Besides having danced her way to global fame in sleek, original 1930s musical comedies with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers was also one of the top screwball comedy actresses of the 1930s and '40s. She was in a league with Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunne and Jean Arthur. One of my favorite screwball comedy performances of hers is in an early Billy Wilder film that rarely gets mentioned in talks about his classics. It's The Major and the Minor. Ray Milland, who'd go to win a Best Actor Oscar for his dramatic work in Wilder's The Lost Weekend, plays Major Kirby. He's the officer who believes Ginger is a 12 year old girl called Su-Su Applegate. She's really a 20something woman who got fed up with being chased by men while she was trying to chase a career in Manhattan. Susan Applegate wants a one-way train ticket back to Iowa.
impersonated for her clients. Lake's peek-a-boo hairdo was a sensation in the early '40s.
Cadet Osborne escorts Su-Su to the military dance. He's the lucky one. She's been pursued by several.
We can see why. The available girls from Miss Shackleford's School are all suffering from Veronica Lake Syndrome.
, a famous musical with numbers created by Busby Berkeley.
Her look and attitude were softened and refined for the character she played in the 1935 original screen musical, Top Hat. The score was written by Irving Berlin.
..."Let's Face The Music and Dance" in Follow the Fleet...
...and "They All Laughed" in Shall We Dance, the musical with an original score by George and Ira Gershwin.
She had wonderful screen technique that added extra magic to the musicals with Astaire. They brought out the best in each other and their best was stunning. Watch how Ginger acts in the dance numbers. She internally reacts to the lyrics of the song, treating the song as a monologue. She dances in character to the emotion of the scene. The "Never Gonna Dance" number near the end of the classic Swing Time is a perfect example. If she and Astaire were in a drama and verbally expressed all the complicated emotions that they dance in that awesome number, they probably would've gotten Oscar nominations. There's a beautiful clarity in her acting. Each did get one nomination in their long film careers. For dramas. Not for any of the musicals that made them film icons. Ginger's brilliance at delivering zingers was in peak form when she played one of the struggling New York actresses living in a boarding house in the 1937 comedy/drama Stage Door. Dancer Jean Maitland is one tough lady but she's really just as scared as the rest of the girls in that residence hoping for success. Or, at least, a good meal -- even if it comes with a blind date. Her "take-no-prisoners" wisecracks are her armor.
. In that very feminist 1940 drama written by Dalton Trumbo, she's a young unmarried woman with a career who's reviewing her life. She's worked her way up from a clerical job and being born on the wrong side of the tracks. She's offered the chance to run off with a man in her life. A man from an upper class family. He's got more money and less character. In flashbacks, we see Kitty Foyle years before she became a secretary. We see her as a kid watching the upper class.
For this drama, Ginger Rogers won the Best Actress Academy Award. She deserved it. Yes, it's an old film but its views on social class, class entitlement and women's independence feel fresh in comparison to some of the Hollywood films churned out today.
. The story was later musicalized on Broadway as Chicago. Zellweger played Roxie in the film version of that Broadway hit.
If you're up for some Wilder fun with plenty of Ginger, watch her play three stages of the female's life as she outsmarts males of all ages in Billy Wilder's The Major and the Minor. Just like Su-Su Applegate, she's a knock-out.
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