Ginger Rogers (1911-1995)
- Fay Wray, King Kong, 1932. Saying that her co-star -in The Beast orThe Ape or King Ape or Kong - would be “the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood” did not excite her. And so Ginger never delivered the most famous scream in Hollywood history. Fay did not have to to travel far. Kong’s jungle was the same set from another movie she was making concurrently at RKO,The Most Dangerous Game.
- Katharine Hepburn, Alice Adams, 1934. Jealous of her ten-day affair with co-star Fred MacMurray, director George Stevens did not gell well with Katharine Hepburn. “She has no technique and seems to want none.” He even tried to dump her for Ginger...
- Florence Eldridge, Mary of Scotland, 1936. Katharine Hepburn’s run of flops was allowing Ginger to usurp Kate’s crown at RKO - and she decided to steal Hepburn’s royal movie by playing Queen Elizabeth I. (Yes, really). Katemade sure Ginger’s (silent) test was a mess - and few crew believed it was a British actress auditioning, a certain Lady Ainsley. Until the truth came out. And bingo - back to Fred, baby! Ginger: “I’m very versatile. Dancer, dramatic actress, comedienne.”Kate: “I don’t go tochorus girl films.”RKO went withthe Flo - wife of Hepburn’s co-star, Fredric March, as Liz One.
- Katharine Hepburn, Holiday, 1937. Columbia’s vulgarian czar Harry Cohn may have mused upon Ginger but Hepburn twisted his arm to let her fight her “box-office poison” image by filming the Broadway play… with Cary Grant as her third-time co-star and George Cukor directing.
- Bette Davis, The Sisters, 1937. Myron Brinig’s novel was bought by head brother Jack Warner for Kay Francis to play Louise... and nearly made with Rogers or Irene Dunne. Finally, Davis became available… and saved the hilarious billing of: Errol Flynn in The Sisters!
- Ruby Keeler, Mother Carey's Chickens, 1938. How quickly the RKO queens had fallen. Both Ginger and Katharine Hepburn were offered this…drek. “A deliberate insult!” Kate called it. The film marked the end of Ruby, then Mrs Al Jolson. At the time, Kate and Ginger was both rejecting marriage proposals from Howard Hughes.
- Vera Zorina, On Your Toes, 1939. During James Cagney's second walk-out from Warners, the studio bought a bunch of properties to woo him back, including this Rodgers & Hart musical - designed for the never seen team of Jimmy ’n’ Ginger. Eddie Albert did it with Zorina - a Ballet Russe star wed to choreograper George Balanchine.
- Rosalind Russell, His Girl Friday, 1939. The role needed fast mouths, not feet. She spurned it to co-star with Ronald Colman in Lucky Partners. Which movie is the classic?
- Anne Shirley, Unexpected Uncle, 1940. RKO’s first thought of a titular Charles Laughton (or John Barrymore) opposite Ginger Rogers… became Charles Coburn and Shirley.
- Ann Sheridan, City For Conquest, 1940. James Cagney wanted Ginger Rogers, then Sylvia Sidney signed and was replaced by Sheridan as the boxer’s gal. Sheridan had made a better impression in Cagney's previous Torrid Zone., but she lost his next one The Strawberry Blonde, 1940, after fighting with Warner (like Cagney had done) for better parts. And money. He won, she didn’t. “To be in a picture with him, was just the greatest.”
- Barbara Stanwyck, Ball of Fire, 1941. Jean Arthur, Carole Lombard and Ginger...Producer Samuel Goldwyn had not experienced such leading lady hassles since Stella Dallas, 1937. And he ended up with the same star as Sugarpuss O'Shea. His first thought was right, his timing off. The Kitty Foyle Oscar was too fresh in Ginger’s grasp to play a Sugarpuss Whosis.
- Ann Sothern, Panama Hattie, 1941. RKO tried to grab the rights for Rogers. MGM won and passed over the booming Ethel Merman, who headlined the Broadway hit. Nothing much happened between the Cole Porters songs. It was less about about the real Hattie, Mary Lee Kelly, who moved to Panama just before WWI, than as critic Michael Grost put it: “mugging by Red Skelton that makes the Three Stooges look like Olivier.”
- Ann Sheridan, Kings Row, 1941. Henry Bellamann's novel was the Peyton Place (almost the Blue Velvet) of its day. Producer Hal Wallis sent Ginger the script before anyone else. “All the roles I refused were unnecessarily vulgar.” She fled from the pretty, working class tomboy Randy Monaghan. Or just from “the town they talk of in whispers,” full of murder, sadism, depravity And worse that had to be axed from Henry Bellamann’s 1940 novel: sex (premarital), sex (gay), incest, suicide...!
- Bette Davis, Now Voyager, 1941. Warner’s production honcho Hal Wallis tried again, sending another book - by Stella Dallas author Olive Higgins Prouty - to Irene Dunne, Norma Shearer and Rogers. “Send it direct to her house and see if you can get an answer on this one for me.” She was reportedly “crazy about it” but waited too long to send her answer from her Oregon ranch. That’s how Davis got to say: “Oh Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars.”
- Marjorie Reynolds, Holiday Inn, 1941. He already had Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby, but director Mark Sandrich wanted the moon…. Rogers and Rita Hayyworth for their gals. Listen up, snarled the Paramount suits, Astaire and Crosby are pricey enough, OK? (Fred actually worked two weeks for free, And didn’t need Ginger for the 38 takes of the patriotic, post-Pearl Harbour firecracker routine).
- Lucille Ball, Du Barry Was A Lady, 1942. As part of the deal for fhe Panama Hattie rights, MGM bought another Ethel Merman show, Du Barry Was a Lady… using Merman in neither! So, first, Mae West, then Rogers and Ann Sothern were considered when… after a knock on his head, Red Skelton dreamt he was Louis XV chasing after Madame Du Barry. You hadda be there!
- Gene Tierney, Heaven Can Wait, 1942. The Broadway play opened for Christmas 1934. Eight years later, the LA Examiner said producer-director Ernst Lubitsch had wanted Ginger as Martha.
- Paulette Goddard, The Crystal Ball, 1943. Charles Boyer-Ginger Rogers became Milland-Paulette Goddard in the bright comedy about a beauty queen contestant turning fortune teller. Peggy Cummins, Moss Rose, 1946. Shuffling possibilities like Sam Fuller’s book, The Dark Page,The Black Door and Dreadful Hollow, Howard Hawks also lost in the shuffle his plan to put Ginger in this London fog thriller- eventually helmed by his pal, Gregory Ratoff.
- Dorothy Maguire, The Enchanted Cottage, 1944. The play was on Broadway soon after WWI. A film was made in 1923. Then, RKO bought rights for a re-make with Helen Twelvetree in 1929. Ten years later , the plan was Rogers - a beauty as the unpretty heroine. Next, Teresa Wright in 1943… In all, it took this long for the harvest to be reaped. And even then, the New York Times critic Bosley Crowther put it down a “more of a horror film than a psychological romance.”
- Olivia De Havilland, To Each His Own, 1945. Did she wish to play the mother of a son of 22? No, she didn’t. And yes, Ginger sure wished she had when De Havilland won the Oscar on March 13, 1947.
- Peggy Cummins, Moss Rose, 1946. Shuffling possibilities like Sam Fuller’s book, The Dark Page, The Black Door and Dreadful Hollow, Howard Hawks also lost in the shuffle his plan to put Ginger in this London fog thriller - eventually helmed by his pal, Gregory Ratoff.
- Olivia De Havilland, The Snake Pit, 1947. No thank you. And another Oscar nomination for De Havilland. “It seemed Olivia knew a good thing when she saw it,” Rogers wrote. “Perhaps Olivia should thank me for such poor judgment.”
- Barbara Bel Geddes, Caught, 1948. Lucky Ginger! The role as fine enough. A department store model marrying super-rich Robert Ryan - only to find his role is based on (take your pick) Howard Hughes, William Randolph Hearst or Charles Foster Kane… James Mason rescued her in his first Hollywood experience. The preview cards were ecstatic, three months later, the reviews were lousy.
- Gloria Grahame, In A Lonely Place, 1949. Both Rogers and Lauren Bacall were up for Laurel Grey in a drama about a self-loathing Hollywood. Although Rogers was Columbia’s #1 choice, director Nicholas Ray insisted on his (soon to be ex) wife. Not that they told anybody about that. Eleven years later, Grahame married her stepson: Anthony Ray.
- Betty Hutton, Annie Get Your Gun, 1950.
“I bought it [for an unprecedented $700,000] to give Judy a kick,” said producer Arthur Freed. “That's when she got sick… I had to take her out. The girl just couldn't function.” Ginger immediately called her agent, Leland Hayward: “Get me Annie - money no object.” But she was shot down at the pass, like Judy Canova, Doris Day, Bettys Garrett and Grable - plus Broadway’s original 1946 Annie: Ethel MERMAN!!! Louis B Mayer told Hayward: "Tell Ginger to stay in her high-heel shoes and silk stockings, she could never be as rambunctious as Annie Oakley has to be." Poor Ginger had wanted it so badly, “I’d have done it for a dollar.” She did it on stage. For rather more.
- Jennifer Jones, Carrie, 1950. Theodore Dreiser’s “immoral” novel, Sister Carrie, was first announced for RKO's Great Actress inthe 40s.The Laurence Olivier-Jones version was shot in 1950 and shelved for two years in case any the McCarthy clan called it un-American.
- Rita Hayworth, Miss Sadie Thompson, 1953. RKO also bought Rain in the 40s for Ginger. But Hollywood’s successor to Joan Crawford proved to be Hayworth - in 3-D. The two ex-Astaire partners were distantly related: Rita’s uncle married one of Ginger’s aunts.
- Jan Sterling, The High and the Mighty, 1953. All aboard the flying Grand Hotel - a DC-4 piloted by John Wayne and Robert Stack and stuffed to the flaps with the kind of mixed cliché bag of passengers that continued into the Airport films and were torn to shreds by the Airplane conedies. Tasty or not, the roles were basically cameos. And, therefore, beneath the high and mighty Rogers, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Ida Lupino, Dorothy McGuire and Barbara Stanwyck. They all rejected the sassy old broad, described by New York Times critic Bosley Crowther as a gallant lady of much circulation. Trevor won an Oscar nod.
- Mitzi Gaynor, South Pacific, 1957. The original Nellie Forbush from Little Rock, , Mary Martin, was thought too old at 45 to repeat her Broadway role in the Pulitzer Prize-winner.Stage-screen director Joshua Logan chose Mitzi after also considering Doris Day, Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn, Patti Page, Elizabeth Taylor.
- Susan Hayward, Valley of the Dolls, 1967..
- Jane Greer, Falcon Crest, TV, 1984-1985. Ginger was keen on joining Season Six as Maggie's biological mother, Charlotte Pershing, in a six chapter arc. But the suits said she was too old - and Marion McCargo was too young!