Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in "Swing Time" (AP Photo)
Fred Astaire danced with many women over the course of his movie career – his sister Adele, Rita Hayworth, Eleanor Powell, Paulette Goddard, Lucille Bremer. But Ginger Rogers is the one we remember as his constant partner, and there's a reason for that. Several reasons, in fact. Naturally, Rogers' extraordinary skill as a dancer is tops among them. Her acting ability was a big part of it too: critic John Mueller noted that she didn't just dance well with Astaire – through her acting, she also sold the idea of dancing with Astaire as the most marvelous thing in the world.
And then there was her gutsy strength in the face of working with a notorious perfectionist. Anything Astaire threw at her, she handled gracefully, and that impressed the man who was accustomed to reducing other dancers to tears. As Astaire later reflected, "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." High praise indeed from a dancer and choreographer who pushed his partners with superhuman rehearsal schedules and an expectation for each dance to be more perfect than the last. And Ginger Rogers lived up to it.
Rogers, like Astaire, created a career that extended far beyond that celebrated partnership. From Stage Door with Katharine Hepburn and Ann Miller to Monkey Business with Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe, from Billy Wilder's first American film The Major and the Minor to Storm Warning with Ronald Reagan and Doris Day, Rogers had her share of notable collaborations over the course of her six-decade career. But it's her partnerships with Astaire that truly stand out and best highlight her great talent and versatility as a dancer. As we remember Rogers on the anniversary of her death nearly two decades ago at age 83, we focus on those dances – and on the grace and strength that made her shine.
Fred and Ginger's first collaboration, 1933's Flying Down to Rio:
Dancing cheek to cheek in 1935's Top Hat:
Showing off their tap skills in Swing Time (1936):
Their final film together, 1949's The Barkleys of Broadway:
Written by Linnea Crowther