Well, the month of June is past (and with it, my focus on Frank Sinatra), so, as my homepage indicates, we’re now here to focus on the Screen Team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers! Originally, I had planned to focus on them for May 2022, but I delayed it after a lot of trouble at home (as alluded to in this post), with the hope that I would have more time and potentially be able to do the five films I had originally hoped to do. Even with the delay, things haven’t improved enough for me to do five films (which, honestly, I’m fine with now, as the slower pace with fewer reviews per month is actually a bit of a relief). So, it’s on with Fred and Ginger! Again, this is still not a blogathon, but if you’re interested in contributing, I certainly wouldn’t object!
Table Of Contents
- Film Career Bio
- My Own Feelings
- Fred Astaire Filmography
- Ginger Rogers Filmography
- Entries For This Month
Quick Film Career Bio
Birth: May 10, 1899
Death: June 22, 1987
On May 10, 1899, Frederick Austerlitz was born to Frederic “Fritz” Austerlitz and Johanna “Ann” Geilus in Omaha, Nebraska. As a growing boy, Fred was a bit frail and tended to be very serious, so his mother pushed him to take up dancing. At first, he didn’t care for the idea, but he came around to it. With both him and his older sister Adele showing some serious skill with dance, the family moved to New York City in early 1905 where they were taught dance, speaking and singing at the Alviene Master School of the Theatre and Academy of Cultural Arts. In this way, they worked towards coming up with a dance act for the two siblings to tour with on the vaudeville stage. They made their stage debut together in Keyport, New Jersey. Soon after, they got a contract with the Orpheum Circuit, and they toured the country with their act. With Adele growing taller than Fred for a time, they had to take some time off. After two years, they returned to the stage. As they traveled, they learned other styles of dance, like tap dancing and ballroom, from some of their vaudevillian acquaintances. Eventually, the Astaires were able to make it to Broadway, debuting in the 1917 show Over The Top. Over the next fourteen years, they proved to be popular with audiences on Broadway and in London, with their final show together being The Band Wagon in 1931. After that, Fred was on his own when his sister retired to marry Lord Charles Cavendish.
Embarking on a solo career, Fred did the Cole Porter show The Gay Divorce, but he yearned for something different, and signed with Hollywood studio RKO Radio Pictures. They briefly lent him out to MGM, where he made his film debut (playing himself) in a glorified cameo dancing with Joan Crawford in Dancing Lady (1933). Back at RKO, he was cast in Flying Down To Rio (1933), essentially playing the comedy relief opposite the film’s leads. However, he was paired up with Ginger Rogers (whom he had met and even briefly dated back on Broadway in 1930) for a dance to the song “The Carioca,” and history was made. Audiences and RKO executives were thrilled with the chemistry that the two shared, and Fred and Ginger would be teamed up again (this time, with top billing) for The Gay Divorcee (1934), the filmed version of Fred’s final Broadway show. While he wasn’t thrilled being considered part of a team again, he went along with it when he was offered ten percent of the profits. The Gay Divorcee also proved to be a big success, and the series continued on, with them reaching the height of their popularity as a team with their fourth film, Top Hat (1935). In the process, Fred had changed the way dance was used and filmed, as he insisted on minimal cuts during the dance itself and wanted to keep the dancers’ full bodies in view, while also trying to make dance itself integral to the plot. As time went on, though, the Astaire-Rogers films started to falter at the box office. Wanting to try going solo again (since he had only been making films with Ginger, while she had been doing stuff apart from him), he made A Damsel In Distress (1937). The film did poorly at the box office, and resulted in him being labeled “box office poison.” He tried to do two more films with Ginger at RKO, but his bad streak continued, resulting in both films losing money at the box office. After The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle (1939), he left RKO and started freelancing. He danced opposite Eleanor Powell (Broadway Melody Of 1940, MGM), Paulette Goddard (Second Chorus, Paramount Pictures), Rita Hayworth (You’ll Never Get Rich and You Were Never Lovelier, both Columbia Pictures), Bing Crosby (Holiday Inn and Blue Skies, both Paramount Pictures), Joan Leslie (The Sky’s The Limit, RKO) and Lucille Bremer (Yolanda And The Thief and Ziegfeld Follies, both MGM). With his popularity sinking again (in between Yolanda And The Thief bombing and playing second fiddle to Bing Crosby in two films), Fred announced his retirement following Blue Skies, with him focusing on his dance studios and on breeding racehorses.
His desire to be retired didn’t last too long, as he started to ponder going back to work. He was given a stronger nudge when MGM called him, hoping he would replace the injured Gene Kelly for Easter Parade with Judy Garland. Indeed, he did come back, and the film turned out to be one of his biggest hits! Fred and Judy were supposed to follow that up with The Barkleys Of Broadway (1949), but she had issues because of her dependence on prescription medications and had to be replaced. Fred’s old co-star Ginger Rogers was brought in for what would be their final film together (and their only one in color), and the film was a success. Fred was given an honorary Academy Award for artistic achievement (presented by none other than Ginger Rogers herself), and made a string of Technicolor musicals for MGM (with a slight stopover at Paramount for Let’s Dance). After making The Band Wagon (1953), his contract with MGM was terminated (due in part to the rise of television). He was about to start working on the film Daddy Long Legs over at 20th Century Fox, but his wife, Phyllis Potter (whom he had married in 1933) grew ill and died suddenly of lung cancer. In his grief, he wanted out of his contract for Daddy Long Legs (even offering to pay the production costs himself), but composer Johnny Mercer and the studio executives wanted him to do the film, hoping that working would help him through his grief. He listened to them, and the film did decently at the box office. However, his next two films, Funny Face (1957) and Silk Stockings (1957), lost money, and he decided to retire from dancing in the movies (although, over the next decade, he would do four highly acclaimed dance specials on television).
On the big screen, he took a more dramatic turn with the film On The Beach (1959), for which he received a nomination for the Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor. He continued to make the occasional appearances on the big screen, but also did work on TV as well, enjoying recurring roles on Dr. Kildare (1961-1966) and the final season of It Takes A Thief (1968-1970). He returned to the musical genre again on the big screen for Finian’s Rainbow (1969), although director Francis Ford Coppola overrode him on how to film the dance scenes for the movie. On the small screen, he kept himself in the limelight by voicing the mailman character S. D. Kluger in Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town (1970) and The Easter Bunny Is Comin’ To Town (1977), and made an appearance on the sci-fi show Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979) due to his grandchildren’s interest in the series. He received his sole Oscar nomination (for Best Supporting Actor) in the 1974 disaster film The Towering Inferno. His final film appearance was in 1981’s Ghost Story alongside several other actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood. He passed away a few years later from pneumonia (on June 22, 1987) at the age of 88.
Birth: July 16, 1911
Death: April 25, 1995
On July 16, 1911, Virginia Katherine McMath was born to William Eddins McMath and Lela Emogene Owens at their home in Independence, Missouri. Not long after her birth, her parents split up (with her father even kidnapping her twice) and eventually divorced. With her mother trying to get work in Hollywood, Virginia moved in with her grandparents in Kansas City. When Virginia (who gained the nickname “Ginger” due to a younger cousin’s mispronunciation of her name) was nine, her mother was married again, this time to John Logan Rogers, and Ginger took on his surname (even though she was never legally adopted by him). They moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where her mother became a theater critic. With her mother bringing her along to some of the stage productions, Ginger began to dance and sing along with the performers. At the age of fourteen, she entered and won a Charleston dance contest, with the prize being the opportunity to tour as part of an act called “Ginger And The Redheads” on the Orpheum Circuit. At the age of seventeen, she briefly formed an act with Jack Culpepper (who would be her first husband for nearly a year). After the act dissipated, she tried doing a solo act, working with bandleader Paul Ash and his orchestra when they went to New York City. She made her Broadway debut in the musical Top Speed, but was quickly chosen (within two weeks of that show’s opening) to star in the Gershwin musical Girl Crazy (with Fred Astaire being brought in to help the dancers with the choreography).
Before she starred in Girl Crazy, she had been in a few theatrical shorts. Upon finishing her run in Girl Crazy, she signed with Paramount Pictures and made her film debut in Young Man Of Manhattan (1930). She made that movie (and several more) at Astoria Studios in New York City, before she got herself out of the contract with Paramount and moved to Hollywood with her mother. She worked at studios like Pathé Exchange, Warner Brothers, Monogram and Fox, without getting too far. It took getting the role of “Anytime Annie” in 42nd Street (1933) before she started getting recognition. She followed that up by memorably singing “We’re In The Money” in pig Latin for Gold Diggers Of 1933 (1933). She made some other films for Warner Brothers and RKO Studios before famously being paired up with Fred Astaire for “The Carioca” in Flying Down To Rio (1933). Their chemistry together was enough for RKO executives to team them up again for The Gay Divorcee (1934), which cemented them as two of Hollywood’s biggest stars at the time. While Fred Astaire continued to concentrate all of his efforts on their films together, Ginger maintained her own solo career with a very busy schedule. As a team, Fred and Ginger’s popularity hit its peak with their fourth film Top Hat (1935). The costs of producing musicals (much higher than for dramas or comedies) resulted in the Astaire-Rogers films not being as successful after that, and the team split briefly. She proved her dramatic abilities in Stage Door (1937) and continued to hone her comedic abilities through films like Vivacious Lady (1938). With Fred Astaire being labeled box office poison after his own solo outing and RKO Studios facing bankruptcy, Fred and Ginger were teamed up again for two more movies. Sadly, the musical genre was losing its appeal to audiences, and both films lost money, thus ending the partnership (for a decade).
Ginger continued to enjoy success on her own, with comedies like Bachelor Mother (1939). She really hit her stride the next year with her role in Kitty Foyle (1940), a role which would win her the Oscar for Best Actress. Her Oscar win gave her more negotiating power when it came to her contracts with the studios, and she took the opportunity to do the projects she wanted for whatever studio, including The Major And The Minor (1942) (which was semi-autobiographical for her in that, when she was younger and traveling with her mother, she had dressed up to look like a child to get half-fare tickets), Tender Comrade (1943) and I’ll Be Seeing You (1944). During this time, she became one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood. The end of the decade saw her reunited onscreen with Fred Astaire when she replaced Judy Garland to do The Barkleys Of Broadway (1949).
Going into the 1950s, Ginger’s career started to go into decline, with fewer roles being offered due to her age. Her main success on the big screen during this period was her second film with Cary Grant, Monkey Business (1952). She continued to make movies throughout the decade while also starting to make appearances on various TV shows. Her final film role was that of Jean Harlow’s mother in Harlow (1965). She made her comeback on Broadway that same year when she played Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! and followed that up a few years later with the lead in the musical Mame in London’s West End. She made a handful of appearances in different TV shows like The Love Boat (1977-1986) and Hotel (1983-1988), with Hotel being her last onscreen role as an actress. In fulfilling a lifelong dream, she directed an off-Broadway production of Babes In Arms in 1985. In 1991, she published her autobiography, “Ginger: My Story.” Her last public appearance was when she received the Women’s International Center Living Legend award in March 1995. Just barely a month later, on April 25, 1995, she died from congestive heart failure at her home.
My Own Feelings On Fred Astaire And Ginger Rogers
When I first started watching classic films, Fred Astaire was one of the performers that I took to early on. The first film of his that I saw was The Royal Wedding (1951) (technically, I heard his voice in the 1970 TV special Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, which I had seen many times as a kid, but I never really had anything more specific to associate him with). While I liked him in The Royal Wedding, I didn’t really take to him that strongly at first, and in fact preferred Gene Kelly as a dancer. It really wasn’t until I saw Fred in Blue Skies (1946) later that year that I changed my mind and started concentrating on his films (specifically, his tap solo to “Puttin’ On The Ritz” and his duet with Bing Crosby to “A Couple Of Song And Dance Men” were what really sold me on him). Of course, following that up with Easter Parade (1948) really cinched my interest in him. I have by this point seen all of Fred’s film musicals, and while their quality may vary, I find I could easily put on any one of them and be happy with it. I’ve seen a few of his later non-musical films as well, with varying opinions (although my main opinion is that he was at his best in musicals).
Of course, I should be following up with my opinion of Ginger Rogers, but the reality is that I first developed a fondness for Fred, then their films together, then her on her own. The Barkleys Of Broadway (1949) was the first film I saw with both Fred and Ginger in it (if I’m remembering correctly, I saw it before I had seen Blue Skies, so I didn’t developed a solid interest in their team yet). After I saw the likes of Blue Skies and Easter Parade, I followed up with Top Hat (1935), which is when I not only developed an interest in seeing the rest of the Astaire/Rogers films, but it also cemented my interest in another “team,” that of Fred Astaire and composer Irving Berlin. Over the following couple of years, I saw all of the remaining Astaire/Rogers films whenever I could catch them on TCM, and enjoyed every one of them.
I think I might have seen most, if not all, of the Astaire/Rogers films before I started to venture into some of Ginger’s solo outings. I do remember that I saw in fairly quick succession Kitty Foyle (1940), Roxie Hart (1942) and I’ll Be Seeing You (1944), all of which I took to very strongly. Ever since, I’ve been trying to see more of Ginger’s filmography (which is a bit of a difficult task, since she made way more movies than Fred did). So far, I’ve enjoyed every one of them, even if only because of her presence, and that’s made it easier for me to keep looking for more of her films!
Fred Astaire Filmography
This is a list of all the films that I personally have reviewed from his filmography so far. Obviously, I will be adding to it throughout the month of July, and it is my plan to add to it as I review more and more of his films even beyond this month’s celebration.
The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle (1939)
Broadway Melody Of 1940 (1940)
You Were Never Lovelier (1942)
Ginger Rogers Filmography
This is a list of all the films that I personally have reviewed from her filmography so far. Obviously, I will be adding to it throughout the month of July, and it is my plan to add to it as I review more and more of her films even beyond this month’s celebration.
Professional Sweetheart (1933)
The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle (1939)
The Major And The Minor (1942)
Entries For This Month
Thoughts From The Music(al) Man –
Fred Astaire And Ginger Rogers Roundup