Backward and in High Heels: Remembering Ginger Rogers

Ginger Rogers was born as Virginia Katherine McMath in Independence in 1911, and she spent her early years in Independence and Kansas City. Ginger is best remembered for movies made with dancing partner Fred Astaire. She is famously credited for doing everything Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels. The duo made 10 films together from 1933 to 1949.

She received her nickname from a cousin who couldn’t quite say Virginia. Divorced while Ginger was still a baby, her parents went through a prolonged custody battle and William McMath kidnapped Ginger several times before Lelee McMath finally took him to court. After Lelee married John Rogers in Liberty in 1920, Ginger took her stepfather’s surname as well.

At age 14, Ginger entered a Texas dance contest and took top honors for the Charleston. When she was 15, she hit the vaudeville circuit and traveled the country with her mother. They lived on the road until Ginger was 17. In 1928, they went to New York, where Ginger sang in two bands and stole the show in George and Ira Gershwin’s 1930 Broadway hit Girl Crazy. She made her first film appearance in 1930’s A Night in a Dormitory. She charmed moviegoers in 1933’s Gold Diggers.

By 1942, Ginger Rogers was the highest- paid actress in Hollywood. The apex of her career came a year earlier, when she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Kitty Foyle. She died April 25, 1995. She is buried beside her mother in Oakwood Memorial Park in Chatsworth, California. Fred Astaire is buried a few yards away