She was born Virginia Katherine McMath on July 16, 1911 in Independence, MO. From an early age, she was referred to as ‘Ginja’, which came from her cousin Helen who was unable to pronounce ‘Virginia’ as a child.

Rogers’ parents divoreced shortly after her birth, so she spent some of her childhood at her grandparents. When her mother remarried, they moved to Fort Worth, TX . Although never formally adopted by her stepfather, Ginger took his surname, Rogers, as her own.

Rogers was interested in dance from an early age, performing frequently at local charity shows and school productions, but her passion truly blossomed when her mother, a theatre critic, brought her along to various stage productions. There, Rogers reportedly danced and sang along with the performers.

Rogers’ entertainment career was born one night when the traveling vaudeville act of Eddie Foy came to Fort Worth and needed a quick stand-in. She then entered and won a Charleston dance contest which allowed her to tour for six months.

At 17, Rogers married Jack Culpepper, a singer and dancer who worked under the name Jack Pepper (according to Ginger’s autobiography, she knew Culpepper when she was a child, as her cousin’s boyfriend). They formed a short-lived vaudeville double act known as “Ginger and Pepper”. The marriage was over within months, and she went back to touring with her mother. When the tour got to New York City, she stayed, getting radio singing jobs and then her Broadway theater debut in a musical called Top Speed, which earned her critical raves as well as the attention of Paramount Pictures, which signed her to a seven-year contract.

Rogers would soon get herself out of the Paramount contract—under which she had made five feature films—and move with her mother to Hollywood.  She then made a significant breakthrough as “Anytime Annie” in the Warner Brothers film 42nd Street (1933). She went on to make a series of films and, in her second RKO picture, Flying Down to Rio (1933), she worked for the first time with Fred Astaire.

Their first dance together was Carioca, a ballroom number in which they perform with their foreheads touching. The chemistry between the pair was immediately palpable to viewers, many of whom felt that they stole the picture away from the leads. Astaire and Rogers were soon minted as a screen dance team, and earned their first starring roles in The Gay Divorcee (1934), which featured a 20-minute routine at its conclusion.

Astaire was a notorious perfectionist who often drove stage and screen partners to distraction with his endless rehearsals. But Rogers, a consummate professional, proved to be not only his most enduring co-star, but also his most durable. They made 10 films together throughout the Thirties. Astair said of her: “Ginger had never danced with a partner before. She faked it an awful lot. She couldn’t tap and she couldn’t do this and that […]but Ginger had style and talent and improved as she went along. She got so that after a while everyone else who danced with me looked wrong.”

Rogers’ solo career hit its high point with 1940’s Kitty Foyle, a drama about a working-class girl who falls in love with a wealthy but spineless publisher, which won her the Best Actress Oscar for her performance, and for a time, she was the highest paid and most in-demand actress in Hollywood.

The success of her films and other projects allowed her to purchase a 1,000-acre ranch in Southern Oregon, where she lived with her mother and built a dairy complex that supplied milk to Camp White, a nearby military cantonment, throughout World War II. In 1969, she sold her home in Beverly Hills to live in Oregon permanently until 1990.

Rogers married her third husband, Marine Jack Briggs in 1943, but the marriage ended in 1949, which also marked the decline of her status as a leading lady.

Rogers maintained a reduced profile in the Fifties and early Sixties; she had married her fourth husband, actor Jacques Bergerac, a Frenchman 16 years her junior, in 1953, but the union only lasted four years. In 1961, she married her final husband, bandleader-turned-actor William Marshall, who produced one of her final movies, a lackluster adventure called The Confession (1964). Marshall’s issues with alcohol forced a separation, but the couple did not formally divorce until 1969.

Despite the end of her screen career, Rogers’ popularity never diminished with moviegoers, who eagerly followed her numerous appearances on talk and variety shows.  She later launched a successful nightclub tour that took her around the world. Rogers also expressed an interest in women’s rights, as noted by a speech at the Congressional Women’s Luncheon in 1973, which was later read into the Congressional Record.

Rogers’ final public appearance came in March 1995, when she received the Women’s International Center Living Legend award. A month later, on April 25, 1995, Rogers died of congestive heart failure at the age of 83 while at her winter home in Rancho Mirage, CA. She was interred at the Oakwood Memorial Park in Chatsworth, CA in a plot next to her mother, and only a short distance away from the grave of Fred Astaire.

Ginger-Rogers-and-Fred-Astaire

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