Saturday, January 15, 2011

Muses in my midst IX

(Ginger Rogers in the 1940s.)
The only time I saw Ginger Rogers in the flesh, she was featured in a speakers series at the Cleveland Play House, forlornly painted like a cupie doll, reliving past glories in the manner of a Yankee cousin of the madwoman of Chaillot.

Then last night I had a vision of a distraught Rogers banging on the gates of my pantheon, using decidedly un-Hayes Code invective, demanding retribution for the ersatz Rogers currently on the Play House stage. The only way I could calm this perturbed spirit was to invite her to reign in my pantheon and to reprint excerpts from the tribute I had written at her demise in 1995:

"Rumor has it that it was Katharine Hepburn that coined the defining explanation for the perfection of the Astaire-Rogers partnership: 'He gave her class. She gave him sex appeal.'

"Yet like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes, Ginger somewhat resented being revered for only one aspect of a spectacular career, for Rogers excelled not only in musicals but also '30s Depression working-girl dramas, screwball comedy and poignant soap opera. If she had only been Fred's dance partner, there would be no need for JFG (Jews for Ginger). The group is formed to honor the great human precept that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. To the Hebrews, she is the great American Christian goddess at her natural best, the great other, the vivacious blonde, blue-eyed girl of the neighborhood, wise-cracking at the corner drugstore, sipping a soda and figuring the angles to get ahead.

"The most effortless Ginger was the tough, wholesome shop girl, portrayed at its best in Billy Wilder's first movie as a director, the glorious "The Major and the Minor" - gifted but not intellectual, eminently likable, but never grand, never distant, never Garbo.

"The most revered Rogers memory is the Ginger in feathered evening gown gliding with Fred to 'Cheek to Cheek,' but to the connoisseurs her peak is when the camera would zoom in for her world-famous, knowing look - the arched eyebrow, the turned-up, tight-closed mouth all saying, 'I've seen it all - here we go again.' Other Astaire partners may have danced with more panache, but none reacted to his musical wooing with more wit, more yearning or more tenderness. Her greatest friend was the close-up.

"Some venal political and personal sins during the McCarthy era and the ravishes of time and taste drove the final coffin nails into her career. The Hollywood liberals declared her passe. Her 15 years of top stardom were brushed under the carpet. But the charming reality remains fixed in celluloid to be joyously rediscovered by each generation."

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