” Reagan commented in 1986.

Astaire died in 1987.

“I am certain that somewhere in heaven Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are doing ‘just the way you look tonight,”’ Mickey Rooney said.

The two first danced during Broadway rehearsals for “Girl Crazy,” a 1930 Gershwin musical.

The producers weren’t happy with a dance routine featuring “Embraceable You.” Astaire, then starring on Broadway with his sister Adele, was watching one day.

“Here, Ginger, try it with me,” he said. And so began their first dance.

“Girl Crazy” established Rogers’ stardom, as well as her relationship with Astaire, which despite its on-screen incarnation, never included real-life romance.

“We had fun, and it shows,” she wrote in her 1991 autobiography, “Ginger: My Story.” “True, we were never bosom buddies off the screen; we were different people with different interests. We were a couple only on film.”

And besides, she wrote, Astaire’s first wife, Phyllis, “didn’t want him kissing other women.”

They were paired in 10 films. The first was “Flying Down to Rio” in 1933. It was Astaire’s second film and Rogers’ 21st.

Their 1930s musicals, all but one made for RKO, were: “The Gay Divorcee,” “Roberta,” “Top Hat,” “Follow the Fleet,” “Swing Time,” “Shall We Dance?” “Carefree” and “The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle.”

By 1939 the Astaire-Rogers vogue had run its course. Their careers separated. Ten years later, they made one last film together, “The Barkleys of Broadway” for MGM.”She made such a great contribution to movie dance that we should never forget it,” Kelly said Tuesday in a statement released by his wife, Patricia.

Rogers performed a musical show into her late 70s, until fading health forced her to use a wheelchair. Still, she toured four years ago to promote her autobiography and accepted a Kennedy Center Honor in December 1992.

From the beginning, her career was managed by her mother, Lela Rogers. Lela Rogers pushed her daughter through vaudeville, Broadway and battles with studio bosses, some of whom thought she would languish without Astaire.

But she defied them with her dramatic rendering of “Kitty Foyle,” the working girl of Christopher Morley’s novel, which earned her an Academy Award.

Her last screen role was as Jean Harlow’s mother in the 1965 television production of “Harlow.”

Rogers married and divorced five times. She had no children.

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