Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were one of the most memorable on-screen duos of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Starting with 1933’s Flying Down to Rio, the pair starred in a plethora of musical pictures together before parting ways near the end of the 1940s. Even though the pair found immense success together, Fred had been reluctant to enter into the creative partnership for a variety of reasons. Join Facts Verse as we explore why Fred Astaire fought to avoid association with Ginger Rogers.
There’s no denying that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were one of the most popular on-screen duos of Hollywood’s Golden Age, especially when it came to the genre of musicals. Fred Astaire had grown up as a dancer, while Ginger was simply an actress that found that she had a natural talent for dancing. When the two were first paired together in the 1933 feature Flying Down to Rio, their chemistry on the screen proved a hit with audiences.
When Fred Astaire realized that RKO Pictures were planning on pairing him up with Ginger Rogers in more films after the success of their first collaborative effort, he wrote out a long letter to his agent expressing that he had no interest in becoming on-screen partners with Ginger Rogers or any other Hollywood star. Instead, Fred’s intentions that he should become a star that received solo billing.
There certainly a good deal of ego involve in Fred’s insistence that he not paired up with Ginger Rogers; though the beloved professional dancer wasn’t without his reasons for wanting to find his own footing in the industry. Fred had been dancing since childhood at the behest of his mother. And forced to play second fiddle to his older sister for many years. When Fred’s sister got married and retired. The star felt that it finally his time to shine in his own right. Because of this, the prospect of being paired up with another woman rubbed him the wrong way.
Fred Astaire was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1899. His father was a meager brewer, but his mother had aspirations of turning her children into stars. These aspirations started with Fred’s older sister. Who’s the first of the children to be forced into dance. Fred then ushered in to play second fiddle to his sister. And the pair found a good deal of success in both New York City and London. By the time that Fred and his older sister were entering into adulthood; they were making several hundreds of dollars a week, which would be several thousands when adjusted for inflation.
It was in 1923 that Fred and his sister made the move from New York City to London. And his sister became married and retired within the decade. She married a nobleman named Lord Charles Cavendish in 1932. After which point Fred headed back to Broadway and starred in Gay Divorce.
Many were wondering if Fred was going to have what it took to find success on his own without his sister, and Gay Divorce proved that he had the capabilities! The show was a success. In 1933, Fred married a prominent socialite by the name of Phyllis Potter. Phyllis was incredibly wealthy and influential. Prior to their marriage, Fred’s mother had been the one presiding over her son’s career. After Fred and Phyllis got married, his new wife took control.
Later in 1933, a talent scout approached Fred and encouraged him to move out to Hollywood. Fred asked Phyllis if she thought it was a good idea. The two subsequently headed out to California so that Fred could become a Hollywood star. Not long afterward, Flying Down to Rio was released. Fred wrote the letter to his agent expressing his distaste with the Ginger Rogers pairing.
Besides the fact that Fred Astaire might’ve not wanted to share the spotlight with another female performer after playing second fiddle to his older sister for so long. Jealously on Phyllis’ part may have also played some role in inspiring Fred to write the previously mentioned letter to his agent. Fred’s first wife was notoriously controlling when it came to her husband’s personal affairs. To the point where it’s frequently thought that she prevent Fred and Ginger from kissing on camera. There is only one film they perform in together where they ever kissed, with that being 1938’s Carefree. According to Fred Astaire, it was his choice not to kiss Ginger Rogers on camera because he just didn’t like that kind of acting.
Fred Astaire eventually accepted the fact that he was going to have to remain paired with Ginger Rogers on the screen. The two made pictures together for several years before taking a decade-long hiatus at the end of the 1930s and reuniting at the end of the 1940s to film one more picture together. At the beginning of their hiatus as a duo, Ginger Rogers appeared in the 1940 film Kitty Foyle and ended up winning an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Fred always want to be a big solo-billed star. And it plagued him to have to share billing with Ginger Rogers. When she was the one to find solo stardom after the end of their partnership instead of him, Fred was understandably jealous. However, he had warmed up enough to Ginger by that point that he was able to find enjoyment in her victory. Many have speculated that Fred Astaire truly didn’t like Ginger Rogers, though this wasn’t likely the case. Fred had immense personal and professional respect for his longtime costar and dancing partner. It’s just that he would’ve preferred the chance to break out as a solo star.
Besides the fact that Fred Astaire would’ve preferred to be his own star. Another thing that came between him and Ginger Rogers during their professional relationship; It was the fact that Fred was such a perfectionist. The dancer would oftentimes come up with new routines on a whim and expect Ginger to be at the studio early the next morning in order to master them. This perfectionism certainly paid off for the duo. As their works together still remain some of the most-watched musical films in Hollywood’s history.
Throughout their creative partnership, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers performed in films such as Roberta, Top Hat, Swing Time, and The Barklays of Broadway. The latter film represented their return to the screen after their aforementioned decade-long hiatus. And it’s their only feature film together to film in color.
Although Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers didn’t first appear on the screen together until 1933, they had worked together on Broadway previously. In 1930, Fred had choreographed Ginger in a Broadway play by the name of Girl Crazy. Fred was single at the time, and he and Ginger apparently went on a date during this period. Although not much came of this date, Ginger expressed later in life that the two had shared a very memorable kiss at the end of it. The stars likely thought back to this kiss when summoning the chemistry for their on-screen appearances. And it’s possible that Phyllis might’ve been aware of the pair’s romantic history when insisting the pair never kissed on film.
Fred Astaire divorced first wife Phyllis Potter in 1954, and only remarried once before his death in 1987. Fred’s second wife is a jockey named Robyn Smith, whom he married to from 1980 until his death. Ginger Rogers, on the other hand, married five times over the course of her life before her death in 1995. Ginger’s first husband was a fellow star by the name of Jack Pepper, whom she had married in 1929. Their relationship not very successful, and they divorced only two years later, in 1931.
During most of her creative partnership with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers married to second husband Lew Ayres. She married Lew in 1934, and they divorced in 1940. Lew was an actor, though not as successful as his wife. Ginger then married to actor Jack Briggs from 1943 to 1949, actor Jacques Bergerac from 1953 to 1957. And William Marshall from 1961 to 1969. After the dissolution of these short-lived marriages, Ginger Rogers never remarried.
Besides her five husbands, Ginger Rogers also romantically linked to notable celebrity figures Jimmy Stewart and Howard Hughes throughout her lifetime. She reportedly had a romantic fling with Jimmy Stewart after divorcing her second husband. Jimmy went on to claim that Ginger was the first woman that he had ever been with!
Howard Hughes apparently took a liking to Ginger Rogers in the early 1930s, in between her first and second marriages. Ginger became afraid of the peculiar wealthy socialite after he started becoming a bit too controlling in their personal relationship. Of all the men that Ginger linked to throughout her lifetime. It seems that few were there for her as consistently as Fred Astaire. This remains true even if Fred reluctantly entered into their creative partnership. And even if he worked her to the bone when it came to their routines on the screen. Today, people still look back on the work of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers with astonishment. Their films remains incredibly popular and acclaimed.
Although the on-screen paring of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers represents one of the most memorable duos in Hollywood’s history. Fred apparently wanted little to do with the actress professionally. Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that Fred Astaire pushed into show business at the behest of his mother; And that he’s reluctant to enter into his creative partnership with Ginger Rogers? As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!