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Ginger: the 'joy of performing' endures

By Louise SweeneyStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 25, 1984


What becomes a legend most? Shoeboxes. And when the legend is glamorous hoofer Ginger Rogers, shoes are more important than swathing yourself in yards of black mink.

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And so, Ginger Rogers admits, without batting an aquamarine eye, that she owns 100 dozen pairs of shoes.

There is a startled silence in the hotel room, long enough to do a brief tap dance on top of the tape recorder. ''One hundred dozen pairs of shoes,'' she repeats in the throaty, peppery voice familiar to all Astaire-Rogers movie fans. ''I have more shoes than you have eyelashes. I'm a keeper, which is terrible.''

The keeper of the Ginger legend has fox-trotted into town for an American Film Institute (AFI) benefit, a gala ball, and the presentation of one of her nostalgic gowns from the movie ''Top Hat'' in a Smithsonian Museum ceremony.

What the Smithsonian got was a pale gray marquisette and silver paillette gown she wore to dance ''The Piccolino'' with Fred Astaire in their romp across the Venice canals. What they didn't get was a new Ginger Rogers wing, filled with rooms full of shoes.

Miss Rogers arches one foot - in its size 5 1/2 vanilla-leather, high-heeled pump - as she talks about today's movies, breakdancing, her autobiography, and the joy of work.

The entertainment world in general, she says, ''has gone up a crooked path. There are not these escape-type musical comedies on screen or stage any more, except the one Tommy Tune is in (''My One and Only,'' the Broadway musical also starring Twiggy). It proves that people want to see something that's wonderful, tuneful, musical, danceable.''

In films, she concedes that ''some things that are done are quite interesting and exciting. 'E.T.' was a good thing because it got some of the youngsters back into seeing values and love and affection and friendship and caring.'' She also praises the film ''Tender Mercies'' and its Oscar-winning star Robert Duvall.

But Ginger Rogers' spiciest words are reserved for today's breakdancing. ''I don't call it dancing,'' she says firmly. ''I don't think that's the right terminology. I think it's gymnastics. Quite obviously I can't give it the word 'dancing,' and I won't. I think dancing is something that's graceful, charming, lyrical. But not this. You can't dance on your back, on your derriere, on your neck, or on your head. It's like flying a plane on the ground. You can't do it. It's ersatz.''

After a half-century of stardom, the Ginger mystique is still there: the waves of gilded hair falling just below her shoulders, the aqua eyes framed in long dark loops of eyelashes and violet eye shadow, the peachy-tan skin etched pleasantly with years of experience, and the movie-star mouth glistening with fuschia lipstick.

She wears the sort of enhanced makeup that actresses use for sessions on camera. And indeed, she has just come from facing the press and public at the Museum of American History, where she introduced a screening of ''Top Hat.''

Aside from the three dozen American Beauty roses behind her, sent by an admirer, Ginger Rogers is virtually the only spot of color in this blond-on-blond hotel room. It is like one of the all-white, art-deco sets used in so many Rogers-Astaire musicals - a perfect foil for the star. Today she is wearing a violet ultrasuede suit. On her hands, as she pores over black-and-white glossy photos of herself from the AFI gala, are several rings, including a diamond (to use F. Scott Fitzgerald's phrase) as big as the Ritz. From time to time during the interview she glances over a Washington Post story on the gala and flips again through her glossies.