GINGER ROGERS AND FRED ASTAIRE
When people fall in love, they opt for an experience that others have had before. Very often that’s what they have in mind: they would like to share some of what happened to Romeo and Juliet, or Lizzy and Darcy or maybe just their parents. One of those archetypes of romance was born 75 years ago, with the release of “The Gay Divorcee,” starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
The cinema has had many classic couples: several, in fact, in 1934, the year of “It Happened One Night,” “Twentieth Century” and “The Thin Man.” But it has never had another couple who enshrined romantic love so definitively in terms of dance.
Dancing together, Astaire and Rogers expressed many of love’s moods: courtship and seduction, repartee and responsiveness, teasing and challenge, the surprise of newfound harmony, the happy recapture of bygone romance, the giddy exhilaration of high spirits and intense mutual accord, the sense of a perfect balance of power, the tragedy of parting and, not least, the sense of love as role playing. It’s startling how many of those shades are already present in “Night and Day,” their first romantic duet together, in “The Gay Divorcee.”
The story has often been told. Astaire (1899-1987), after years of partnering his sister, Adele, broke through to a new romantic seriousness in 1932, when partnering Claire Luce onstage in London in Cole Porter’s “Gay Divorce,” particularly in the number “Night and Day.” He went to Hollywood as a fully grown star in 1933. When he and Rogers (1911-95) were given fifth and fourth star billing in RKO’s “Flying Down to Rio” that year, their brief fling in the “Carioca” number became its biggest sensation.
GINGER ROGERS 1911 - 1995
Ginger Rogers was born Virginia Katherine McMath in Independence, Missouri on July 16, 1911. Her mother, known as Lelee, went to Independence to have Ginger away from her husband. She had a baby earlier in their marriage and he allowed the doctor to use forceps and the baby died. She was kidnapped by her father several times until her mother took him to court. Ginger's mother left her child in the care of her parents while she went in search of a job as a scriptwriter in Hollywood and later to New York City. Mrs. McMath found herself with an income good enough to where she could send for Ginger. Lelee became a Marine in 1918 and was in the publicity department and Ginger went back to her grandparents in Missiouri.
During this time her mother met John Rogers. After leaving the Marines they married in May, 1920 in Liberty, Missouri. He was transferred to Dallas and Ginger (who treated him as a father) went too. Ginger won a Charleston contest in 1925 (age 14) and a 4 week contract on the Interstate circuit. She also appeared in vaudeville acts which she did until she was 17 with her mother by her side to guide her. Now she had discovered true acting. She married in March, 1929, and after several months realized she had made a mistake. She acquired an agent and she did several short films. She went to New York where she appeared in the Broadway production of "Top Speed" which debuted Christmas Day, 1929.
Her first film was in 1929 in A Night in a Dormitory (1930). It was a bit part, but it was a start. Later that year, Ginger appeared, briefly in two more films, A Day of a Man of Affairs (1929) and Campus Sweethearts (1930). For awhile she did both movies and theatre. The following year she began to get better parts in films such as Office Blues (1930) and Looking for Trouble(1931).
But the movie that enamored her to the public was Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933). She did not have top billing but her beauty and voice was enough to have the public want more. One song she popularized in the film was the now famous, "We're in the Money". Also in 1933 she was in 42nd Street (1933). She suggested using a monocle and this also set her apart. In 1934, she starred with Dick Powell in Twenty Million Sweethearts (1934). It was a well received film about the popularity of radio. Ginger's real stardom occurred when she was teamed with Fred Astaire where they were one of the best cinematic couples ever to hit the silver screen. This is where she achieved real stardom.
FRED ASTAIRE 1899 - 1987
In 1933 Astaire married Phyllis Livingston Potter and shortly afterward went to Hollywood. He had a featured part in Flying Down to Rio (1933). The film was a hit, and it was obvious that Astaire was a major factor in the success. The Gay Divorcee (1934), a film version of Gay Divorce, was the first of Astaire's major pictures with Ginger Rogers (1911–1995) and an even bigger hit. With seven more films in the 1930s (the most popular of which was Top Hat in 1935), Astaire and Rogers became one of the legendary partnerships in the history of dance, featuring high spirits, bubbling comedy, and romantic chemistry. By the end of the 1930s the profits from the Astaire-Rogers films were beginning to decline. Over the next few years Astaire made nine films at four different studios and continued to create splendid dances, appearing with a variety of partners.
Fred Astaire was born Frederick Austerlitz on May 10, 1899, in Omaha, Nebraska. His parents, Frederic E. and Ann Gelius Austerlitz, enrolled him in dancing school at age four to join his older sister Adele. The two Austerlitz children proved extraordinarily talented and the family moved to New York, where the children continued their training in singing, dancing, and acting. In 1905 Fred and Adele began performing in vaudeville. By 1917 they had changed their last name to Astaire and began performing in musicals. They appeared in successful productions on Broadway and in London, England, including the musical comedies Lady, Be Good in 1924, Funny Face in 1927, and a revue titled The Band Wagon in 1931.
When Adele retired from show business in 1932 to marry, Astaire sought to reshape his career. He took the featured role in the musical Gay Divorce. This show proved Astaire could succeed without his sister and helped establish the pattern of most of his film musicals: it was a light comedy, built around a love story for Astaire and his partner that was amusing, but basically serious—and featuring some great dancing, including routines Astaire was beginning to develop himself.