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Celebrating Ginger Rogers with Gotlieb Exhibition

Angela Lansbury to appear at exhibition opening

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Cartoonist Bob Thaves had a character in his syndicated strip remark that Fred Astaire was great, but “Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards…and in high heels!” That original Frank and Ernest cartoon, which Thaves gave to Rogers, is one of a trove of correspondence, photographs, scripts, and film and stage memorabilia on display in a special exhibition at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center in honor of the screen legend’s 100th birthday.

The exhibition, Ginger Rogers’ Century, opens today at the Gotlieb Center’s Richards-Frost Room. Kicking off the Rogers retrospective after the 5:30 p.m. opening reception, film historian Nick Clooney will host a live show at the Tsai Performance Center, featuring an appearance by television, film, and Broadway stage star Angela Lansbury, and actress and cabaret singer Karen Oberlin singing songs from Rogers’ film and stage repertoire. Oberlin recently won critical praise for an appearance at New York City’s Algonquin Hotel.

Most people today think of the light-footed, dewy-eyed Rogers primarily as the partner Fred Astaire twirled and dipped in such film classics as Top Hat and The Gay Divorcee. But Rogers, who in 1941 was Hollywood’s highest paid female star, was an accomplished dramatic, as well as comic, actress and a Broadway leading lady. She made 73 movies, opposite such leading men as James Stewart, Cary Grant, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. The Gotlieb display includes Rogers’ 1941 Academy Award for her performance in Kitty Foyle, her 1992 Kennedy Center Honors ribbon, and an engraved silver compact presented to her by President Richard Nixon.

“Ginger Rogers is a stellar example of a creative performer and role model who brought endless joy to her audiences through her artistry,” says Vita Paladino (MET’79, SSW’93), director of the Gotlieb Center.

A Hollywood trailblazer, friend to presidents and generals, mentor to other actresses, including Lucille Ball, Rogers, who died in April 1995, would have turned 100 this year.

The archival offerings, among them a ruffled cap the actress wore as an infant and a selection of tender correspondence from her Hollywood friends and costars, is on loan to the Gotlieb Center from Roberta Olden, Rogers’ former live-in secretary, who inherited Rogers’ vast collection of papers and memorabilia. And Rogers saved everything, including a jagged scrap of paper bearing a handwritten note from actor George Raft: “You are a darling.”

Born in Independence, Mo., in July 1911, Rogers’ name will be forever linked with Astaire’s, but she is “hardly a second banana,” Sarah Kaufman writes in the Washington Post. “She had hotshot composers—Gershwin, Kern, Berlin—writing for her films…she ran with intellectuals, entrepreneurs and celebrities alike.” In addition to being an accomplished, athletic horsewoman and marksman (she owned a ranch in Oregon), Rogers liked to paint, sculpt, and sketch. The exhibition features an assured likeness she did of composer Irving Berlin.

The Rogers memorabilia on display runs the gamut from her tennis racket and roller skates to bound movie and stage scripts, including Dalton Trumbo’s screenplay for Kitty Foyle and the script for Rogers’ 1965 to 1968 run on Broadway in Hello, Dolly, replacing Carol Channing as Dolly. The many personal and publicity photographs include shots with past presidents, including close friend and former costar Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, and Nixon, who lifelong Republican Rogers supported from his early days as a California congressman.

But most poignant is the wealth of personal correspondence, including a series of notes from her friend and dancing partner Astaire, who called her “Ginge.” The “cast of thousands” director Cecil B. DeMille, who brought us Ben Hur, wrote, “In my old age I’ll sit under an azalea tree and think of you.” From her friend Katharine Hepburn: “What are we doing, playing in great big musicals? It’s great exercise, isn’t it?” A 1942 letter from her pal and costar James Stewart, who was at Army Air Corps flying school in California, said that she was “such a fine actress. Everything you do, every move you make, is on the nose.”

The Ginger Rogers’ Century exhibition opens at 5:30 p.m. today, Monday, October 24, at the Gotlieb Archival Research Center’s Richards-Frost Room, first floor, Mugar Memorial Library, 771 Commonwealth Ave., with a reception at the adjacent Howard Gotlieb Memorial Gallery. Admission to the exhibition is free. The special live performance is tonight at 8 p.m. at the Tsai Performance Center, 685 Commonwealth Ave. Tickets are $20 and can be reserved here or by calling 617-353-8725.

 

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