“When two people love each other, they don’t look at each other, they look in the same direction”
Virginia Katherine McMathwas born in Independence, Missouri on this day in 1911. She would have been 101 years old today.
Her parents divorced when she was a baby and little Virginia, Ginger, stayed with her mother, Lela. When she remarried, Ginger took the name Lela’s second husband John Rogers. Ginger was introduced to the theater when Lela became a theater critic and took the girl to the shows that she reviewed. Legend has it that Ginger would hang out backstage picking up the songs and dances from the performers as her mother sat in the audience and took notes. One night while she was backstage at a traveling vaudeville show the act needed a stand-in, Rogers was tapped for the duty and had her first gig.
She was still in high school when she won The Texas State Charleston Championship. The prize — a tour of theaters in Texas cities — was expanded to include a wider tour of the Western US.. Ginger’s easy banter with the master of ceremonies was such an audience hit that it became as much of a draw as the dance routine. At 17 she married vaudeville artist Jack “Pepper” Culpepper and the two formed the act known as “Ginger and Pepper.” The marriage was short lived, but Ginger’s career continued. She made it to New York where she had her Broadway debut in Top Speed in 1929. Shortly thereafter the Gershwin Brothers picked Ginger to star in Girl Crazy along with Ethel Merman. The musical made a star of both actresses and introduced Ginger to Fred Astaire who was hired as a dance coach. Ginger’s amazing renditions of Embraceable You and But Not For Me in the musical helped the tunes become part of the American Song Book.
At 19 she switched to movies. Her breakthrough role was in Warner Brother’s 42nd Street. In 1933 she made her first film with Fred Astaire, Flying Down to Rio. The duo made nine musicals together, the most famous probably being Top Hat.
Dancing was only one arrow in her quiver, she was also an acclaimed singer and actor and her career went on long after she stopped making musicals with Fred. She won an Academy Award for Kitty Foyle in 1940.
She went back to the Great White Way when roles for mature women in film became scarce. Ginger took over for Carol Channing as Dolly in Hello! Dolly in 1965 and performed to packed houses for an 18-month run. She then took Mame to London’s West End for 14-months (and a Royal command performance.)