Ginger: the 'joy of performing' endures
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Her image has changed since she started out on Broadway in the '20s as a boop-oop-a-doop flapper with gingery auburn hair, worn bobbed. It wasn't until she went to Hollywood in the early '30s and teamed up with a polished young dancer named Fred Astaire in ''Flying Down to Rio'' that the Ginger whom generations have applauded was born. Out of that movie came the glamorous blonde with the talent for dancing up a romantic storm - and a line of saucy patter that moved as fast as her feet.Skip to next paragraph
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Later, she and Astaire tapped and spun and glided through ''The Gay Divorcee, '' ''Roberta,'' ''Follow the Fleet,'' ''Top Hat,'' ''Carefree,'' and ''Swing Time.'' In the eyes of many viewers, they were the most magic couple in films. Dance critic Arlene Croce, in ''The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book,'' her definitive work on their films, put it this way: ''He gave her class. She gave him sex appeal.''
After the pair broke up in the late '30s, she went on to win the Academy Award for her acting in ''Kitty Foyle.'' They were reunited years later for only two more films: ''The story of Vernon and Irene Castle,'' and ''The Barkleys of Broadway.''
Fans of their movies remember the effortless perfection of their dancing. Ginger Rogers remembers dancing to the farther shores of weariness - dancing until her feet bled.
She wore what comedian Steve Martin would call ''cruel shoes'' - usually freshly dyed to match her costume and still damp as she danced. In those days, there was no Screen Actors Guild to keep the studios from demanding endless hours of shooting.
''Sometimes you didn't even have time to go to the girls' room,'' she recalls , ''and they'd shoot all day and then all night. Then they'd say, 'We're going to have breakfast in a little while, but before we do, we want to take closeups of you.' There were closeups at dawn! I'd say, 'Please look at the clock,' and Mark (Sandrich, the director) would say, 'But you look mahvelous, dahling.' ''
Is the aura of glamour that shimmered over an earlier Hollywood gone forever?
No, says Miss Rogers, it has just moved to television. ''I think 'Dynasty' has done a lot to promote it,'' she says, adding that ''Joan Collins is very good at that, and Linda Evans is excellent. They epitomize the class that was movies at one time.''
She gazes out from her suite at the Watergate Hotel toward the Potomac River, olive green and swollen high with rain. It reminds her, she says, of her favorite home - a brown-shingled house on the rampaging Rogue River in Oregon.
At a time when she might be lolling around her swimming pools, basking in the glow of a long, famous career, Ginger Rogers refuses to retire. She believes in what she calls ''The joy of doing, the joy of performing.''
So, after five years touring with her one-woman show through the United States, Australia, England, Canada, France, Argentina, and Mexico, she began working recently on her autobiography. Today she is 500 pages into it - writing it herself on a word processor for four or five hours a day after her morning game of tennis.
It will not, she says, be one of the current crop of Hollywood-confidential sizzlers that tell all and name names on the way up the best-seller list. She may talk about her 73 films and five marriages, but she'll do so discreetly.
''I'd rather tell the story myself than have somebody else tell it,'' she says. ''I'm writing a story that tells about the life of a lady that I know very well - 'moi' - and it's a solo performance.''
She recalls that when a Hollywood ghost writer applied, unasked, for the job of writing her book, he wound up his pitch by saying, ''But there's one thing, Miss Rogers: You're going to have to tell me everything.''
''Really?'' purred Miss Rogers. She then recalls telling him:
'' 'Number one, I only talked to you as a favor. Number two, if I had any plan to have a ghost writer, it would be someone who would not make a remark like that.'
''Does that tell you anything?'' says the star who was dubbed ''Ginger'' for a reason.