Although he had several dance companions, Rogers is well known for his work with Fred Astair. The pair have made nine movies together and shared a total of 33 dance numbers – one of the largest partnerships of any kind in the history of American cinema.
An interesting thing about Rogers is that he was a big star himself after his film with Astaire, playing both comedic and dramatic roles. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her direct dramatic performance in Kitty Foil (1940). However, one of my personal favorite dance dramas from Rogers was Billy Wilder’s The Major and the Minor (1942).
Original name is Catherine McMath of Virginia, Ginger Rogers was born on July 1, 2011 in Independence, Missouri, to parents in a turbulent marriage. They separated before she was a year old, and her father abducted her twice before the couple finally divorced. She never saw her father again after the divorce was finalized.
Rogers’ mother Leila Emojin was quite the operator. Already an established writer and reporter, she traveled to Hollywood after the divorce to draw films and start a screenwriting career, while Ginger lived with her grandparents in Kansas City. After marrying his mother, John Logan Rogers, the two eventually moved to Fort Worth, Texas. Although he never took ginger, he took his nickname and used it all his life.
When he was 14, Rogers won a dance competition in Fort Worth and soon joined a Vaudville travel agency as a dancer. Ginger’s mother chose to travel with him. At age 17, she married another Vaudville actor named Jack Paper – the first of her five marriages. The marriage lasted only a year, and soon she was back on the streets with her mother. They ended up in New York City, where he starred in a Gershuin Broadway musical, The girl is crazy. It was here that he met Astair, who was working as an assistant choreographer.
Roger’s Broadway success resulted in numerous movie deals at Paramount, then Warner Bros., and finally RKO, where his partnership with Esther flourished. Together they were among the nine films Flying Down to Rio (1933) – One of my favorites! 1938), and The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939).
I especially recommend Let’s face music and dance From Follow the Fleet. Rogers floats with this number as she is in the air, which is quite surprising when you consider that she is wearing a sequined gown that weighs 25 pounds. Even more significant – performance is continuous. They filmed the number twice a day; Roger’s legs were bleeding and he was almost hospitalized from exhaustion. Astaire assumes that working with dance partners was not easy at all.
The other essential Astaire / Rogers number to check out is Never count dance From Swing Time, which many consider to be the most incredible Pass de Dukes in Hollywood history. It starts slowly with just two walks before moving effortlessly into a dance number of increasing intensity and energy.