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My partner is always making fun of the fact that every time I flip to Turner Classic Movies, I drool over the clothes. “Ooooh, look at that hat,” I’ll gush out loud. (Hence my little Gravatar portrait, in which I pretend to be Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday — because those were some clothes!) The two of us differ on the question of whether this attention to great outfits hinders my attention to the plots.

I could probably write 3,000 words about Ginger Rogers’ clothes in her films with Fred Astaire. But can we just note this sweater-dress? Relevant note: this is from Carefree (1938), and this unsubtle design undergirds the film’s plot about psychoanalysis. See how this works? The sweater is sending Fred subconscious messages about falling in love with his patient! Sure, he may be hypnotizing her, but just wait till he’s smitten!

carefree

Now, friends, please don’t tell me I could make such a sweater myself. That is so not going to happen. Let me just enjoy the sweet vintage-ness of this sweater-dress in its pure Ginger condition.

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Ginger Rogers, actor

31 August 2012

I’m still buried under piles of paper, moving boxes, notes to myself about next week’s lectures, and paperwork — you have no idea how much universities rely on busywork and excessive documentation — but my father just sent a lovely short New Yorker piece about Ginger Rogers that I had to share.

To be precise, it’s not an essay about Rogers’ dancing. It’s about her acting.

She’s most famous for dancing with Fred Astaire, of course; but the writer Arlene Croce asks us to set that aside for the moment and think about Rogers as a subtle presence in more than just those films. When she wasn’t wearing white gowns that showed off her beautiful back, or ostrich feathers, or that great dress with the sunflower/starburst pattern from Shall We Dance (1937), she often appeared as working-class girls, women hard on their luck. Like Polly Parrish in Bachelor Mother (1939), or the titular character in Kitty Foyle (1940), or the nose-to-the-grindstone dancer in Stage Door (1937). She was Everywoman for that dark era of the Depression just as much as she was its glamorous ballroom dancer.

Croce argues that her subtlety led her to be underrated as a talented actor, one who excelled particularly in the embodiment of the struggler, the striver, that woman with a sense of humor yet a clear sense of self-worth in the face of difficulties. She was “the fabulous Miss Average, imaginative, unsentimental, the dyed-in-the-wool product of an era and one of its immortal symbols”:

…suppressing her anger, she smiles through clenched teeth. She isn’t going to take his guff, but she isn’t about to lose her temper, either. Manners matter to her. When you don’t have any money — and in the Depression nobody had any — manners, morals, ethics, are coin of the realm. In her continually wounded sense of self-worth and her spirited defense of it lies the drama of Ginger Rogers. It transcends self-interest; it is in essence idealistic, an insistence on the dignity of the individual, the responsibility of the citizen, the honor of the woman she knows herself to be when she’s at the top of the stairs.

What a nice piece of writing. And a particularly nice sentiment for these hot days, as I’m struggling to complete paperwork or deal with my internet provider over the phone. Aren’t we all Ginger, at some level?