Ginger Rogers could move like no other. Her epic dancing partnership with Fred Astaire lit up the screen, enchanting audiences everywhere and skyrocketing her fame and fortune. Still, behind closed doors, Ginger’s life was filled with staggering twists and turns—heartbreak and betrayal. She was no stranger to keeping secrets, and sometimes they were downright dangerous.
1. She Filled A Void
Ginger Rogers came into the world on July 16, 1911, riding in on the wake of her mother’s tragedy. Lela Rogers was so ecstatic to have a healthy baby girl in lieu of losing her previous baby, and Virginia (Ginger for short) quickly became her pride and joy. But in spite of her mother’s adoration, Ginger’s eager beginnings had a dark side.
2. She Was Kidnapped
Ginger’s parents had a tempestuous marriage, and not long after her birth, they separated. But her father, William McMath, desperately wanted the family to stick together. When his wife refused to reconcile, a vicious custody battle ensued. He wanted his daughter so badly that he even resorted to kidnapping Ginger on multiple occasions. But that’s not the most tragic part.
3. She Never Saw Her Father Again
Fearing for her Ginger’s safety, Lela brought the matter to court, and when the divorce went through, McMath never saw his little girl again. In fact, he didn’t even live to see Ginger blossom into one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. When she was only 11 years old, he passed. But by that time, her father was already a distant memory.
Ginger didn’t consider herself a McMath anymore. Instead, she adopted her new stepdad’s surname—Rogers. It was Ginger Rogers, if you please, and she was destined to do great things.
4. She Danced In The Shadows
Although Ginger entertained the idea of becoming a school teacher, her mother’s career in the entertainment industry pretty much cemented her fate. One day, while waiting for her mother at the Magestic Theatre, she watched from the sidelines as the performers shined onstage. Absolutely enthralled, Ginger took to dancing and singing along with them, twirling behind the curtains and dancing in the shadows.
She might not have known it then, but she was a natural through and through. The limelight was calling her name.
5. She Was A Vaudeville Wonder
Vaudeville had Ginger Rogers in its sight line, and with her dancing expertise, she was poised at the ready. At the age of 14, she absolutely dominated a Charleston dance competition, and the prize helped catapult her straight to center stage: She started her very own touring act—Ginger Rogers and the Redheads. It wasn’t long, however, before a handsome face turned her head.
Never one to shy away from mixing work and pleasure, Ginger willingly leaned into her next great adventure.
6. She Stole Her Cousin’s Boyfriend
When she was only 17, Ginger Rogers took a chance and married performing renaissance man, Jack Pepper. Only, she’d met him when she was but a child. In fact, there was scandalous twist: Pepper was actually her cousin’s ex boyfriend. She must’ve had her eye on him because once she was old enough, she happily swooped in. Together, these newlyweds formed a duo and dubbed themselves “Ginger and Pepper.”
7. She Got Her First Taste Of Heartbreak
But as snappy (and arguably perfect) as their stage name was, their marriage barely made it out of the gates. Within 10 months, it was all over for Ginger and Pepper. Once again, Ginger was a free agent, and with her youth in hand and a career headed straight for Hollywood, this burgeoning starlet danced straight into uncharted territory.
8. She Found Success At Top Speed
Ginger’s rise to fame wasn’t some long drawn-out struggle. After her marriage failed, she joined her mother on tour and landed smack-dab in the middle of New York City where she stayed to make her mark. She began singing on the radio, but it wasn’t long before she achieved one of her greatest dreams—a role on Broadway. But that wasn’t even the best part.
9. She Had A Chance Encounter
In 1929, Ginger’s stunning performance in Broadway’s Top Speed didn’t go unnoticed. After only two weeks of performing, she got a part in yet another Broadway production—Girl Crazy. Her good fortune was off the charts, and it was all happening at once. Not only that, but there was something extra special about this play…While on set, Ginger met the man that would change her life forever.
10. She Met Her Greatest Collaborator
One of entertainment’s greatest dancers, Fred Astaire, worked on the set of Girl Crazy. Unsurprisingly, he assisted with the choreography, and this is where he and Ginger made their first introduction. It’s interesting to imagine these two icons just passing each other on set, unaware of their glowing future together. After all, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire were a match made in heaven.
They just didn’t know it yet.
11. She Was An Overnight Star
Girl Crazy changed everything. In the blink of an eye, Ginger Rogers was an overnight sensation. The world was her oyster, and as such, there was only one place left to conquer—Hollywood. But when it came to studio contracts, finding the right fit proved much harder than it seemed. It was only when Ginger signed with RKO studios that her film career finally took off. And there’s a reason for that.
12. She Found Her Way Back To Him
Ginger Rogers’ first film with RKO was Flying Down to Rio. And her costar? None other than Fred Astaire. Right from the get-go, it was clear that Ginger and Astaire had unprecedented chemistry. The way they moved together onstage was so effortless—so fluid—that the duo seemed made to dance with one another. But behind the scenes, their relationship wasn’t always smooth sailing.
13. She Never Cried
Astaire was known for his unwavering work ethic. The rehearsal schedules he insisted upon were notoriously brutal. But despite her own busy agenda and overwhelming stress, Ginger Rogers always showed up with her head held high, ready to work. She rarely wavered under the strain of her partner’s strict demands and handled pressure with absolute grace.
Astaire once said, “All the girls I ever danced with thought they couldn’t do it, but of course they could. So they always cried. All except Ginger. No, no, Ginger never cried.” And that wasn’t all.
14. She Made It Look Easy
The strength of a Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire number came down to their supreme acting chops. Whether they were having a fantastic time or not, we’ll never know. No matter what, they always appeared to be having the time of their lives. They conveyed humor and comfortability in spades, and played off of one another perfectly. It was a balancing act, and heck, they mastered it.
15. She Made Him Desirable
Notoriously, Katharine Hepburn piped up with her own interpretation of the infamous dancing partnership, observing that “He gives her class and she gives him sex appeal.” She hit the nail on the head. With Ginger sidled up next to him, Fred Astaire let his romantic side roam free. In fact, their romantic chemistry seemed so palpable, that many began to wonder whether these two were an item offscreen…
16. She Incited Hot Gossip
Because of their seamless dance numbers, audiences—and even some of their peers—began to believe that the two of them were much more than coworkers. Everyone suspected that a romance was brewing behind closed doors. And the rumors didn’t end there. Some whispers ran in the opposite direction, claiming that instead of lovers—they were actually enemies. But what was the truth?
17. She Was His Other Half
On counts of romance or rivalry, both Ginger and Astaire plastered on smiles and denied every rumor thrown their way. Wisely, they avoided drama like the plague, and emerged from their six-year stint together with their dignity intact. Still, it’s no secret that Astaire had a soft side when it came to Ginger. They were like two pieces of a puzzle, and he couldn’t deny it.
Astaire once said, “[Rogers] is the most effective partner I’ve danced with. It got so that everyone else who danced with me looked wrong.”
18. She Bet On Love
When it came to actually finding Mr. Right, Ginger Rogers wasn’t the luckiest lady around. In 1933, she met Lew Ayres on the set of Don’t Bet On Love…The title of their film turned out to be extremely ironic considering how quickly it all went south. Although the pair wed in 1934, they were separated by 1936. Still, she never wanted for male attention.
The very same year she left her husband, Rogers had to fend off the advances of one determined playboy.
19. She Refused A Playboy
Howard Hughes was a notorious womanizer, but in the summer of 1936 he focussed all his attention on Ginger. When he asked for her hand in marriage, she was rightly shocked. Having only recently broken things off with Ayres, she didn’t feel ready to dive headfirst into another marriage right away; her heart was still healing. Hughes had a hard time taking “no” for an answer.
20. She Kept Him Waiting
With his well-to-do background, Hughes didn’t see any reason why his lawyers couldn’t help Ginger Rogers finalize her divorce. That way, she’d be entirely free to fall straight into his arms. Ginger wasn’t having it and put their flirtation on hold…at least for the time being. After all, she’d already fallen for somebody else.
21. She Was Pure Seduction
Hughes’ untimely proposal came right on the heels of her wildly successful film Swing Time. Of course, she and Astaire were at it again, portraying deep intimacy through dance. At this time, films were censoring sexuality in film more than ever. As dancers, it was Ginger and Astaire’s job to tell the story of temptation and consummation through their performance. And it worked.
From behind the camera, director George Stevens just couldn’t keep his eyes off of his lead actress: He was utterly mesmerized by Ginger Rogers.
22. She Courted A Married Man
Throughout filming, Ginger Rogers and George Stevens began a clandestine relationship. After all, Stevens was married to Yvonne Howell, and Ginger still hadn’t secured a divorce from Ayres. It was a righteous mess but they managed to carry out a romance for the next three years. Still, when their spark inevitably fizzled out, her old beau stepped out from the shadows.
23. She Had A Very Persistent Suitor
You see, even though they had gone their separate ways and pursued other flames, Howard Hughes never forgot about his deep attraction to Ginger. But after her rejection, he wasn’t one to sit around and wallow. In the interim, he’d gone on to woo the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Bette Davis. He’d even flown around the world. And then, just as she became available, he darted back into her life.
24. She Finally Said Yes
By 1940, Howard Hughes had wiggled his way into Ginger’s bubble and was quickly making himself at home. He finally had his attorney take care of her pesky divorce, and once the ties were officially severed, he made his move. He proposed for a second time, presenting the actress with an extravagant engagement ring—a five-carat emerald monstrosity that promised her the world.
But little did Ginger know, this was no fairytale.
25. She Played Hard To Get
Although Ginger accepted Hughes ring, she by no means made herself an easy catch. To Hughes’ chagrin, she followed the rules of propriety to a tee. Believing in the sanctity of marriage, she continued to live with her mother until they officially tied the knot. Whenever Hughes wanted to take her out on a date, he had to consult her mother first.
Hughes decided to play Ginger’s game, but as time passed, his patience grew thin.
26. She Was Difficult
Ginger Roger’s pious nature hampered more than just her love life—it also impacted her career. Throughout the 1930s, she’d been RKO’s top star, and she and Astaire were the money-making dream team. But outside of her work with Astaire, Ginger was very picky about the roles she wanted to take on. She didn’t want to portray anything untoward on screen, and this made her increasingly difficult to work with.
27. She Almost Turned Down The Role Of A Lifetime
Ginger’s saintly attitude almost lost her her most impressive role to date. The film was Kitty Foyle, an adaptation of a renowned novel whose subject matter made Ginger’s blood boil. It was about a young woman who found herself pregnant and opted for an abortion. When the studio came to her with the role in mind, she couldn’t believe it.
28. She Couldn’t Believe Her Eyes
While flipping through the novel on her way to dinner with Hughes, Gingers eyes widened in shock as she read through some its outrageously scandalous passages. In addition to the abortion content, there were also some explicit love scenes. How could RKO picture her for such an unseemly role as this? She called the novel “highly suggestive and too lurid.”
29. She Was A Mama’s Girl
Forever a mama’s girl, Ginger turned to her mother for advice. Lela warned her not to write off the opportunity entirely. After all, a Hollywood adaptation of Kitty Foyle necessitated big changes. The film certainly wouldn’t be as sordid as the novel—it couldn’t possibly be allowed. And so, Ginger decided to hang tight.
After all, with a fiancé like Howard Hughes she really didn’t have anything to worry about…Right? Wrong.
30. She Fell For His Promises
At first, Ginger’s relationship seemed like it was headed straight for a “happily ever after.” When Howard Hughes invited Ginger Rogers up to Cahuenga Peak, she was instantly wowed by the grandeur of Hughes’ property. He spared no expense and purchased a whopping 138 acres. And who was it all for? Well, for Ginger of course.
31. She Had A Weak Spot
Hughes truly won her heart with the awe-inspiring view of Lake Hollywood. But that wasn’t all. He also promised to build her a mansion. With grand gestures like this, the hard-won Ginger couldn’t help but feel more than a little spoiled. She later remembered, “He knew I loved a view…so he thought that would be very appealing to me, and to some extent it was.”
Still, although Hughes was the model charmer in the beginning, his true colors slowly began to emerge. And they certainly weren’t a pretty sight to behold.
32. She Was Under His Thumb
In the beginning, Howard Hughes was the gentleman paying mind to Ginger’s every whim. But soon he stopped asking Ginger’s mother for permission altogether. Clearly fed up with all the rules, he began to make his demands known. More than anything, he wanted his fiancée’s undivided attention. So much so, that his affection began to border on obsession.
33. She Had A Paranoid Fiancé
As Hughes behavior became more and more paranoid, Ginger began to worry that he was having her followed. And that wasn’t all. She was also convinced that her phones were tapped. And the scary part was—she was probably right. Hughes had some serious control issues and the lengths he went to to keep tabs on his girlfriends were downright terrifying.
34. She Was Surveilled
Later on, Hughes was found guilty of hiring a network of spies to follow his many women. There’s a good chance that Ginger was one of his many victims. Even so, that wasn’t the biggest red flag. Howard Hughes biggest transgression ruined everything: He made the foolish mistake of trying to wedge himself between Ginger and her mother. The gig was finally up.
Ginger’s romantic bubbled had officially been popped. But even as her dreams of marital bliss began to fade, she could never have foreseen the tragedy that lay ahead.
35. She Felt The Sting Of His Infidelity
In 1940, Ginger’s turbulent relationship with Hughes came to a head. One day, fed up with his irrational behavior, Ginger refused to accompany him to his dentist appointment. The very same evening, screenwriter Alden Nash phoned her with some scandalous news: He confessed to having spotted Hughes’ car parked outside another actress’s home…on multiple occasions. The sting of betrayal was all too real.
36. She Received A Horrible Phone Call
Of course, when Hughes called Ginger the very next day looking for her company, an incensed Ginger bluntly declined. Enough was enough. She was finally over Howard Hughes—his weird eccentricities—and his penchant for flandering. But a little while later, she received another phone call. Only this time it wasn’t Hughes, it was Noah Dietrich. And he had some bad news to convey…Her fiancé had been in a terrible accident.
37. She Rushed To His Side
While driving to that infamous dentist appointment, Howard Hughes suffered a head-on collision. Ginger rushed to the hospital. When Hughes came into view, she knew the damage was severe: His entire head was covered in bandages. With seventy stitches across his face and eye, Ginger’s deadbeat fiancé was a sorry sight to behold.
But even in his injured state, Hughes somehow managed to start a fight.
38. She Didn’t Fall For It
Hughes decided to blame his accident on Ginger Rogers. He claimed that her refusal to keep him company incited his fury, making him drive straight into oncoming traffic. But if Hughes hoped to arouse a reaction, he was sorely disappointed. Ginger saw right through this act. This was just another one of his manipulation tactics, and this time, she wouldn’t be fooled.
39. She Brutally Ended Her Engagement
Instead of taking the bait, Ginger changed the subject. When she addressed his cheating, he didn’t even have time to formulate an answer. Without saying another word, Ginger produced a box filled to the brim with all the jewellery Hughes had ever bought her—the emerald engagement ring included. Finally, Hughes got the picture: This was the end.
When she broke off their engagement, a deep silence descended upon the room.
40. She Made Him Cry
Ginger Rogers still managed to imbue the scene with her flair for the dramatic. As Hughes stared up at her pathetically from between his bandages, Ginger turned her back on him and strutted toward the exit. She took one last look at him and then slammed the door in his face. Later, when Noah Dietrich arrived for a visit, he couldn’t believe his eyes…
Howard Hughes was an emotional wreck over losing Ginger. Dietrich said, “It was the only time anyone saw Howard Hughes cry.”
41. She Made Her Own Fortune
Although Ginger didn’t get to relish in Hughes’ millions, she certainly won her fair share of success. In 1941, Ginger’s decision to stick with the role of Kitty Foyle paid off in the best way possible. The film not only revealed her range as a dramatic actress but it also snagged her an Academy Award nomination for best actress…and then she brought home gold. There was doubt about it, Ginger Rogers had reached her peak.
42. She Wanted To Get Away
While she certainly didn’t get the sweeping views that Hughes had promised her, Ginger did manage to treat herself to a secluded getaway. After her big win for Kitty Foyle, she bought a ranch in Oregon. With a view of Rogue River, Ginger dedicated her free time to rafting and wholesome hobbies like blueberry picking. But even as she enjoyed this sliver of normalcy, her public life was anything but ordinary…
43. She Married A Marine
The 40s were a glorious time for Ginger’s career, and the great roles just kept coming. Even so, she kept one eye on the prize and the other on her next romance. In 1943, she married actor Jack Briggs who also happened to be a US Marine. After he returned from serving in WWII, Briggs made no move to return to acting; he was more than happy to let Ginger own the spotlight.
But if Ginger thought the third time was the charm—her marriage eventually proved her wrong.
44. She Picked Him Out From The Crowd
After six years, Ginger Rogers watched in dismay as her third marriage fell a part. But if you think she was about to give up on love—think again. While vacationing in France, she met a young law student named Jacques Bergerac, and he was the very definition of tall, dark, and handsome. One look at him and Ginger knew that she’d found a movie star.
45. She Got Him The Job
After meeting Jacques Bergerac, Ginger Rogers helped secure him a screen test with MGM. Her sharp instincts and his successful audition led them to a working relationship in 1954’s Twist of Fate. Of course, despite the 16-year age gap, sparks began to fly. Unlike some of her other relationships, Ginger’s obvious maturity and notoriety gave her a sense of authority.
This was a new dynamic for her, and she hoped with all her might that she and Bergerac were meant to last.
46. She Fell For A Younger Man
Ginger married Bergerac in 1953, but it soon became clear that their age difference posed a distinct problem. After four years, the two hopefuls cashed in their chips. Still, she didn’t leave the marriage empty-handed. In fact, she came away with some standout memories. During her time with Bergerac, she developed one extremely strange habit.
47. She Had A Weird Beauty Secret
Ginger Rogers was an undeniable beauty, but when asked about her beauty secrets, she came up with the weirdest response ever. Apparently, both she and Bergerac developed the habit of sleeping outdoors: “Jacques and I sleep on the patio or on the lawn by the pool. The only time we can’t is during the rainy season.” But that’s not all.
48. She Was A Square
Unlike many tragic starlets of her time, Ginger Rogers was surprisingly ambivalent toward illicit substances and drinking. She didn’t even smoke. In fact, Ginger was a downright health god. She played tennis twice a week and kept a balanced diet. As stressful as her career may have seemed, she never strayed from the straight and narrow. But where did her resolution come from?
49. She Believed In Miracles
Ginger Rogers was a die-hard Christian Scientist and it all stemmed from one harrowing experience from her childhood. After WWI, Ginger’s stepfather returned home with damaged lungs. In fact, on one occasion, he came so close to death, that the family prepared for the worst. Little Ginger prayed with all her might for his recovery.
Against all odds, her stepfather miraculously pulled through. From then on, her faith was absolutely unshakable. Unfortunately, it was her very faith in Christian Science that contributed to her tragic end.
50. She Had A Hidden Illness
Because of her faith, Ginger Rogers refused to seek treatment for any ailment. A visit to the doctor or the hospital was simply out of the question. But there was one glaring problem with this: She had an illness that very few people even knew about…Ginger Rogers was a diabetic. How could she treat her diabetes if she refused modern medicine?
51. She Resisted Treatment
Allegedly, Ginger’s last husband, William Marshall, came up with a sneaky way to administer his wife’s insulin. He pretended that he was giving her vitamin shots so as not to ruffle her religious feathers. But when their marriage went south, the truth came out. Of all things, it was Ginger’s struggle with diabetes that challenged her the most.
52. She Never Woke Up
By 1995, after spending a lifetime resisting treatment for her diabetes, Ginger Rogers passed on at the age of 83. But when it comes to her cause of death, there are some conflicting theories. While most sources state that she died of natural causes, others believe that a diabetic coma initiated her rapid decline. In the end—one thing was certain—the world had lost an absolute icon.
53. She Did It In High Heels
Ginger Roger’s talent, resilience, and work ethic made her one of the greatest stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age. While she was sometimes criticized for being a weaker dancer than Fred Astaire, cartoonist Bob Thaves truly said it best: “Sure he was great, but don’t forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did…backwards and in high heels.”