Ginger Rogers

Ginger Rogers
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Born Virginia Katherine McMath on July 16, 1911, Ginger Rogers was an American actress, dancer, and singer. Known mostly for her dance partnership with Fred Astaire, she appeared in films as well as on stage. She was also featured on radio and television programs throughout much of the 20th century.

Early Years of Ginger Rogers

Ginger Rogers was born in Independence, Missouri, but she was raised mostly in Kansas City. Roger's parents separated before she was born. Her grandparents, Walter and Saphrona Owens, lived close to them. Her father kidnapped her twice, then she never saw him again. Her mother later divorced her father. Rogers moved in with her grandparents in 1915 so that her mother could make a trip to Hollywood to try to get an essay she had written made into a film. She was successful and went on to write scripts for Fox Studios.

Rogers remained close to her grandfather. She and her family moved to Texas when she was nine years old. She won a dance contest that helped her become successful in vaudeville.  She became a well-known Broadway actress with debut stage role in Girl Crazy. She then received a contract with Paramount Pictures, which was short-lived.

In 1933, Rogers had a supporting role in the successful film 42nd Street. She starred in several films during the 1930s with Fred Astaire, such as Swing Time and Top Hat. She became one of the biggest box-office draws of the 1940s. She won the Academy Award for Best Actree for her performance in Kitty Foyle.

Film Roles

Rogers had a successful career in film. Her first movie roles were three short films made in 1929: Night in the Dormitory, A Day of a Man of Affairs, and Campus Sweethearts. In 1930, she signed a seven-year contract with Paramount Pictures. She broke the contract to move to Hollywood with her mother. In California, she signed a three-picture film deal and made feature films for Warner Bros., Monogram, and Fox. She then made a significant breakthrough as Anytime Annie in the Warner Brothers film 42nd Street (1933). She also made a series of films with Fox, Warner Bros., Universal, Paramount, and RKO Radio Pictures.

Partnership With Fred Astaire

Rogers was well-known for her partnership with Fred Astaire. Between 1933 and 1939, the pair made 10 musical films together: Flying Down to Rio, The Gay Divorcee, Roberta, Top Hat, Follow the Fleet, Swing Time, Shall We Dance, Carefree, and The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. Together, the duo revolutionized the Hollywood musical. They introduced elegant dance routines, set to songs specially composed for them by the greatest popular song composers.

The couple's dance routines were mostly choreographed by Astaire, but Rogers had significant input. In 1986, Astaire said "All the girls I ever danced with thought they couldn't do it, but of course they could. So they always cried. All except Ginger. No no, Ginger never cried".

Astaire respected Rogers. He once said that when they were first paired together in Flying Down to Rio, "Ginger had never danced with a partner before. She faked it an awful lot. She couldn't tap and she couldn't do this and that ... but Ginger had style and talent and improved as she went along. She got so that after a while everyone else who danced with me looked wrong."

Personal Life

Rogers first married at age 17 to her dancing partner Jack Pepper in 1929. They divorced in 1931. In 1934, she married actor Lew Ayres. They divorced seven years later. In 1943, Rogers married her third husband, Jack Briggs, a U.S. Marine. They divorced in 1949. In 1953, she married Jacques Bergerac, a French actor. They divorced in 1957. She married her last husband in 1961. He was director and producer William Marshall. They divorced in 1971.

Rogers was a Christian Scientist. She devoted a great deal of time to her faith. She was also a member of the Republican Party. She died at home on April 25, 1995, at the age of 83. It was determined that the cause of death was a heart attack.