Monday, July 11, 2011

B4 They Were Stars - Ginger Rogers

I thought it would be fun to look at famous stars, before they got that way.  Of course, most started out as extras or Bit Actors.  Ginger Rogers (1911 - 1995) was no exception. 

Ginger has 90 titles listed on IMDb.  Of that, 25 appear before her first pairing with Fred Astaire in Flying Down to Rio (1933).  It was that pairing that made her a real star, and since over 1/4 of her movies were released before that, it could be said she was a Bit Actress.  (Or am I stretching the point?!?)

In 1925 Ginger won a Charleston contest at the age of 14, and that was really her start in show business.  She toured for a short time with the dance show, and then went to Broadway.  Ginger started making movies in 1929.  Her first time on screen was in A Day of a Man of Affairs a short that no one remembers.

Two more shorts in 1930.  A Night in a Dormitory with Thelma White (1910 - 2005) who later appeared in Tell Your Children (1936) also known as Reefer Madness.  Then, Campus Sweethearts starring Rudy Vallee (1901 - 1986). 

In Young Man of Manhattan (1930) she co-stars as a flapper with Claudette Colbert (1903 - 1996).  Also in 1930 she was in The Sap from Syracuse with Jack Oakie (1903 - 1978).  These were already pretty big parts for Ginger...the problem was they were in pretty small movies.  Ginger made seven films in 1930.  That year she also worked with Charlie Ruggles, Frank Morgan, Ed Wynn and Ethel Merman

In 1931 she works with William Boyd (1895 - 1972) in Suicide Fleet, just two films before he became Hopalong Cassidy in 1935.  In the next few years she works with Joe E. Brown in two films, and with Joan Blondell, before their first Busby Berkeley film together.

Two great musicals are up next, 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933, both released in 1933.  Gold Diggers of 1933 started Ginger on her real climb to stardom.  The opening number is "We're in the Money" with Ginger taking the lead.  There is a closeup of her singing the song in pig-latin, and even though it is a distorted shot due to being too close for the lens, it endears Ginger to the audience.  She really didn't have a lead part in the film, but she was on her way none-the-less.

Ginger made six more films before Flying Down to Rio with Fred.  She had the lead in all of them, and got to work with more stars like Zasu Pitts, Lew Ayres (her husband from 1934 to 1940), Charley Grapewin, Joel McCrea and Jack Haley

After Flying, she was in ten films with Fred Astaire and could now be considered one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.  She won just a single Oscar for her work, and it wasn't with Fred.  It was for Best Actress in Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman (1940). 

Ginger's last film was Harlow in 1965 starring Carol Lynley (b. 1942) in the title role, and she continued acting on TV until 1987.  But she'll always be remembered as the girl who did everything Fred did, but she did it backwards and in high heels.

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