Rogers, Ginger (1911–1995)

By: John H. Slate

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1995

Updated: May 24, 2022

Ginger Rogers, motion picture actress and dancer, was born Virginia Katherine McMath on July 16, 1911, in Independence, Missouri, to Lela Emogene Owens and Eddins McMath. Her parents separated when she was two. Rogers lived in Kansas City, Missouri, with her mother and grandparents until 1922, when she moved to Fort Worth with her mother and adoptive father, John Logan Rogers. In 1925 Rogers won a Dallas Charleston dance contest; the prize was a brief vaudeville contract. Beginning with "Ginger Rogers and Her Redheads," the singer-dancer worked the vaudeville circuits until 1929, when she took her first role in a Broadway musical comedy, Top Speed. That led to her film debut the same year in the Paramount picture Young Man of Manhattan.

After several more Broadway productions, Rogers moved to Hollywood to begin a lengthy career in film and stage. She made seventy-one motion pictures over thirty-five years for several studios. She was praised for her dramatic and comedic performances in such movies as Stage Door (1937), The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), Storm Warning (1951), and Kitty Foyle, for which she won the Oscar award in 1940. Despite her formidable acting skills, Rogers is best remembered as the dancing partner of Fred Astaire in nine films, including Flying Down to Rio (1933), The Gay Divorcee (1934), Swing Time (1936), and Top Hat (1935), considered by many critics to be some of the finest films made during the Hollywood studio system era. An often repeated comment about Rogers's perfection as a dance partner is that "she did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels." Rogers made her final motion picture appearance in 1965 as actress Jean Harlow's mother in Harlow. She performed in several stage musicals until the mid-late 1960s, when she retired from show business. She was married five times; the first, to vaudevillian Edward "Jack Pepper" Culpepper in 1928, ended in divorce in 1931; the second, to actor Lew Ayres in 1934, ended in 1941. Her third marriage, to actor Jack Briggs, lasted from 1943 to 1949; the fourth, to actor and businessman Jacques Bergerac, was from 1953 to 1957; and the fifth, to director-producer William Marshall, lasted from 1961 to 1967. Ginger Rogers died of natural causes on April 25, 1995. See also MAJESTIC THEATRE (DALLAS).

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Arlene Croce, The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book (New York: Vintage, 1972). Current Biography (1941). Jocelyn Faris, Ginger Rogers: A Bio-bibliography (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1994). New York Times, April 26, 1995. 1994 International Motion Picture Almanac, 1933 (New York: Quigley, 1994). Ginger Rogers, Ginger: My Story (New York: HarperCollins, 1991).


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November 1, 1995
May 24, 2022

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