Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Review: Ginger: My Story

Ginger: My Story Ginger: My Story by Ginger Rogers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ginger Rogers was an Academy-Award winning actress best known for dancing through the Great Depression with Fred Astaire on the big screen. However, there is a lot more to this glamorous Hollywood star than just the roles she played in movies. Virginia Katherine McMath had an exciting childhood from the day she was born.

Because this book is an autobiography, it is important to point out that this is Ginger's story, so from the introduction she makes it clear how this journey is going to go. First, she acknowledges that scandal and gossip sell books, but she wanted to be above that. So you won't find any tawdry details about love affairs, no hints of catty actress wars or anything that cannot be substantiated by Rogers herself. Second, she is devoted to her faith in Christian Science, so the book does occasionally contain affirmations and scriptures that were dear to Rogers, as well as what parts of her life, health and happiness she owes to her religion.

Ginger's story starts out with some of the most dramatic stories of her life, including the time that she was kidnapped by her own father as a baby. Lela Owens (Rogers) also plays a huge role in ninety percent of the book, becoming the only person that Ginger really needed in her life for support, encouragement and advice. Rogers sets the record straight about Lela—although Lela was an ambitious person with a strong personality, she wasn't the pushy stage mother that some people believe. Rogers makes it clear that any time Lela stepped in to support her daughter when it came to wardrobe, contract negotiations and even buying real estate, it was Ginger that had asked her to step in.

The book also contains a behind-the-scenes look at all of the movies Ginger completed from her early days at Paramount's New York studios through her time at RKO and finally her freelance work outside of the dying studio system. These stories and glimpses into how each movie was filmed are all too short, with some movies not getting more than a cheery paragraph about how Rogers loved working on it.

She also talks a lot about her personal life, from living in a small hotel room while she completed her first Broadway run in the 1930s to buying a peaceful ranch in the Oregon wilderness. Rogers was married five times, so her husbands are also talked about, though in the grand scheme of things, they don't get much mention. However, when it comes to her religion, Rogers does make some interesting claims. Her mother Lela is the one that introduced her to Christian Science, and Rogers' beliefs went deep because she saw her stepfather John Rogers saved from certain death, she rarely had a sick day in her life, and she recounts a couple of episodes with husbands and friends. One husband had terrible warts on his feet, and with a day of prayer and work with a Christian Science practitioner, he was cured. Another husband had painful boils, and the same routine was used to cure him as well. Rogers also helped a friend in the hospital hours from death with a burst appendix, saving her at her most critical hour. Whether true or not, it does show that Rogers had an unshakable faith that helped her through her life.

The book is really interesting up until Rogers stops making movies in the early 1960s. It's not that her life stopped there, but when she moved on from screen back to stage work, it's harder for readers to get a picture in their heads when it comes to performances. While readers can go back and check out the movies, the stage performances are lost to time and the memories of those who were able to see her in person. However, if you love classic Hollywood and the feisty determination of Ginger Rogers, you won't want to miss this book.

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