Ginger Rogers was an American actress, dancer, and singer who was best known for her on-screen partnership with Fred Astaire in a series of movie musicals throughout the 1930s. After a difficult childhood trying to make it as a child star with an overbearing mother, Rogers eventually became a Hollywood superstar—complete with scandalous relationships, an Academy Award, and behind-the-scenes drama. Keep on reading for 42 facts about this legendary actress.
Ginger Rogers Facts
1. A Slight Modification
Ginger Rogers was born Virginia Katherine McGrath, but a young cousin’s failure to properly pronounce Virginia led to her being given the nickname Ginger. Kind of fitting, since her hair was naturally auburn.
2. The Girl Can Act
Although Rogers was best known for her dancing, her Oscar came for a role that involved no dancing whatsoever. She won the award for Best Actress for her performance in the 1940 film Kitty Foyle, proving that she could do more than just sing and dance.
3. A Perfect Match
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers appeared together in 10 films and are one of the most famous dancing partnerships in history. The pair perfectly complimented each other, with Katharine Hepburn once stating: “He gives her class and she gives him sex.” Sounds like a match made in heaven.
4. Preserved Under Glass
A poster of Ginger Rogers was one of the multiple images of famous women from the 30s and 40s that were found in the bedroom that Anne Frank and her sister Margot shared while in hiding. When the house was turned into a museum, the gallery was placed under glass in order to preserve it.
5. Any Dance You Can Do I Can Do Backwards
Between Astaire and Rogers, the former has always been considered the better dancer, while Rogers was seen as the better actor. But that doesn’t mean Rogers was a slouch on her feet. As a 1982 Frank and Ernest cartoon famously pointed out, “Sure he was great, but don’t forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did…backwards and in high heels.”
Definitely not something just anybody could do!
6. The Kitty Foyle Dress
Fashion is often influenced by Hollywood, and the dress that Ginger Rogers wore for Kitty Foyle became so popular it became a style known as, you guessed it, the Kitty Foyle dress. The dress is typically a sleeved black or navy dress with a contrasting light collar and cuffs. The style was perfect for films because the large amount of white reflected light onto the face, and it was modest, practical, and easily copied by do-it-yourself seamstresses.
7. Opportunity Knocks
In 1926, when Rogers was 14, she won the Texas State Charleston Championship, which gave her an opportunity to tour for six months and to perform at a nearly brand-new theater called the Craterian in Oregon. Nearly seven decades later, in 1993, she appeared on its stage once again, this time to petition the community to save the aging theater.
Her efforts raised over $100,000 for the restoration, and after her death in 1995, fans presented a petition with over 3,000 signatures to the city council asking them to name it after her. They listened, and in 1997 it was renamed the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater in her honor.
8. She’s in the Money
By the time she was 19, Rogers was earning $1,000 a week for her starring role in the Broadway show Girl Crazy. That would have been a pretty good salary by most people’s standards, but as her star rose, so did her salary. By 1945, she was Hollywood’s highest-paid female performer, earning well above $100,000 per year.
9. Fighting for Equality
Rogers was a big champion of equal pay for women in Hollywood, and she fought tooth and nail for everything she got. As if making less than Fred Astaire for equal (or more) work wasn’t bad enough, when she learned that character actors were making more than her, she took a stand. Her efforts paved the way for today’s actresses to demand the same salaries as their male co-stars.
10. Milk for the Soldiers
In 1945, Rogers purchased a 1,000-acre cattle ranch in Oregon where she bred Guernsey milk cows for seven years. Some of that milk was sent to Camp White, a training camp which saw 25,000 soldiers pass through its gates during the war.
11. Goofing Around
One day, while rehearsing for the film Gold Diggers of 1933, Rogers decided to have some fun and started singing one of the movie’s songs, “We’re in the Money,” in Pig Latin. Studio executive Daryl. F. Zanuck overheard Rogers and liked it so much he suggested she do it again in the movie.
12. Dance Sensation
The first time that Astaire and Rogers appeared together was in the 1933 film Flying Down to Rio. The scene where they danced the Carioca (a Brazilian dance similar to the Samba) helped make the film a huge money-maker for RKO studios. It was so positively received by critics that they were paired together for another nine films.
13. Above Astaire
Technically neither Astaire nor Rogers had leading roles in Flying Down to Rio, but it was the only time that her name appeared above Astaire’s in the billing.
14. Cleaning it Up
Ginger Rogers was initially reluctant to accept the lead role in Kitty Foyle because of the novel’s explicit sex and the fact that her character had an abortion. Her mother advised her to wait and see the screenplay before deciding, pointing out that the Hays code (Motion Picture morality code) wouldn’t allow most of that stuff anyway.
Her mother was right, and Rogers was comfortable enough with the sanitized screenplay to agree to star in it.
15. A Sweet Indulgence
As a devout Christian Scientist, Rogers didn’t smoke or drink alcohol, but she did allow herself one special indulgence: The bar in her home was fully stocked with ice cream, and her drink of choice was an ice cream soda. A girl after my own heart!
16. Not for Sale
In addition to being a talented actress, dancer, and singer, Ginger Rogers was also a gifted sculptor and painter. She was pretty protective of her work, however, and was never able to bring herself to sell any of it.
17. Just the Award
Usually, a Kennedy Center Honor is accompanied by a retrospective of the Honoree’s work, but in the case of Rogers, a rights dispute between the Kennedy Center and Fred Astaire’s widow Robyn Smith led to the actress accepting her award without it. Smith refused to allow the Center to show clips of her work with Astaire (which was kind of important) unless they paid her, and the Center refused, leaving them no choice but to scrap that part of the ceremony.
18. Wardrobe Malfunction
For the film Top Hat, Rogers had her heart set on wearing a blue dress ordained with ostrich feathers, which Astaire and director Mark Sandrich felt wouldn’t be practical for the dance. Rogers refused to hear it, and walked off the set, not returning until they agreed to let her wear the dress. She wore the dress for the first time during filming, and lo and behold, feathers started coming off all over the place.
Not that they could say I told you so!
19. Repairing the Rift
The flying feathers from Ginger Rogers’ dress in Top Hat were so distracting to Astaire that he finally snapped and yelled at Rogers, causing her to burst into tears. To repair the rift between them, he gave her a gold feather charm for her charm bracelet and nicknamed her “Feathers.” Luckily, that helped patch things up, and the pair were able to joke about it later.
20. Just for Them
Of the ten movies that Astaire and Rogers appeared in together, Top Hat was the first screenplay written exclusively for them. The screwball comedy featured a score written by Irving Berlin and it was a huge hit, earning over $3 million. That was a huge amount for the time, equalling about $56 million today. Not too shabby!
21. Button Finder
For years, people have tried to suggest that there was a rivalry between Astaire and Rogers, but it’s something both Rogers and Astaire vehemently denied. Rogers noted that she was always involved in planning their dance routines, and was known as the button finder—the person who finds the perfect line to put the cherry on top of a scene.
22. One More Time
The 1939 film The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle was supposed to be the final collaboration between Astaire and Rogers, as Rogers wanted to pursue more serious roles, and didn’t want to be pigeonholed by her partnership with Astaire. They didn’t reunite until 1949, when they appeared together once again in The Barkleys of Broadway. The film was originally supposed to star Judy Garland, but Rogers replaced Garland at the last minute.
The film was not only their well-and-truly final picture together, but it was also the only one filmed in color and the only one they made for MGM studios.
23. A Different Type of Partnership
Ginger Rogers was an excellent athlete. Throughout her life, she participated in golf, swimming, skeet shooting, and tennis. In 1939, she participated in the mixed doubles championship at the US National Championships with Frank Shields (grandfather of actress Brooke Shields). They got knocked out in the first round, so she must have been better at dancing than tennis.
24. Sneaking it In
As regulations for the allowable amount of on-screen sex were tightening up, Rogers and Astaire became famous for finding ways to tell stories of seduction and sex through their dancing. Swing Time’s climax is a dance number set to the song “Never Gonna Dance,” in which Astaire and Rogers share a final forbidden waltz. For many movie buffs, it’s the peak example of how they used ballroom dance as a stand-in for sex.
Many a heart was racing after that one!
25. Not Yet
While Rogers’ mother Lela was trying to make it as a screenwriter in Hollywood, Rogers was left in the care of her grandparents in Kansas City. As soon as Lela got a job with Fox Studios in New York, she sent for her five-year-old daughter, who was promptly offered a contract with the studio. However, Lela turned it down. She believed that her daughter was too young—not to mention the horrific working conditions for child actors at the time.
26. Assuming His Name
In 1920, Rogers’ mother married John Rogers, a wounded WWI veteran. Although he never officially adopted Ginger, she thought of him as a father and ended up assuming his last name.
27. Unofficial Club
After her mother’s marriage to John Rogers, the family moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where she met the not-yet-famous Mary Martin. The pair formed an unofficial club which they dubbed the “Cooper Street Gang.” At one point, Lela wrote a play for the girls (with Ginger in the lead, of course). Funnily enough, both actresses ended up playing the lead role of Dolly Levi at different times.
28. A Miraculous Cure
Since being gassed in WWI, John Rogers suffered from chronic lung problems. The doctors said there was nothing they could do, and when he was pretty much on death’s door, the family placed their faith in a Christian Scientist practitioner, who miraculously seemed to cure him.
29. Starring Role
Even at age 14, Rogers knew she deserved star-billing. For her four weeks of appearances in the Texas Interstate Theatre, she selected two other red-headed Charleston dancers and called her act “Ginger and the Redheads.” When the four weeks were up, the trio went on a tour across the western US. The act featured the teenaged Rogers holding a doll and speaking in baby talk—a schtick she kept up even off-stage so that her mother would only have to pay for a child’s train ticket.
30. Close Call
When performing with the Redheads, Rogers’ mother saved her from the painful side of show business. A manager in Memphis absolutely hated Rogers, saying, “She’s terrible. Cancel her out.” He planned to fire Rogers, so, in an effort to save her daughter’s job, Lela took Rogers over to a nearby Chinese restaurant and hid until the afternoon show.
Fortunately, the audience for that particular performance was filled with young children who absolutely loved Rogers’ act, and their adulation saved her job.
31. She’s No Good!
New York was the most challenging place in the entire country to get good reviews, and Lela was understandably worried about booking her daughter there. Having failed to get the message that the act wasn’t that great in Memphis, it took a reviewer from Variety flat out calling Rogers “no good” to make Lela realize that the baby talk had to go.
She rewrote the act, had Ginger drop her voice a bit, and sewed all-new, less childish costumes for her daughter. Good call!
32. Yes and No
Rogers was pretty fortunate in that she was enough of a star that she could afford to accept and turn down roles as she chose. She was asked to replace Judy Garland in two films, Harlow (1965) and Valley of the Dolls (1967) accepting the former, but not the latter. She turned down Dolls because she reportedly hated the script, which was totally her prerogative.
It also doesn’t hurt that the film ended up getting critically panned.
33. Dressing for the Occasion
To say that Rogers was a clothes horse would be a total understatement. She faced criticism in 1969 for packing a few too many clothes for her year-long stint as Mame in London, but she shrugged it off saying: “I believe in dressing for the occasion. There’s a time for sweater, sneakers, and Levis and a time for the full-dress jazz. As for the little touches, well, a year is quite a long time and they make one feel at home.”
34. Ginger and Pepper
Before she danced with Astaire, Rogers partnered with vaudeville dancer, singer, comedian, and musician Jack Culpepper. He was originally part of the duo Salt and Pepper, but teamed with Rogers after they separated. Rogers also ended up marrying Culpepper at age 17, but the marriage ended after only two months. They did, however, manage to remain friends until his death in 1987.
35. The Second Jack
Rogers’ third husband was also a Jack. Jack Briggs was a US Marine who had been an actor before going off to war. They dated for a year before marrying in 1943, and remained married for six years, divorcing in 1949.
36. Sort of a Jack
About four years after her divorce from Jack Briggs, Rogers married a French actor by the name of Jacques Bergerac (She loved her Jacks!). Bergerac was 16 years younger than Rogers and was a law student in Paris before being recruited by MGM studios. He met Rogers on the set of the film Twist of Fate, but they divorced four years later in 1957.
When he’d had enough of performing, Bergerac didn’t go back to law school—instead, he became the head of Revlon’s Paris office for a number of years.
37. Just Partners
For years rumors circulated romantically linking Rogers and Astaire, but both swore that theirs was a working relationship and nothing more. Both of them were married, and Rogers claimed that outside of dancing, they had nothing in common. Astaire also apparently disliked the “Fred and Ginger thing,” but did admit that “she is the most effective partner I’ve danced with. It got so that everyone else who danced with me looked wrong.”
The American aviator/filmmaker Howard Hughes loved very little outside of money, movies, airplanes, and women—but boy did he love women! He met Rogers in 1932 while dancing at the Coconut Grove club (with another woman). Their relationship was on-again/off-again for years, with the pair getting engaged in 1940, and Hughes promising to build her a mansion on Los Angeles’s Cahuenga Peak.
39. Jekyll and Hyde
The love affair between Hughes and Rogers soured pretty quickly once his true colors started to show. He started ordering her to be available to him at all times, and she was certain that he had tapped her phones and was following her in order to keep tabs on her. He even tried to regulate how much time she was allowed to spend talking to her mother. Needless to say, warning bells were going off.
40. No More!
Rogers finally broke it off with Hughes when she went to visit him in the hospital after a car crash and he tried to blame the accident on her! He said it was her fault since he’d only driven into traffic because she made him angry by refusing to go to the dentist with him! Enough was enough. Rogers told him that she knew he’d been cheating, gave him back his jewelry (including the engagement ring) and ended things right there.
It was the last time she ever saw him, and the first time, according to Noah Dietrich, anyone had seen him cry. He had that coming!
41. Bloody Shoes
Astaire was a known perfectionist, and once demanded 54 takes of a scene for The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. Being equally a perfectionist and determined to keep up with him, Rogers danced until her shoes were literally full of blood from burst blisters. And what did she do then? She danced some more—now that’s dedication!
Rogers’ parents separated before she was born, and while they were battling it out for custody of their new baby girl, her father William McMath kidnapped her! The courts didn’t look too favorably on this behavior and ended up awarding mother Lela full custody, with McMath only getting limited visitation. Sounds messy!