As cartoonist Bob Thaves’ famous quote about Fred Astaire goes, “Sure he was great, but don’t forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards…and in high heels!” So today, on what would have been the stage and screen legend’s 105th birthday, we’re celebrating 10 lesser known reasons why this “multi-talented wonder woman” was a badass.
She got her famed named by accident, not by design: Born Virginia Katherine McMath on July 16, 1911 in Independence, Missouri, she became “Ginger” thanks to her little cousin’s mispronunciation of Virginia (it came out as “Ginja” and it stuck).
She wasn’t afraid of hard work: In 1929, 18-year-old Ginger made her Broadway debut and was performing eight shows a week in Top Speed, while also making films for Paramount at their studio in Astoria, Queens.
She made serious bank when most women (and men) didn’t: Ginger’s first starring role on Broadway was in George and Ira Gershwin’s Girl Crazy in 1930. At that time, which was the beginning of the Great Depression, she was making $1,000/week.
She was a living legend: After Girl Crazy closed, Ginger moved to Hollywood. 19 films into her career she joined Fred Astaire at RKO Radio Studios and the dynamic dancing duo took the world by storm, subsequently making 8 more films together. Famed writer/director Garson Kanin wrote of them, “The magic of Astaire and Rogers cannot be explained; it can only be felt.”
She decimated Hollywood’s glass ceiling: In addition to her films with Fred, Ginger also starred in a number of comedies and dramas in the 1940s and 1950s. Her performance in Kitty Foyle landed her an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1940, and in 1945 she was recorded as the highest paid female performer in Hollywood.
She wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty: In 1945, Ginger bought a 1,000-acre ranch on the Rogue River in Southern Oregon and built a modern dairy complex where she bred Guernsey milk stock for seven years. Some of the milk went to Camp White, where almost 25,000 soldiers came and went during World War II.
She was an accomplished artist: While Ginger is best remembered for her stage and screen performances, she was also a very talented sculptor and painter, but could never bring herself to sell any of her work.
She was an avid athlete: Ginger excelled at golf, swimming, skeet shooting and tennis. She won several tennis cups and earned some high-score card records at skeet.
She was a business woman: In the early 1970s, Ginger became a fashion consultant and spokeswoman for JC Penney, and designed a line of lingerie for them.
She had a signature drink: the bar at her house was stocked with ice-cream sodas!!!
Ginger Rogers died at the age of 83 on April 25, 1995.