Those in the know are aware that there is scarcely any need to talk about Fred Astaire when talking about Ginger Rogers. Yes, they were a terrific dance team and a great screen couple (see my run-down of their pictures together here), but she was in a zillion classic movies before, during and after their partnership. Her screen presence is bubbly, feisty, wholesome and magnetic. She was a success, and would have remained one, even if she’d never been paired with Fred.
This may have something to do with her extensive experience. She began as a child performer, managed by her mother, starting out in Fort Worth, TX (after a certain amount of rambling around following the abandonment of the family by her father). The Charleston was her specialty. She once got to perform it onstage with Eddie Foy as a last minute substitution, and it was her winning of a Charleston contest at age 14 that led to her forming a trio with two other girls (“the Redheads”) and touring the Texas based Interstate Circuit. She went solo about a year later and then teamed up with one Jack Pepper (onstage and off) for a team called Ginger and Pepper. A year later, Pepper was history and she went solo again.
In 1929, at the tender age of 18, she was began appearing in films and on Broadway. She’d already had a dozen films under her belt before she’d either appeared in 42nd Street (the first big film she’s known for today) or Flying Down to Rio (her first pairing with Astaire). She won a best actress Oscar in 1940 for Kitty Foyle, and appeared in ten, magical sparkling films with Astaire. Her film career wound down by the mid 60s, but she continued to appear onstage for another couple of decades. She passed away in 1995.
To learn more about Ginger Rogers and the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, & wherever swell books are sold.