Michaela at Love Letters To Old Hollywood, and Crystal at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood, are co-hosting their second blogathon devoted to all things Fred and Ginger. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
Laurel and Hardy; Bogie and Bacall; Morecambe and Wise; Hope and Crosby; Pryor and Wilder; Tracy and Hepburn. There are some people who are just meant to be together. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are another one of these special screen duos. I cannot imagine a world where these two had never been paired together and made all those wonderful musicals together. Fred and Ginger fit together perfectly and are quite rightly considered to be one of the most beloved and iconic film duos of all time. I also like how their screen partnership was equal, with neither one of them outshining the other in any way, or doing anything which could lead one of them to be considered as the “better” star of the two.
Whenever I hear the names Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the first words that immediately come into my mind are elegance, effortlessness, perfect timing, fun and style. Fred and Ginger had all of those things in spades. I especially love how they made everything they did on screen appear natural and effortless, even though you know full well that they rehearsed and practiced constantly to get their dance routines to look so spontaneous and effortless.
I also love how Fred and Ginger always make you completely believe that their characters are falling for one another. I think their pairing works so well because of the way they both usually play their characters – Fred is all charm, playfulness and silliness, while Ginger is a fiercely independent type of gal who is more serious before she eventually falls for Fred’s charms.
Fred and Ginger’s films have become comfort films for me. If I’m not well or am going through a tough time, I know that putting on a Fred and Ginger film will always make me smile. I adore all ten of their films, but my favourites are Top Hat(the best of their films in my opinion), The Gay Divorcee(featuring the very romantic Night and Day sequence), The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle(telling the moving story of the real life husband and wife dance team Vernon and Irene Castle), Carefree(featuring a lovely fantasy dance sequence on a giant Lillie pad) and Swing Time(featuring some of the best dancing ever put on film.)
I think Fred and Ginger’s films are the perfect blend of romance, comedy, drama and spectacle. Their films are also enchanting slices of pure escapism which offer us some truly wonderful sights to behold. They are also all films which the whole family can watch regardless of how young or old they may be. Everyone can find something to enjoy in a Fred and Ginger film. The heart and soul of these films are Fred and Ginger themselves. They are such an amazing team and you can totally see them bringing out the best in one another in each and every scene. Not only are they a great match as dancers, but I think they work wonderfully well together in the dramatic scenes as well. It also helped that they had the type of chemistry that just can’t be faked.
My first introduction to Fred and Ginger came when I was around the age of 8 or 9, when I watched the musical documentary That’s Dancing. Some clips of the pair dancing together in The Gay Divorcee and Swing Time are included in the documentary and I absolutely loved what I saw of them in those clips. I knew that I wanted to see Fred and Ginger’s films and see more from them after this. So you can imagine how over the moon I was when not long after this my parents bought me the video of Top Hat. I loved every minute of the film and it has gone on to become my favourite of all the Fred and Ginger films. You can read my Top Hat review here.
We have the marriage of Fred’s sister Adele to thank for Fred and Ginger ending up being paired together as screen partners. Fred Astaire was born Frederick Austerlitz on the 10th of May, 1899, in Omaha, Nebraska. His elder sister Adele, born on the 10th of September, 1896, showed a talent for dance from an early age and her parents enrolled her at local dance school to improve her skills. Fred was sent there too, in the hopes that dancing might help build up his strength, as he was quite a frail child. It soon became clear that Fred had the makings of a dancer too.
Fred, Adele, and their mother, Ann, moved to New York, where Fred and Adele were enrolled at the Alviene Master School Of The Theatre And Academy Of Cultural Arts. The siblings and their mother adopted the more American sounding surname of Astaire. In late 1905, the siblings dance instructor Charles Alvienne helped Adele and Fred develop a professional vaudeville act. Over the next 27 years Adele and Fred would work the vaudeville circuit, perform on Broadway, and would also travel over here to the UK to perform in London. The siblings fame and popularity grew throughout the 1920’s, and while it may seem a bit surprising to us today given how legendary Fred is, it was actually Adele who became the bigger star of the two when they were working together. Adele was charming and had great comic timing, she was also a far more outgoing person than her shy and workaholic brother was. Adele affectionately nicknamed Fred “Moaning Minnie” due to how worried he would get over everything.
In 1932, Adele officially retired from the stage. She had met Lord Charles Cavendish, the second son of the 9th Duke of Devonshire, in 1927 and the pair had fallen in love. Adele had broken with tradition and proposed marriage to him! The couple married in May 1932, at the Cavendish family estate of Chatsworth. Sadly their marriage would become an unhappy one. Charles was an alcoholic who would sadly die in 1944 aged just 38. Adele became pregnant three times, but all of her pregnancies ended tragically. She gave birth to a premature daughter, who didn’t survive; then came twin boys who were stillborn; while her third and final pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. Adele married for a second time in 1947, this time to Colonel Kingman Douglass, the American chief of US Air Force Intelligence. The couple were married until his death in 1971. Adele remained close to her brother throughout their lives until her death in 1981.
After Adele left their act, Fred went on to achieve great success on his own on stage in both London and America, in Cole Porter’s play The Gay Divorcee(which Fred would also later go on to star in the film version of). He then travelled to Hollywood in 1933 to make a screen test for the newest of the Hollywood Studios, RKO Studios, which had been founded in 1928. Fred was signed to RKO by David O’ Selznick.
The legend goes that on the basis of Fred’s test someone in Hollywood is supposed to have remarked “Can’t act; slightly bald; can dance a little”. This quote has always made me laugh given how ridiculous and untrue it is. If the quote really was said, then I hope that whoever uttered those words quickly regretted it once Fred and Ginger took Hollywood by storm and proved those words so wrong. Fred was a VERY multi-talented man indeed. Not only was he a fantastic dancer, singer and actor, but he had a real eye for choreography and he revolutionised the way dance was filmed. Fred made sure that the camera held dancers in full view at all times, and that dance sequences had as few a number of cuts as possible.
Fred’s first film role saw him loaned out to MGM by Selznick, not to play someone fictional, but to play himself alongside Joan Crawford in Dancing Lady(1933). Fred’s second film would be the one that changed everything, and not only for him, but also for a young actress, singer and dancer called Ginger Rogers.
“I loved Fred so, and I mean that in the nicest, warmest way. I had such affection for him artistically. I think that experience with Fred was a divine blessing.” Ginger Rogers talking about Fred Astaire.
Fred was cast next in Flying Down To Rio to play one half of a dance act featured in the film. His partner was played by Ginger Rogers, who was replacing Dorothy Jordan in the role after Dorothy got married to famed director/producer/screenwriter, Merian C. Cooper. Ginger was a Hollywood veteran compared to Fred, with around 20 films under her belt at the time of starting work on this film. The film would also bring Fred and Choreographer/dancer Hermes Pan together for the first time. The pair would go on to work together on many of Fred’s musicals and all of the future Fred and Ginger films. Hermes and Fred would not only become professional collaborators, but would also become good friends too.
“I just want to pay tribute to Ginger,because we did so many pictures together and believe me it was a value to have that gal. Woo, she had it. She was just great.” Fred Astaire talking about Ginger Rogers.
Ginger Rogers was born on the 16th of July, 1911, in Missouri. Her birth name was Virginia Katherine McMath. Ginger was an only child and had quite an unsettling childhood to say the least. Her parents separated shortly after she was born, and her dad kidnapped her twice. Ginger was very close to her mum(who later starred alongside her daughter in the film The Major And The Minor)and her grandparents.
Winning a Charleston dance competition was Ginger’s first step on the road to fame. Her marriage to vaudevillian and singer Jack Pepper in 1929, saw the pair set up a vaudeville act of their own called Ginger and Pepper. The couple divorced in 1931. Being selected by George and Ira Gershwin to play Molly in the 1930 stage musical Girl Crazy, was what really turned Ginger into a star. She signed a contract with Paramount Pictures the same year.
Over the next few years Ginger made films for various studios before moving over to RKO Studios and eventually being cast in Flying Down To Rio. Like Fred, Ginger was also a very multi-talented performer, with a knack for comedy, drama and dance. She would become one of the most popular of the classic era actresses. Ginger would also go on to become an Oscar winner in 1941 for her performance in Kitty Foyle.
Ginger and Fred’s roles were small in Flying Down To Rio and they were billed fourth and fifth respectively in the credits, with Ginger’s name appearing above Fred’s. The film was really a vehicle for actress Dolores Del Rio and her co-star Gene Raymond. When the film was released audiences went wild for Fred and Ginger dancing the Carioca. RKO could see that they had something in this dance partnership so they paired Ginger and Fred up again, this time in a screen version of Fred’s hit play The Gay Divorcee(1934). Fred had enjoyed working with Ginger and said he wouldn’t mind making another film with her, but he was initially very reluctant to begin working in a long term dance partnership again, but he soon changed his mind and the rest as they say is history.
I consider The Gay Divorcee to be the most important film of the ten which Fred and Ginger made together. It is the first film in which Fred and Ginger’s names receive star billing. It is also the film which really sets in stone the outline of so many of their future films. The film has the mistaken identity subplot; dance used as a form of wooing and to convey the growing romantic attraction and desire between the two; and it’s also the first to have the comic relief provided by the double act of Eric Blore and Edward Everett Horton, two gentlemen who both contributed massively to the Fred and Ginger films they appeared in. The film is also one of the best looking of the ten. The Gay Divorcee was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, and it took home one for Best Song. Ginger was always lucky and got some beautiful clothes to wear in their films, but I really envy her for the extremely gorgeous dress she gets to wear in this film during the Night and Day sequence.
Between 1934 and 1949, Fred and Ginger would go on to make eight more films together – Roberta, Top Hat, Follow The Fleet, Swing Time, Shall We Dance?, Carefree, The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle, The Barkleys Of Broadway(this final film was made at MGM rather than at RKO, and it was also the only colour film in the series. Fred and Ginger hadn’t worked together for ten years at this point and Ginger was only cast as a replacement for Judy Garland.) Fred and Ginger’s ten films together would be extremely profitable for the most part and were very popular indeed with audiences.
Left to right from top: Roberta, Swing Time, The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle, Shall We Dance?, Follow The Fleet and The Barkleys Of Broadway. Image source IMDb.
Both stars wanted to move onto other things after they had made The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle in 1939, and so the partnership came to an amicable end. Ginger would take on a lot more dramatic roles from then on, while Fred mainly stuck with musicals and became known as one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century. Fred also proved his talents as a dramatic actor when he played scientist Julian Osborn in the 1959 film On The Beach. I think that film features some of his best work as an actor, and I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it before.
I think that Ginger and Fred contributed so much to the Golden era of Hollywood in their individual careers, but nothing they did ever quite came close to their special film partnership. There is something so beautiful about their partnership and the ten films they made together. The quality of these films and the level of talent that Fred and Ginger bring to them is unsurpassed in my opinion. There has never been a partnership or film series quite like theirs. The Fred and Ginger film series is a real high point, not only of the Classic Film era, but of all cinema.
While I think it’s fair to say that the two never became the best of friends, Fred and Ginger did enjoy working together and they always spoke fondly and respectfully of each other until the end of their lives. Ginger presented Fred with a special Oscar in 1950, and the two co-presented together at the 1967 Oscar ceremony. Fred died on the 22nd of June, 1987, and Ginger died on the 25th of April, 1995. They left behind them an incredible legacy.
Are you a fan of Fred and Ginger? Share your thoughts on this couple and their films.