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She Adds New Chapter to Her Success Story
LIFE Magazine March 2, 1942 pages 60-68
For old times sake Ginger wears a dress her mother made for her
when she appeared at a St. Louis vaudeville theater 14 years ago. The dress
In "Roxie Hart" Ginger enjoys a comic field day as
a 1926 floozy innocently involved in a famous Chicago murder scandal. Entirely
different from the usual Rogers vehicle, it give her a chance to do some fine farcical acting and old-style dancing, Roxie Hart is based on a 1927
stage hit, Chicago, by Maurine Watkins.
Between these two portraits of Ginger Rogers (left and right) hangs
the story of her career. At left is Ginger as she looked at 17 dancing
in vaudeville. At right she stands in her full stature as a star in Roxie
Hart, her newest movie.
Though Roxie Hart is a clowning interlude in Rogers' progress,
it is definitely a milestone. For Roxie is not a struggling working girl.
In her past seven non-dancing movies, Ginger has struggled respectfully
as a stenographer, a salesgirl of toys, a job hunter, a soda jerker, a
bookseller, a secretary, and a telephone girl. In Kitty Foyle she
struggled with such authority that she became the official symbol of a
new American class, the White Collar Girl.
Ginger has become an American favorite-- as American as apple pie--
because Americans can identify with her. She could easily be the girl who
lives across the street. She is not uncomfortably beautiful. She is just
beautiful enough. She is not an affront to other women. She gives them
hope that they can be like her. She can wisecrack from the side of her
mouth, but she is clearly an idealist. Her green eyes shine with self-reliance.
She believes in God and love and a hard day's work. She is a living affirmation
of the holiest American legend: the success story. Now in Roxie Hart,
Ginger plays a flighty young woman who pretends she committed a murder
simply for the publicity. Her only struggle is to keep her knees temptingly
exposed to the jury.
At 31, Ginger is regarded as "a terrific property" in Hollywood
because she has earned more than $1,000,000 for herself and far more
for her employers. So her new contract with RKO
is full of special privileges. She can make movies with any company she
pleases and chose her own scripts. Roxie Hart was her first choice.
In her next movie, Tales of Manhattan, she plays a debutante.
In The Major and the Minor she will play a working girl in disguise.
In Lady in the Dark she will be a high-strung editor of a fashion
magazine. In broadening her range of parts, Ginger knows now she is gambling
with success. But throughout her life, she has been at her best when she
is on her mettle.
Ginger started the hard way. After four years of trouping in vaudeville,
with her mother as manager and chaperon, Ginger decided she was ready for
Broadway in 1929. There, in the Gershwin musical Girl Crazy, Ginger
played 45 weeks and made her first five movies in her spare time. With
a weekly income of some $1,500, Ginger at 19 was the highest-paid working
girl of her age in the U.S.
In Hollywood her career struck the doldrums, relieved by bright moments
in Gold Diggers and 42nd Street. Not until she was really
on her mettle as Fred Astaire's
dancing partner in Flying Down to Rio (1933) did she begin to blossom.
Rehearsing sometimes for 18 hours straight, Ginger often left the studio
at night with her feet bleeding. For three years she and
were a top box-office attraction, creating a series of musical movies which
for fun and polish are unique in motion-picture history. At this period
Ginger was married to Lew Ayres. They were separated and later divorced
in 1941, due to a clash of professional temperaments.
Again Ginger was on her mettle when she decided to break away from
dancing. Co-starred with Katharine
Hepburn in Stage Door, Ginger was firmly determined to excel
as a dramatic actress, and she did. She clinched her success in Kitty
Foyle, Primrose Path and by her deft portrait of a moon-struck
girl in Tom, Dick and Harry.
But the best guarantee of Ginger's future is her past. It is a peculiarly
American past that lies behind so may tales of achievement. With LIFE's
Cameraman Bob Landry, Ginger recently retraced the scenes of her childhood.
She went back to Texas and Kansas City, and discovered the homes of her
ancestors in the historic little town of Arrow Rock, Mo. This picture biography
begins on the following page.
Born in Independence, She Grew Up in Kansas City
At 6 months Ginger poses prettily with her mother, who was the
daughter of a Kansas City contractor. She was Lela Owens before her marriage.
At one year Ginger poses with her father, Eddins McMath, who kidnapped her twice after he was separated from her mother in 1913.
At 18 months Ginger shows a definite talent for beaming into
a camera. At this time, with her parents, she lived briefly in Ennis, Texas.
At 5 years Ginger was serious-minded, poised. She was them living
with her mother's parents, the Owens', in Kansas City (bottom of page).
Ginger returns to her birthplace in Independence, Mo. for the
first time since she left it as a baby a few weeks old. Independence is
about 12 miles east of Kansas City.
The house where Ginger was born is at 100 Moore St. Her birthday
is July 16, 1911. Ginger's mother came alone to Independence to work on
a newspaper, was rejoined here later by her husband, who was an electrical
The room where Ginger was born is 9 ft. by 9 ft. She was christened
Virginia Katherine McMath and first called Ginger by a baby cousin who
couldn't pronounce Virginia.
Her grandparents' home in Kansas City was also hers while her
mother supported her for two years as a Hollywood movie writer. House is
now owned by the McGilleys.
This was Ginger's bedroom in her grandparents' house. She looks
out the window where she used to shout to the Jakobe girls who lived across
the street. Ginger's grandfather, Walter Owens, now lives near her in Hollywood.
"The Pout Room" under the eaves in her grandparents'
attic is where Ginger used to retire to enjoy her blues. She emerges from
it now, unable to work up a good pout.
"Did I really look like that?" exclaim Ginger and her
mother (center) discovering old photographs at home of Mary and Matthew
Owens of Kansas City. The Owens' were brother and sister of Ginger's grandfather:
They came from Wales.
Ginger swings with Matt Powers on the front porch of her great-aunt
and great-uncle Owens in Kansas City. Ginger hadn't seen Matt since he
was the baby she used to dandle on her knee. Ginger herself was pretty
small then. Matt is now 25.
Where she went to kindergarten at Benton School in Kansas City,
Ginger meets her old principal, J.M. Cottingham, and poses with him for
the school camera club. As a pupil Ginger's Health and Deportment were
always reported "good."
Ginger meets a childhood friend, Frances Jakobe, who lived across
the street from her. Still living in Kansas City, Frances is now Mrs. John
Lee, mother of three, including Jackie in her lap, Joan in the corner.
Jackie and Ginger exchanged pleasant noises. Below: Ginger reads her great-uncle
Owens' family Bible.
Her Family Ancestors Came From Arrow Rock
On her father's side Ginger's ancestors in pre-Civil War days were
leading citizens of Arrow Rock, Mo., 85 miles east of Kansas City. Here
her great-great-great-grandfather, Dr. John Sappington, raised five handsome
daughters who married Missouri Governors with remarkable regularity.
Lavinia Sappington led off my marrying Governor Meredith Marmaduke.
Then her sister Jane married Governor Claiborn Jackson. When Jane died,
Jackson married another Sappington daughter, Louise. When Louise also died,
Jackson returned to Dr. John and asked for the hand of a third daughter,
Eliza. "You can have Eliza," said Dr. John, "but don't come
back for the old lady. I want her for myself."
Eliza, by a previous marriage, had four children, one of whom was
Ginger visits Arrow Rock, Mo. On the old Santa Fe Trail, where
her ancestor moved from Maryland in 1817. Their heirlooms are on exhibit
in this tavern.
At tomb of her most famed ancestor, Dr. John Sappington, near
Arrow Rock, Ginger reads epitaph: "A truly honest man is the noblest
work of God" : "He lay like a warrior taking his rest."
--from Alexander Pope and Charles Wolf.
On this sturdy old four-poster, now displayed in the Arrow Rock
tavern, Ginger bounces respectfully. It belonged in the household of Dr.
Atop the old Sappington place called Prairie Park, just outside
Arrow Rock, Ginger surveys her ancestral acres. Built by Dr. Sappington's
son about 1844, Prairie Park, with its high rooms and grand stairway, was
a Missouri show place. It is now owned by modest farmers.
From the roof of Prairie park, where Ginger is taking a good
look, Dr. Sappington claimed he could see his five daughters' homes. The
doctor moved here in his old age, gave his daughters nearby land so he
could keep an eye on them. The buildings below are old slave quarters.
Three of a kind are Ginger and her enterprising great-great-great-grandparents,
Dr. and Mrs. John Sappington, depicted in anonymous portraits hanging in
Arrow Rock tavern. Dr. Sappington introduced quinine pills to cure malaria
in Missouri where church bells were rung every night to remind people to
take pills. Ginger descends from the Sappingtons through her father, Eddins
McMath, who was the son of Louise Eddins, who was the daughter of Elizabeth
Pierson, who was the daughter of Eliza Sappington, the doctor's eldest
A Texas Dance Contest Headed Her to Hollywood
After 20 years Ginger sits at her old school desk in fifth grade
at Fort Worth, Texas. With her is Mrs. Ruth Zant, who taught her favorite
At 13 Ginger attended school.
Ginger returns to Baker Hotel in Dallas to same ballroom where
in 1925 she won Charleston contest that started her fame. Now she does
steps even better.
This is Ginger's hideaway behind her Hollywood home. At right
is her own caricature of Katharine
Hepburn and the bust she sculpted of her mother.
Ginger wins Academy Award.
A childhood dream comes true in the form of this soda fountain
in her own home. Ginger fixes a rich sundae for her mother (left) who lives
For four years Ginger had the school and home life of any average
U.S. child, after her family moved to Fort Worth, Texas in 1922. Her mother
had married John Rogers, an insurance agent, and helped support her family
as a theater reporter on the Fort Worth Record. From this theatrical connection
Ginger, who took her stepfather's name, met many show people who taught
her to sing and dance for fun. As a reward for winning a statewide Charleston
contest in 1925, Ginger headed a little troupe called Ginger Rogers and
her Redheads and was booked for six months of one-night stands over the
Orpheum circuit, known in show business as the Death Trail. Though Ginger
never completed grade school, today she is better educated than many college
From the Death Trail, Ginger graduated to the Paramount Publix circuit
on which she appeared in short musical revues in first-class movie houses.
While her salary jumped to $350 a week, Ginger sang, danced, gave baby-talk
"recaltations about the amunals, including Mama Nyceroserous and Papa
Hippopapamus." On all her travels Ginger was chaperoned by her mother,
who made her clothes, wrote her acts, kept track of every cent. Mrs. Rogers'
cut of Ginger's salary was about 20%, as it still is today, and no one
has ever doubted that she earned it. She is Hollywood's best business mother.
In 1928 Ginger at 17 married Jack Culpepper, a young vaudeville hoofer
whom she knew as a kid in Texas. They were divorced within a year. After
two years as a Broadway musical comedy star, Ginger made the traditional
trek to Hollywood in 1931.
There her dreams materialized rapidly enough so that by 1936 she
had such standard equipment as a home on a mountain and a swimming pool.
While Ginger is proud of her luxuries, she is happiest at work or puttering
at her sculpture or painting. Her fondest dream came true last year at
the Motion Picture Academy banquet when Actress Lynn Fontanne presented
her the gold Oscar (right) for the year's finest feminine performance in
Kitty Foyle. This, and her Charleston award (below left) were her
two most wonderful honors.
She Plays and Rests on Her Magnificent New Oregon Ranch
On her ranch-house roof, Ginger surveys the lovely Rogue River
Valley in southern Oregon where she owns more than 1,000 acres. It takes
Ginger 13 hours to drive here from Hollywood, but she goes there often
for a taste of honest country life. The produce of "4R" (Rogers'
Rogue River Ranch) includes corn, wheat, oats, pears, plums. Mrs. Rogers,
who lives here permanently, cooks and cans with great success. Leaning
on the fence at right are Ginger, her mother (right) and their farm manager
watching the cattle at dinnertime.
Ginger feeds wild flowers to one of her 22 cows that will soon
help provide good rich milk to a cantonment of soldiers stationed near
the Rogers' ranch at Eagle Point, Ore.
With a mouthful of apple, Ginger raids her own orchard. Ginger
herself doesn't do many chores around her ranch, feels she is entitled
just to loaf after her chores in Hollywood.
Nettie and her litter of eight hungry little pigs catch the enterprising
Rogers' spirit. Looking far into the future, Ginger says that she would
like to retire on her ranch some day.
© 1942 LIFE Magazine
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