Filled Under: Fred and Ginger
“Ginger was brilliantly effective. She made everything work for her. Actually, she made things very fine for the both of us and she deserves most of the credit for our success.” ~ Fred Astaire on Ginger Rogers
“I adore the man. I always have adored him. It was the most fortunate thing that ever happened to me, being teamed with Fred. He was everything a little starry-eyed girl from a small town ever dreamed of.” ~ Ginger Rogers talking about Fred Astaire in 1976.
“Of course, Ginger was able to accomplish sex through dance. We told more through our movements instead of the big clinch. We did it all in the dance.” ~ Fred Astaire
“We had fun and it shows. True, we were never bosom buddies off the screen. We were different people with different interests. We were only a couple on film.” ~ Ginger Rogers
Fred Astaire (May 10, 1899- June 22, 1987) and Ginger Rogers (July 16, 1911- April 25, 1995) were the most famous dance team in motion picture history and are considered by many as the greatest dance duo to ever grace the silver screen. They made a total of ten movies together, nine with RKO Radio Pictures and one with MGM.
Fred Astaire started dancing in the early 1900s as a child on stage, in Vaudeville, partnering his older sister, Adele. Astaire made his first movie in 1933 with a minor role in “Dancing Lady” starring Clark Gable and Joan Crawford. Ginger Rogers was already on her way to being a headliner, starring in several movies including Warner Brothers Pictures pre-code hits “42nd Street” (1933) and “Gold Diggers of 1933″ (1933). Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made their first pairing together in the movie “Flying Down to Rio” in 1933, but what many people don’t know is Fred and Ginger almost weren’t paired together in this movie. The role of Honey Hale was to be played by Dorothy Jordan, but she fell in love with the film’s producer Merian C. Cooper and when Dorothy dropped out of the film to get married the role was then given to Ginger Rogers. In “Flying Down to Rio” Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers had supporting roles behind the main stars Dolores Del Rio, Gene Raymond, and Raul Roulien. But it was Rogers and Astaire in their “secondary roles” as Honey Hale and Fred Ayers who easily were the best the movie had to offer. One of the more humorous scenes was when Astaire’s character Ayers is thrown out of a restaurant and he and Honey (Rogers) wind up sitting on the curb with an amused crowd of people gathered around them. Even the last scene of the movie is of Ayers and Honey Hale sitting side by side talking. Their chemistry and charisma as a couple were evident throughout the movie, but it was when they danced the erotic “Carioca” together that the beginning of the legendary dance team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers was born.
Despite their obvious on-screen chemistry in dancing with Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire was reluctant to make a second movie with her. He had previously been part of a dance duo with his sister, Adele Astaire and wanted to establish himself as a solo dancer. After “Flying Down to Rio”, Astaire sent a note to his agent about Rogers. “I don’t mind making another picture with her, but as for this team idea, it’s out! I’ve just managed to live down one partnership and I don’t want to be bothered with any more.” But when the critics praised the Astaire-Rogers pairing in “Flying Down To Rio,” Astaire was persuaded, and he and Rogers soon made the second film in their partnership, starring in the very successful and popular musical “The Gay Divorcee” (1934). Fred and Ginger went on to make eight more movies together while becoming the most beloved and admired dancing screen couple in the history of cinema.
One of my favorite Fred Astaire – Ginger Rogers dance scenes is from “Shall We Dance” (1937). “Shall We Dance” was the 7th of Fred and Ginger’s pairings and it featured what was probably their most difficult scene they ever did, a dance on roller skates following their duet “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off”. They spent a total of thirty-two hours in preparation for the routine and skated an estimated eighty miles during the four days it required to shoot this one sequence. The scene took over thirty takes to complete. (The reported amount of takes varies from thirty to well over a hundred, depending on what story or review you are reading. Thirty to thirty-five seems to be the most popular.) All this for less than two and a half minutes of screen time. But it was well worth it as Fred and Ginger turn in a memorable performance.
Said Ginger in her autobiography, ‘Ginger: My Story’ — “The roller-skating number was a ball to do. We were free to laugh out loud at each other. Fred sang one chorus and I sang one chorus, before we turned the wheels of our skates to the rhythm of the song and sped away into each other’s arms. Both Fred and I enjoyed it very much.”
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Dance on Roller Skates
Flying Down To Rio (RKO Pictures 1933) is known as the movie that made Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers into the renowned dance team duo they are still known as today. Astaire and Rogers were not the main headliners of Flying Down To Rio though. They were billed as fourth and fifth stars behind Dolores Del Rio, Gene Raymond, and Paul Roulien. It was also the only time Ginger was billed in front of Fred as this was her twentieth movie and was only Fred’s second. The movie was originally made as a vehicle to highlight Dolores Del Rio. The story is about a love triangle between the exotic Belinha de Rezende (Dolores Del Rio), and best friends Roger Bond (Gene Raymond) and Julio Ribiero (Paul Roulien). Of course Del Rio is her beautiful dazzling self and the sets are spectacular. A sequence towards the end of the movie where show girls are strapped to the wings of bi-planes as part of a arial show and flown over Rio de Janeiro in an opening sequence of a show to celebrate the opening of a hotel owned by Belihna de Rezende’s father is rather ‘surreal’ but entertaining. But it was Rogers and Astaire in their “secondary roles” as Honey Hale and Fred Ayers who easily were the best the movie had to offer. One of the more humorous scenes was when Astaire’s character Ayers is thrown out of a restaurant and he and Honey (Rogers) wind up sitting on the curb with an amused crowd of people gathered around them. Even the last scene of the movie is of Ayers and Honey Hale sitting side by side talking. Their chemistry and charisma as a couple were evident throughout the movie, but it was when they danced the erotic “Carioca” together that the beginning of the legendary dance team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers was born.
Fred and Ginger do the “Carioca”
The exotic “Carioca” became a national dance craze in the United States after the release of Flying Down To Rio. It was noted for the head to head posture and the closeness of the participants while dancing. As Fred and Ginger commented as they watched the native Brazilians dance, before trying it themselves.
Honey Hale (Rogers): “What’s this business with the forehead?”
Fred Ayers (Astaire): “Mental telepathy.”
Honey Hale: “I can tell what they’re thinking about from here.”
The dance team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers almost never was, at least in this movie. Dorothy Jordan was originally cast in the role of Honey Hale. When she fell in love and eloped with the show’s producer, Merian C Cooper, Rogers was brought in to take her place. The rest is history.
Flying Down To Rio was a pre-code ‘talkie’ and is notable for a line spoken by an American starlet about her South American rivals, “What have those girls got below the equator that we haven’t got?” After the Hayes-code went into effect in the early 1930’s, it would be a long time before such a suggestive line would be heard in a movie again.