Ginger Rogers, one of my all-time favorite actresses, was born on this date a century ago.
Ginger was born Virginia Katherine McMath on July 16, 1911, in Independence, Missouri.
It goes without saying that Ginger could do it all: musicals, comedy, drama -- she was even fluent in Pig Latin!
Choosing a list of favorite Ginger Rogers films is difficult, but there are several which I find extra-special, and as it happens, cumulatively they represent very different sides of Ginger.
For the dancing and singing Ginger, my favorites from among the 10 Astaire-Rogers films are SWING TIME (1936) and CAREFREE (1938). CAREFREE isn't a title one typically sees listed among the best of Astaire-Rogers, but I really like its screwball comedy style. And as for SWING TIME, the only thing that would make it better is if Victor Moore hadn't been in it. (He's compensated for by the presence of the divine Helen Broderick and Eric Blore.) There simply isn't a dance number more delightful than "Pick Yourself Up."
STAGE DOOR (1937) is a terrific film about aspiring actresses in a New York boarding house. Ginger trades barbs and one-liners with Katharine Hepburn, Eve Arden, Gail Patrick, Ann Miller, and Lucille Ball (who was a distant relation). This is one of those "gateway" movies my daughters show friends who don't typically watch old black and white movies. These actresses -- and their great script -- never go out of style.
And what can I say about BACHELOR MOTHER (1939)? By now it might be my favorite Ginger film of all. Absolute comedy perfection, costarring a beautifully befuddled David Niven. Movies just don't come any funnier than the New Year's Eve scene where Ginger speaks Swedish. And she was incredibly gorgeous, too.
Ginger's most befuddled leading man of all time might have been Ray Milland in THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR (1942), as he spends much of the movie believing Ginger is a child. The fact that both actors can completely sell this concept and have it be a tasteful, hilarious movie is quite a testament to their talent, along with that of director Billy Wilder, who cowrote the script.
Then there's the dramatic Ginger, and although she won an Oscar for the drama KITTY FOYLE (1940), my vote for Ginger's best dramatic performance goes to I'LL BE SEEING YOU (1944), in which she plays a woman serving a sentence for manslaughter who is granted a Christmas furlough. Joseph Cotten is the shellshocked veteran who falls for her. Rogers and Cotten play their roles with quiet dignity. It's a deeply touching story of two people with troubled pasts inching their way to a new beginning, and it's also a moving story of a family, with excellent supporting work by Tom Tully, Spring Byington, and Shirley Temple. Highly recommended.
Ginger's autobiography was reprinted a couple years ago, and it's an entertaining read.
For more Ginger fun, here's a YouTube video of an appearance on WHAT'S MY LINE? And here's another one, with a different strategy to disguise her voice. She appeared on the show several times -- as a matter of fact, WHAT'S MY LINE? panelist Bennett Cerf was married to Ginger's cousin, Phyllis.
Other bloggers paying tribute to Ginger on the centennial of her birth: True Classics, Une Cinephile, Noir and Chick Flicks, Caftan Woman, Fedoras and High Heels, Carole & Co., and Gingerology. Please feel free to share links to other Ginger Centennial blog posts in the comments.
Links for all the Ginger movies reviewed here to date: CARNIVAL BOAT (1932), 42ND STREET (1933), GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933), RAFTER ROMANCE (1933), FINISHING SCHOOL (1934), TWENTY MILLION SWEETHEARTS (1934), STAR OF MIDNIGHT (1935), IN PERSON (1935), VIVACIOUS LADY (1938), HAVING WONDERFUL TIME (1938), 5TH AVE GIRL (1939), BACHELOR MOTHER (1939), THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR (1942), ROXIE HART (1942), TENDER COMRADE (1943), I'LL BE SEEING YOU (1944), IT HAD TO BE YOU (1947), PERFECT STRANGERS (1950), and DREAMBOAT (1952).
It's a big list of reviews, and yet there are many more Ginger Rogers films I've seen and not yet reviewed here, including all the Astaire-Rogers films, TOM, DICK AND HARRY, TALES OF MANHATTAN, LADY IN THE DARK, MONKEY BUSINESS, and more.
Related post: TCM Star of the Month: Ginger Rogers (March 2010).
July 16, 2013 Update: Additional reviews: LADY IN THE DARK (1944) and THE GROOM WORE SPURS (1951).