A Love Letter to Ginger (Rogers)

"Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did -- backwards and in high heels," as cartoonist Bob Thaves so nicely put it. Frequently overlooked was that the Oscar-winning actress also did everything Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn did -- frontwards and in sensible pumps.

Ginger Rogers is the "Star of the Month" on Turner Classic Movies, every movie geek's favorite addiction. And though there are only two Wednesdays left spotlighting this breezy actress who so memorably played chorus girls, shopgirls, bad girls and more than a few great ladies, six of her best films will be shown on those days. Yes, she was half of one of the great screen teams of all time, the ethereal Fred Astaire's earthy soulmate in 10 films. But on her own she was a heavenly body of a very special order, singer, dancer, comedienne, drama queen and embodiment of All-American sex appeal. She was the female Jimmy Cagney, a performer whose energy wasn't tireless but tonic.

Ginger Rogers, who brought her special snap and crackle to every movie she was in.

The redhead born Virginia Irene McMath in 1911 won a Charleston contest in 1926. 15 work-filled years later, she was the highest-paid actress in Hollywood. 15 years after that she was one of the two actresses of her generation regularly working in films. The other one was Katharine Hepburn, her co-star in Stage Door (1937), the essential showbiz dramedy which shows on TCM next Wednesday, March 24, at 11:15 pm.

A uniquely wholesome mantrap, pretty and naughty in a way that would be imitated by Doris Day and Meg Ryan, Rogers was courted (at the same time in 1930) by cosmopolites such as her future dance partner Fred Astaire, millionaire Walter Annenberg, New Yorker editor Harold Ross and New York mayor Jimmy Walker.

To know Rogers is to love her. So if you don't, catch the triple-bill (starting at 8 pm) of Vivacious Lady, Bachelor Mother and Stage Door on March 24. Or the triple bill on March 31 of Kitty Foyle, Tom, Dick and Harry and The Major and the Minor on March 31. Kitty Foyle is her Oscar-winning role as the North Philadelphia working-class girl who falls for Main Line rich boy Dennis Morgan. (Explaining his feeling about Main Line Philadelphians, Kitty's Dad tells her, "Your grandfather worked on the crews that built the tracks for the Main Line. That's when it was going somewhere.")

I'm a serious Gingerphile who is always happy to see her, whether she's chirping "We're in the Money" in Pig Latin at the beginning of The Golddiggers of 1933 or trying to socialize her backwards scientist husband Cary Grant in Monkey Business (1952).  My favorite Astairogers movie is Swing Time (1936). My favorite Rogers movie is Monkey Business, with The Major and the Minor a close second. In the latter film, Billy Wilder's directorial debut, she is a disenchanted Manhattan working girl who decides to go back home to the Midwest, doesn't have enough for a train ticket so she poses as a 12-year-old to get children's fare and catches the eye of officer ray Milland, who is embarrassed by his inappropriate feeling towards this underage girl. I also have an inexplicable fondness for Rogers in Lady in the Dark as the pinstriped magazine editor who has trouble reconciliing her femininity with her professionalism. Don't ask. Are you a Gingerphile? Favorite movie? Why?