Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
Fred Astaire (May 10, 1899- June 22, 1987) and Ginger Rogers (July 16, 1911- April 25, 1995) were iconic dance partners who made motion pictures together from 1933–1949. They made a total of 10 movies, 9 with RKO Radio Pictures and one, The Barkleys of Broadway, with M-G-M, their only color (Technicolor) movie.
Fred Astaire started dancing in the early 1900s as a child on stage, in Vaudeville, partnering with his older sister, Adelle. He made his first movie in 1933, taking on a small role in the movie Dancing Lady starring Clark Gable and Joan Crawford. Ginger Rogers made her first appearance in a 1929 movie short, then made feature Pre-Code movies with Warner Brothers Pictures such as 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933. Astaire and Rogers made their first pairing in a movie in 1933, Flying Down to Rio, in which they had supporting roles; the main star was Dolores Del Rio. In 1934 Astaire and Rogers made the musical movie The Gay Divorcee which co-starred Edward Everett Horton; it was their first joint starring role in a movie; the movie also featured the classic Cole Porter song "Night and Day". The song "The Continental" from the movie was a hit and was also the first song to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song in the 1934 Academy Awards.
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made two movies in 1935, Roberta, which featured the song "I Won't Dance" and Top Hat, which also co-starred comedian Edward Everett Horton. In Roberta, Astaire and Ginger had a supporting role with Irene Dunne starring. In this film the song and dance, "I'll Be Hard to Handle", was an early example of the electricity and vivacity of the pairing. Top Hat marked the first time the duo had a film written solely for them, and it proved to be one of the most successful films of the year. It was also, with "The Gay Divorcee", among the most profitable films RKO Radio Pictures made in the 1930s.
By 1936 Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were top box office names. That year they made another two movies together: Follow the Fleet and Swing Time, which were both hits. Swing Time spawned the Oscar winning song "The Way You Look Tonight", written by Jerome Kern with lyrics by Dorothy Fields, which Fred sang to Ginger. John Mueller has cited Swing Time for possessing "the greatest dancing in the history of the universe.". The dance sequences for "Swing Time" (e.g. "Never Gonna Dance") are considered by Arlene Croce to be the high point of their art. This scene took 47 takes to perfect, during which the dancers had to ascend stairs, spinning, until they perfected it. By the end of the shoot, Rogers' feet were bleeding. Follow the Fleet boasted another Irving Berlin score, which featured the well known vignette "Let's Face the Music and Dance".
1937 for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers featured only one movie, Shall We Dance, which co-starred Edward Everett Horton. Although the film was mildly successful, it did not perform as well as expected by the studio. Shall We Dance had the first Hollywood score by the brothers George and Ira Gershwin, and included the song "They Can't Take That Away From Me". Although Astaire and Rogers would go on to make two more films together for RKO, the film's comparative disappointment in the box office was the beginning of the end for their partnership.
After an unusually long period apart, Fred and Ginger only made one movie together in 1938, the 80-minute Carefree. During their time apart, Ginger appeared in the successful movie Stage Door, while Astaire's career did not reach the same heights he had experienced with Rogers. The duo reunited, but Carefree marked a departure for their on-screen partnership, featuring Astaire in a role unlike his usual typecast persona, as well as less emphasis on the musical element of the film. Carefree was originally going to contain sequences shot in Technicolor, but RKO considered the cost prohibitive so it was filmed in black and white. This movie feature an Irving Berlin musical score with only four songs, the fewest in any Astaire and Rogers film. While the film was well-received by critics, with Motion Picture Herald's William R. Weaver calling it "the greatest Astaire-Rogers picture", it ultimately lost money for the studio; thus began the end of the Astaire-Rogers partnership.
In 1939, Fred and Ginger only made one movie, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. It was the end of their partnership for ten years, until they reunited for The Barkleys of Broadway. Although their relationship was amicable, both wanted to explore new avenues. Rogers was interested in more dramatic roles than those she was offered with Astaire. Meanwhile Fred, who worked with many dancers throughout his career, no longer wanted to be paired with one permanent partner. Despite several successful films, RKO was facing bankruptcy. Due to the high cost and low profit of recent Astaire-Rogers vehicles, along with the stars' mutual desire to branch out, RKO announced the end of the on-screen partnership. Their farewell film was a musical biography of ballroom dancers Vernon and Irene Castle. When Fred and Ginger filmed the last dance in this film, Missouri Waltz, they attracted a large crowd of co-workers and crew members from RKO and numerous other studios, all of whom attended to bid an emotional farewell to the great dance team.
Rogers had long been keen to pursue more dramatic roles, which she successfully managed after her split from Astaire. At the 1941 Academy Awards ceremony, Ginger won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Kitty Foyle and by the mid-1940s she was the highest paid actress in Hollywood, although her career waned post war.
Astaire continued to make musicals including "Holiday Inn" (1942) with Bing Crosby, "Sky's The Limit" (1943) with Joan Leslie and "Blue Skies" (1946), his second and last movie with Crosby. He also partnered with numerous other dancers, including Rita Hayworth, Cyd Charisse and Judy Garland. Fearing his career was failing, Blue Skies was due to be Astaire's last film, after which he retired for two years. In 1948 Gene Kelly was due to star in MGM's Easter Parade alongside Judy Garland, but he broke his ankle, and MGM convinced Astaire to fill in, ending his retirement. Due to their success as a partnership, Garland and Astaire were due to reunite for The Barkleys of Broadway, however Ginger Rogers took over her place after Garland was forced to drop out.
1949 and later
In 1949, Astaire and Rogers reunited after ten years apart, making their only movie with MGM and their only color (Technicolor) movie, The Barkleys of Broadway. During production Astaire received an honorary Academy Award, which was presented to him by Rogers.This film was greeted with joy by critics, who were thrilled to see the partnership together once again. It was a success, earning a worldwide total of $5,421,000 on an estimated budget of $2,325,420. The Barkleys of Broadway would be Astaire and Rogers' last movie together although both would continue to make films with other stars. In the 50s, Ginger Rogers' movie career declined due to a move away from classic film stars, but Astaire remained in the industry and branched out into television.
- Croce, Arlene (1972). The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book. London: W.H. Allen. pp. 98–115. ISBN 0-491-00159-2.
- Mueller, John (1986). Astaire Dancing – The Musical Films. London: Hamish Hamilton. ISBN 0-241-11749-6.