Dance Legends – Ginger Rogers

Probably the most famous pair of ballroom dancers known in the world would be Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The primary reason for that is because they were also famous film stars. I thought it would be fun to isolate the duo here and write about the very beautiful and talented Ginger Rogers. Let’s find out who Ginger was and how she became the masterful ballroom dancer that she was.

Ginger, who was born in 1911, in Independence, Missouri, was named Virginia Katherine McMath. If you’re wondering how Virginia got her name Ginger, here is the story. One of Ginger’s cousins had a hard time pronouncing Virginia. She simply called her “Ginga” and it stuck. Her father was Scottish and her mother was Welsh. Her parents were divorced before Ginger was even born. Supposedly her father tried to kidnap her twice. In 1915, Ginger moved in with her grandparents in Kansas City while her mother made a trip to Hollywood. A couple interesting things about Ginger’s mother was that she was one of the first women to enlist in the Marine Corps. She was also a writer and had written an essay she wanted it to be made into a film. Her name was Lela Emogene Owens and she actually succeeded in turning her essay into a film. Lela continued to write scripts for Fox Studios. Lela is also well known for being the founder of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideal. Meanwhile, Ginger continued to live with her grandparents and was particularly close to her grandfather. When she became a star in 1939, Ginger bought her grandfather a home in Sherman Oaks, California, so she could be close to him while she worked in Hollywood.

Ginger’s mother did remarry again to a man named John Logan Rogers when Ginger was 9 years old. Ginger took the surname Rogers, although, she was never legally adopted by him. They lived in Fort Worth, Texas. Ginger’s mother became a theater critic for a local newspaper in Fort Worth. Ginger did go to high school in Texas but did not graduate. Ginger’s mother had a big influence in Ginger’s future. Because of her mother’s interests and work in Hollywood and the theater, Ginger would often wait in the wings of one theater or another taking it all in. She began to sing and dance along with the performers on stage.

It was all very innocent and sudden when Ginger’s entertainment career launched. She started performing as an actress singer and dancer in a traveling vaudeville act known as Eddie Foy when he came to Fort Worth and needed a quick stand-in. In 1926, Ginger started to tour at a brand new theater at the time in Medford, Oregon called the Craterian. Many years later, this theater honored Ginger by changing its name to the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater.

At the tender age of 17, Ginger married Jack Culpeper. Jack was a singer, dancer, comedian and recording artist. Here is a fun fact, Ginger actually knew Jack when she was a child. Jack was her cousin’s boyfriend. They created a vaudeville act known as “Ginger and Pepper.” Unfortunately, both the marriage and act were over quite quickly. Ginger then went back to tour with her mother. Once they got to New York, Ginger stayed on to pursue radio, singing and Broadway theater. Ginger’s first Broadway play was a musical called, Top Speed. It opened on Christmas day in 1929. Lucky Ginger was also chosen at the very same time to star on Broadway in Girl Crazy by George and Ira Gershwin. People have said that Ginger Rogers along with Ethel Merman, who also starred in this famous play, became stars from this play.  Ginger Rogers became an overnight sensation at the age of 19! It was then that Fred Astaire entered the picture. He was hired to help the dancers with the dance routines. From then on, starting in 1929, Ginger was signed to many film studios and made many movies. She did take time out to move in with her mother in Hollywood. Ginger had always maintained a close relationship with her mother.  Lela was very helpful with some of Ginger’s early stage and film successes as well as giving her assistance in film contract negotiations.

As famous as Ginger Rogers had become as an actress, singer and dancer, it was not to be compared to how famous she became, partnering with Fred Astaire. As a team, Fred and Ginger made 9 musical films worldwide. They possibly were the most famous dancing team ever! Not only were they on the silver screen with their impeccable dance moves, but they were dazzling audiences with their unique routines of extraordinary stature, done with music and songs especially composed for them by the greatest, most popular, composers of the day. And, Ginger Rogers was considered Fred Astaire’s finest dance partner. Ginger was known for her exceptional ability to combine dancing skills, natural beauty, both dramatic and comedic acting flair and divine elegance in complementing Astaire on the dance floor.

Ginger and Fred enjoyed an amazing film career from 1933 to 1939.  Until the day that Fred Astaire died, he always said, he credits Ginger Rogers for their success.  Truth be told, Ginger made many more movies than Fred Astaire and was always having to find time to practice the rigorous dance routines around her film career; which she faithfully did. In fact, In 1941, Rogers won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the 1940’s Kitty Foyle film. During that period, Ginger was one of the hottest movie stars in the film business. In 1949, Ginger reunited with Fred Astaire in a movie called The Barkleys of Broadway, when Judy Garland was unable to appear in the role.

In 1950, Ginger presented Fred Astaire with a special Academy Award. In 1967, they were co-presenters at the Academy Awards and managed to get a standing ovation when they came on stage in an impromptu dance. From the 1950’s going forward, Ginger made occasional television appearances. Her final screen performance as an actress was in Aaron Spelling’s 1987 production of Hotel. The Kennedy Center honored Ginger in 1992. This was an event shown on television.

Ginger had been married 5 times. She was married to Jacques Bergerac, a French actor 16 years her junior, whom she met in Paris. He was actually a lawyer in France but when he came to Hollywood with Ginger, he became an actor. Ginger’s fifth and final husband was director and producer William Marshall. They married in 1961 and divorced in 1971. Ginger was very good friends with Lucille Ball and Bette Davis. Here’s another fun fact about Ginger Rogers.  Actress Rita Hayworth’s maternal uncle was married to Ginger’s maternal aunt! As Ginger got older, she spent winters in Rancho Mirage, California and summers in Medford, Oregon. She continued making public appearances until she suffered a stroke that left her partially paralyzed and dependent on a wheelchair. Ginger never saw a doctor or went to the hospital. Ginger died at her Rancho Mirage home in 1995, at the age of 83. It was noted that she died of a heart attack. She was cremated and her ashes interred in the Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, California with her mother’s remains.

One of my favorite things about Fred and Ginger is how they will be immortalized forever from the very famous Cheek to Cheek dance from their movie Top Hat. A Likeness of Fred and Ginger was painted in the “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” section of The Beatles film Yellow Submarine in 1968. Not too many people can say that!

Thought Of The Week:

“The only way to enjoy anything in this life, is to earn it first.”   –  Ginger Rogers


Recent Posts

See All


Shane Meuwissen is the Media Specialist for Fordney Foundation.  He is a former dance instructor who know works with his company Slow Motion Dance Videos capture the beauty of dancing. If you would like to learn more about Shane and his video work, visit his website