They are scenes we all know. Ginger Rogers on Fred Astaire's arm dancing with sweeping movements and an elegance and grace that is unparalleled. But there was more to Rogers than Fred Astaire. She was a star in her own right.
"Her male counterpart got the lion's share of publicity, but Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did and did it with high heels on and did it backwards," her longtime friend Ronald Reagan said in 1986.
Rogers, who died recently at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., at age 83, and Astaire made 10 movies together, starting with "Flying Down to Rio" in 1933, Rogers' first big hit. The film made an incredible amount of money, especially considering it was during the depression, and assured that the duo would appear again on screen. They became one of the most legendary couples in cinema, setting a standard in dance that is a hard act to follow. Their films included "Top Hat," "Swing Time" and "Shall We Dance
Rogers was born Virginia McMath in Independence, Mo., grew up in Texas and was raised by her mother, Lela, and her step-father, John Rogers. She learned the Charleston early and was winning dance contests by age 14.
Before teaming with Astaire, who died in 1987, Rogers starred in several Broadway productions and had been a vaudeville dancer in the '20s. In fact, she met and began dancing with Astaire on the set of Gershwin1s musical "Girl Crazy." She also had made 19 movies by the time they began dancing together. But these facts often are forgotten when compared with the legacy of her legendary partnership.
Hollywood wasn't an easy place for a female in the '30s and '40s, and Rogers had a difficult time getting cast in more challenging roles. But when she did, she rose to the occasion: Her part in the 1940 film "Kitty Foyle" won her an Oscar. ""She was one of the truly great ladies of the silver screen. She had few equals," fellow vaudevillian Bob Hope says.
Rogers' career did not end when she split with Astaire (with whom she made one more film in 1949). She made 72 movies during her lifetime. She also went back to theater at times, most notably in the leading role of the 1965 production of "Hello Dolly!"
Rogers wed and divorced five times, including marriages to actors Lew Ayres and Jacques Bergerac, but she never had children.
Mickey Rooney, one of her contemporaries, says, "I am certain that somewhere in heaven, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are [dancing to] "'Just the Way You Look Tonight."