Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ginger Rogers - An Exceptional Actress and Woman

What is it about Ginger Rogers that demands undying devotion and constancy from her admirers? 

For me it was when I saw her 1944 film, “I’ll Be Seeing You” on a small black and white television in my parents’ home.  As a young teenager at the time, I experienced a very personal and poignant connection with Ginger’s portrayal of Mary Marshall.  Ginger’s sincerity and interpretation of her character’s dilemma reached deep into my very being.

In the film, Mary finds herself incarcerated for manslaughter as the result of defending herself from rape.  Mary’s boss had invited her to a party at his apartment.  She had bought a new evening dress for the occasion.  Mary pinned on the white orchid corsage her boss had sent her and left for the party. Upon her arrival, Mary was surprised to find out that she was the only guest.  Mary tries to talk her way out but when that fails, she tries to leave. Her boss grabs her arm and flings her onto the ground.  When she gets up, he grabs her again.  Mary tries to fight off his advances and pushes him backward but he is able to recover quickly and seizes her again.  This time Mary pushes her boss with a fearful force.  He falls backwards and out of an open window on the fourteenth floor. 

Zach, played by Joseph Cotten, was in a military hospital recovering from shell shock caused by his experiencing the horrors of war in the South Pacific.  Zach is hesitant and slow to process those things that once were easy to him.  He is frustrated because his timing is gone. 

Mary and Zach’s lives are full of “what might have beens” with the disillusionments, limitations, boundaries, confinements, and the uncertainties of what their futures hold for them.  Mary Marshall and Zachary Morgan feel lost and hopeless because of circumstances beyond their control. They are trying to make sense out of their lives, which appear to be spinning out of their control. 

After serving three years of her six-year sentence, Mary finds herself on her way to visit her uncle’s family in Pine Hill.  Mary has earned an eight-day furlough from prison for good behavior.  Zach is venturing outside of the safe environment of the hospital for the Christmas holiday season so he can see how he copes interacting with people. 

Mary and Zach are two lonely people who find themselves sitting across from each other on a train.  They begin to talk and Zach feels comfortable in Mary’s presence and becomes more at ease and not as detached from the world around him.  When Mary gets off the train in Pine Hill, Zach follows her and asks if he can call on her at her uncle’s home. Mary gives him the address and leaves.  Zach goes to the local Y.M.C.A. for his lodgings. 

As Mary and Zach spend time together, I feel what Mary feels as she and Zach begin to fall in love. I have become one with her.  Zach invites Mary to a New Year’s Eve dance and presents her with a corsage of white orchids.  She is hesitant and does not want to wear them but she pins them to her waist.   Later Mary unpins the white orchids and they fall to the ground as she dances with Zach, I understand why they are repulsive to her.  I am glad to see them trampled underneath the feet of the other dancers because of what they represent to Mary and me. 

Mary represents strength to Zach. He sees Mary as someone who is self-assured and can stand on her own two feet.  Zach finds comfort and courage while he is in her presence.  Zach begins to believe in himself because Mary believes in him.  Even though Mary has her own self-doubts, she is strong for Zach.  Zach appeals to Mary’s sensibility of what she thinks is now lost to her because of her imprisonment.  Nevertheless, she can pretend all is well while she spends her time with Zach and her uncle’s family. 

My heart aches for Mary when her cousin Barbara lets slip Mary’s situation and of her eventual return to prison to finish her sentence.  I weep with Mary as all hope of love and romance drains from us. 
My chest begins to tense up as we walk toward the prison’s door when we detect some movement in the shadows and we stop and look.  Zach moves rapidly towards Mary and they embrace as they babble and kiss knowing that they will be there for each other.  Life renews in their embrace and is symbolized by their hitting a lamppost with thrown stones. 

My tears pour forth as my body shakes uncontrollably with the resounding affirmation that HOPE for a better future is attainable.  We can rise above the trials and tribulations of this life.  Everything is possible.  This is when I became a Ginger Rogers fan.  She grabbed my soul and profoundly touched my heart. 

Alyce Canfield interviewed Ginger on the set of I’ll Be Seeing YouAylce was writing an article for Screen Stars.  Alyce watched the scene where Mary tells Barbara why she is serving a sentence for manslaughter.  “The silence was brittle. Everyone on that set listened, for not only were tears in Ginger’s eyes, they were in her voice.” Alyce came away convinced of what an incredible actress Ginger really was as she held the attention of everyone on the set with her gripping portrayal.  Alyce elaborated by writing, “I watched the scene and then reflected how hard it is to pass on to others the makings of stardom.  For Ginger possesses many things of which she may not be aware.  In this scene, not only was her voice tense, her whole body was tense.  Her throat was tense.  There was a suspense in her revelation of how she had come to commit murder that was intangible.  It was something she made you feel as intensely as she did.”  That was Ginger’s talent and the secret to her success.  She made you feel what her character felt with deep unshakable emotion from the moment she appeared on the screen. 

Ginger was the consummate performer but wisely realized the importance of working as a team on the screen.  She eagerly assisted her co-stars by eliciting the best out of them during their scenes together.  In this way the presentation was balanced. 

The film In Person (1935 ) was a vehicle designed to exploit Ginger’s talents and she could have made it all about her.  However, she never took away George Brent’s significance to the plot of the film.  Because of Ginger’s unselfishness, her co-stars rose to the challenge in their scenes together. 

In another example, Ginger willingly helped Harriet Hilliard in her film debut, Follow the Fleet ( 1936 ). Ginger took the screen test with Harriet, rehearsed with her, helped her with her makeup, and shared her knowledge about making films with her. Not only did Ginger have an undeniable stage presence, but she was also an independent, strong-willed, loving, and caring person. 

Ginger was equally aware of the importance of the stagehands and crew being a part of the team. An anonymous prop man praised Ginger’s sincere caring for those people who worked on her sets. “Once in a while something grand happens to someone in the movie industry that brings a warm glow of pleasure to many who stand on the sideline, like the prop man.  That’s the way I felt a few months ago when I heard Ginger Rogers had won the Academy award for her performance in Kitty Foyle ( 1940 ).  Ginger has been a favorite of mine since that day long ago when she came to my defense when a foreman was starting to bawl me out.”  Ginger had the loyalty from all those she worked with because they knew she cared. 

Ginger’s devotion and generosity towards her family and friends is another quality I deeply admire in her. Ginger’s parents separated when she was very young.  Her father, Eddins McMath, kidnapped his young daughter twice in an effort to take her from her mother, Lela.  Ginger’s Grandmother McMath later stated that she regretted her participation in one of the kidnappings.  Ginger and Lela visited Mrs. McMath during her lifetime showing the importance of and their devotion to family.  Ginger provided for her grandmother in her old age until her death in 1934.  This exemplified Ginger’s infinite commitment and affection for family.

I have an affinity with Ginger that I could never adequately explain that goes beyond my rapport with Ginger’s film personas. It was reinforced when I read about an incident that happened while Ginger was in Medford, Oregon, in 1942 on a war bond drive.  Ginger bought the 4-Rs ( Rogers’s Rogue River Ranch ) in 1940 and the people of Medford knew her well.  The local high school band was playing for the bond drive event.  The boys in the band had gone out and bought matching sport jackets for the event.  Bill McCord hurriedly called his mother from work at the Medford Postal Telegraph office so they could pool their meager funds for a sports jacket like the others boys were wearing.   

Bill’s mother was unable to afford the sports jacket and bought a coat-type sweater.  Bill was not going to play in the band wearing what his mother had bought for him because his sweater did not match the other boys’ sport jackets.  The rally was about to start on Main Street right in front of the Medford Postal Telegraph office.  Ginger stopped in and inquired after Bill because he was not in his chair with the other band members.  Bill told Ginger of his dilemma and told her he had decided not to play and he was going to go home.

Ginger walked over to Bill, straightened his tie, proceeded to put his arms in his sweater, and told him to get his horn.  Ginger walked up to the stage arm in arm with Bill.  Bill went to go to his seat but Ginger did not let go of his arm. She waved to the crowd in acknowledgement of their cheers and pulled Bill over to the microphone.  Ginger proceeded to say, “I want you nice people to meet my special guy.  He had to work all day and didn’t have time to go home and change.  I told him if he didn’t come up here and play for me, I wouldn’t come either.”

As I read this, my emotional connection to Ginger Rogers, the woman, once again overwhelmed me.  Bill went on to say, that Ginger then turned toward him “and planted a great big kiss on me before turning me loose!” Tears streamed down my face; Ginger was so perceptive of others and their feelings.  This genuine bond with people endears her to me.  Bill continued, “She made a bashful young boy feel special that night, and her encouragement changed my outlook on life.  Since then, I’ve never accepted, ‘No, it can’t be done’… I believe it’s better to try, even if you fail, than not to try at all"

This is why Ginger’s films resonate with me.  Ginger was a deeply caring person and did whatever she could to help anyone if it was within her power.  She was down to earth and personable.  She reflects this realness on the screen through her characters even when she is portraying less than honorable women like Mama Jean ( Harlow, 1965 ) or Lottie Maren ( Black Widow, 1954 ).  Ginger endowed her characters with the genuineness needed to make them believable to the viewer. 

Ginger struggled to be recognized as a serious actress and not to be considered only as Fred Astaire’s dance partner, which in itself is not a bad thing, but she was so much more.  It is a disservice to Ginger’s memory not to acknowledge and give her the credit she deserves as one of cinema’s greatest actresses.       

Written by Vivian G. Miner 

A special thanks to Vivian for graciously sharing this post with us! To read more about Ginger’s life and films go to http://www.viviantalksgingerrogers.blogspot.com. You can also check out her collection of over 1,500 Ginger Rogers photos at http://pinterest.com/gingerrogers11.


  1. I love Ginger Rogers, she was one of my all time favorite actress and after reading your tribute to her, I love her even more. What a classy lady she was.

  2. Every word you said Vivian enforces my high regard for Ginger Rogers. I feel the same way about this caring, lovely woman. She shines out like a beacon to me from amongst other women film stars of her day. She was brave enough to stand firm for her beliefs, yet never felt herself above others in doing so. I just adore the memory of her, she is someone I can look up to, and try to emulate in my daily life.

    1. So few Hollywood actresses really were role models in real-life as they were portrayed to be on screen, but Ginger Rogers truly was and that makes her stand out from among the rest. She was a joy to watch on screen and knowing she was kind and caring behind the cameras makes her all the more wonderful. Thank you again for contributing this post Vivian!

  3. So true, and what’s perhaps even more devastating is that there’s been so little support to help the community rebuild. become an actress

  4. As movie buff after deep analyses of different actresses from the 20s till now to my she was the greatest and the most talented and what a dancer!! Beyond words