A look at television appearances made over the years by legendary Hollywood double act Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
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Like strawberries and cream,
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were a perfect pairing.
The greatest dancing partnership
cinema has ever known.
They worked their magic through ten films made in the 1930s and '40s,
first coming together for the 1933 film Flying Down To Rio.
They weren't the main stars,
and Rogers was only cast at the last moment.
Their scenes together stole the entire movie,
and studio bosses realised they had struck gold.
Astaire was the ultimate dancer. Rogers brought out the best in him.
Katharine Hepburn once said,
"He gives class, she gives him sex appeal."
Both scored massive successes on their own.
Astaire was an icon of entertainment,
respected for being a dance innovator.
Ginger Rogers won the best actress Oscar in 1941 for her role,
her straight role, in Kitty Foyle.
And, for a time, she became Hollywood's highest-paid star.
In truth, they were wary of being forever looked on as a double act,
and although Rogers once said she adored Astaire,
she also conceded they were never bosom buddies.
The American public fell in love with them,
with many believing they were a couple off-screen as well as on.
The pair were never interviewed together on British television,
so we start with an encounter between Ginger Rogers
and Cliff Michelmore from 1968,
which took place at her home in Coldwater Canyon, Los Angeles.
They tell me you fix the best ice cream soda in Beverly Hills,
-is that right?
-Do you want an ice cream soda?
You really want an ice cream soda?
They told me you fix the best one in...
Funny thing, I just happen to have one almost ready for you!
-With chocolate, all right,
coming up. Chocolate.
And I want you to know that this will cost you about 15 cents,
and if you get this down in the city of Beverly Hills,
you would pay 65 to 85 cents for it,
and I want you to leave your money here
at the counter before you leave.
-Or I'll take just a smile, how's that?
-There we go.
-I do like lots of this...
-Lots of that.
-Lots of Seltzer water, all right.
-I absolutely adore that.
Here we go. Here we go.
That's the bit I like.
-Isn't that lovely?
-I'd love one of those at home.
What would the children do with that at home?
And there you go, and here is a little straw,
and if it doesn't have enough chocolate in it...
I like lots of chocolate,
but I'm also afraid to put too much in it, because I love chocolate.
It's so hot outside that I think I want to get cool
-before we go outside.
-I don't blame you!
-Chocolate enough? How's that?
-Is that gorgeous?
She was christened Virginia Katherine,
but that was too much of a name for her cousin,
who called her just "Ginger."
She was born in Independence, Missouri,
and she always seemed destined for the stage.
At the age of four she was playing the part of a war orphan.
At 16, she won the Texas State Charleston championship,
and it was then that her career really began.
Her mother, Lela, journalist and screenwriter,
became her first full-time manager,
guiding and guarding those early days.
In 1930, Ginger Rogers was on Broadway,
in the Gershwin musical Girl Crazy.
That was September 1930,
and it was from this success that she went on to Hollywood.
45 films later, she won an Oscar for the title role in Kitty Foyle.
Another 28 films later she was back again on the Broadway stage,
this time in Hello, Dolly!
And now she's moving across from the New York to the London stage,
from Dolly to Mame.
It's been a long, distinguished and successful career,
but how tough was the going along the way?
I have come from a very hard school.
I've had to work very hard for what has come to me.
If I got a part in a film, it was always a very difficult role.
If I've had a dance to do, it's always been a very hard one to do.
I thought so, and other people have thought so too.
Um...it has not been dropped in my lap like a handful of gold, no.
I come from the hard school of learning, in this business.
You were mentioning earlier on
that your mother handled a great deal of your business.
Are you also a good businesswoman now?
Well, I think so. I think I'm a fairly good businesswoman.
My business is really my work, and outside of having
a number of hobbies which I have to pass the time away, I...
My work is really acting.
-I enjoy it.
-What does money mean to you?
I mean, you're enormously successful...
It's a means by which one may fulfil one's next desire or obligation.
In the good sense.
I never have wanted to be the richest woman in the world,
never have wanted it. And, um...
I've never wanted to be married to the richest man
in the world, I've never had any of those great...
I've never wanted to have the greatest, most beautiful car
in the world. I don't want material things.
I want those things that are needful in life,
but not necessarily the most valuable thing
according to dollars and cents.
-Does that answer your question?
-That answers it absolutely perfectly.
You don't surprise me, in some ways.
But now, I want to come to the fact
that you are a legend in your own time.
You will know that so many people remember you
for the one great thing - if for nothing else,
and this must please you no end - and that is this tremendous partnership
that you had with Fred Astaire.
# I didn't come to do the Charleston
# I didn't come to Ball the Jack
# I didn't come to do The Suzy-Q
# Or do the Bottom they call Black
# I didn't come to do Big Apple
# I didn't come to do the Shag
# Well, honey, here I am
# To do the Yam
# Because the Yam is in the bag... #
-Did you enjoy working with Fred Astaire?
-Because he, like you, is a consummate professional.
You're talking about - yes, sir, when you see a workman,
you see Mr Astaire, you say, "Is he hard to work with?
"Am I hard to work with?" If you like people who like their work,
and who work at their work, then we're hard workmen.
He is, I am.
And we're very definite about what we like and what we dislike.
And if that's considered hard to work with,
then you've got the answer to your question.
Have you ever even danced a dozen steps with him
since the last film you've made?
The last film we made was The Barkleys of Broadway,
and it was made at MGM, in colour -
it was the first colour film we ever made.
Then, we... We've seen each other quite frequently, um...
The time that we danced together for one brief minute
was the Academy Award. Didn't it play in London?
-A film of it?
-When you and...
-Fred and I...
-..Fred Astaire presented the prizes.
-Did it play there?
-No, it didn't. Tell me what happened.
Well, we got on the stage, backstage, waiting for the...
Because we had been chosen to, both of us, present an award together.
-This I remember.
-At the Academy.
So, they came to me and said,
"I think you'll be on in about 45 minutes,"
and I said, "Well, where is Mr Astaire?" And they said,
"Well, he'll be around here in a minute."
So, he came around and I said,
"Wouldn't it be fun if we went on the stage,
"wouldn't that just be great,
"if you and I just did a little something, da-da-da, like that,
"and walked up to the...?"
And he was... He's very shy, Fred is very shy,
and everything from the very beginning is, "No, I don't think so,
"I don't think so," that's Fred, "No, no..."
So, I said, "Well, OK, I just thought it was a good idea."
And then he walked away and he went across the stage,
and the music was playing,
and I could hear the time was coming close to our appearance together.
And we were supposed to come...
He was on the one stage,
he was stage left and I was stage right,
we were to cross each other,
grab our hands and walk straight down to the podium.
About three minutes before, he came in and he said, "You know,
"I've thought that over, that might be kind of fun,
"really, it might be." He said, "What do we do?"
I said, "Well, I don't know, what do you say?
"What do we do?"
It was fun, it was kind of like, er,
a big secret we were having together.
So, we worked out a little kind of nothing - he'd grab me by the hand
and whirl me, and then we'd just walk right down to the podium.
Well, we did just that when it came, because no-one had known,
the producer, the director, none - no-one in the whole place knew
that we were going to do this silly thing.
So as we - he came stage left and I came stage right,
we crossed each other, and he grabbed me by the hand,
and he whirled me into a whirl, and we both went into a whirl,
and then quietly we walked onto the podium.
-Well, the house just came down.
-I bet it did!
They were so adorable to us.
-It was a lovely minute. I enjoyed it more than anybody.
Was it a very tough life?
One always sees it in Hollywood films,
when everyone reads about it, one always reads
that it was a very hard, tough life going around America.
Well, I think the stage life is a very hard life, I don't know...
There are many tough lives for people, like...
the fight ring, I imagine, is a very tough life for a man.
I think the stage
and the theatrical life is a very tough life for a woman.
I think it's not quite as difficult for a man.
When were you first asked to come to Hollywood?
Do you remember how it happened?
-When I first came to Hollywood?
OK, I came to Hollywood to do a film
after I'd been in a show in New York.
A motion picture called The Tip Off, I believe it was.
After I had been in a musical comedy in New York,
a musical comedy called Girl Crazy.
So, I came from there,
I made five pictures in New York, and then I came here,
and did two pictures independently.
I'd been under contract to Paramount before that,
while I was in the show in New York.
my coming here was kind of eye-opening,
because I had never seen all these beautiful things,
this marvellous California was unlike Texas,
where I had been raised,
and it was unlike a number of the other states that...
Like, New York State is not half as beautiful this.
-Quite unlike New York.
-Quite unlike New York,
and they don't see snow, unless you go to the mountaintops.
But my first films here,
I was just a...
You know, I'd just left my teens, and I was... It was all kind of...
I was big-eyed and bushy-tailed about - "What's all this about?"
-You see. I found out.
-Very interesting life.
What was it like in those - in the mid-'30s here in Hollywood?
I mean, one coming here now can't really imagine it.
I go around, and I can't really imagine what it was like.
Well, I think - I think they called it, quite accurately,
the golden years of motion pictures, because it seems to me,
from what little I have known of what has gone on before...
-SHE CLEARS HER THROAT
It seems to me
that it was rather the lush years of the motion picture business.
I'm very grateful to have seen those days,
because they were quite beautiful, they, um...
There were lovely parties given, and, er...
all of the people I had ever heard of were present, and...
Like Charlie Chaplin and Ronald Colman,
and, er...all of these marvellously wonderful people.
-Were you a bit star-struck, then? I gather...
I've never... No, but I'd, like...
Like watching a circus, I sit back and enjoy it.
I don't go to the circus because I'm mad for it,
but if it comes to my house I think it's fun.
You were talking about these parties - are you a social creature?
No. I am not.
I am not a social creature at all.
But, as I said earlier, in our discussion, I came here
when I was quite tender in years, and I was impressed by the...
By being, just being, in California.
I was very impressed by the whole thing.
And I was impressed that I was learning a profession, too,
I was learning something all along the way,
I was learning more about what I was involved in, motion pictures.
And I think it's the most fascinating business.
How strong an influence on you was your mother?
Because I was reading about you, I was reading your mother as well...
-Now, how much of an influence was she?
Well, I think she was little more than usual, and, er...
incidentally, she's arriving here in California today,
she's just driving down from my ranch in Oregon,
she's arriving here today, so I'll be very happy to see her.
I must say, that's something I like dropped into a conversation -
"On my way from my ranch in Oregon."
-Well, she is!
-Sorry, I interrupted you about you mother.
She's driving down today.
She's been a very great influence on my life,
because her directness - she goes right to the heart of the matter,
and she's taught me that.
Up until those times when I was not able,
when I was not really involved in business,
she would handle all the business affairs for me, and, um...
From her I've gotten a great deal of those things
which are worthwhile in life.
Theatrical mums, theatrical mothers, are always
sort of portrayed as people who are driving their little daughters on...
Yes, this is not this kind of mother.
If you knew her, and I hope you'll get a chance to meet her today,
you will see that she's not that kind of a woman at all,
she's a bright, very alert woman, um...
knows picture business
and show business as if she manufactured it herself, you know?
And she has given great inspiration and great hope,
and taught many people who are now very important in our business.
..she had Lucille in her little school over at RKO,
she had Lucille Ball, and Tyrone Power, and I could sit...
-I'm very bad at names, and I never remember them!
-Those two will do!
They're quite good, you know?!
It's a quite good group, you know?
That's bad for not even name-dropping, isn't it?
And she's done a great deal in bringing some of the newcomers
at that time, who are now well-seasoned stars, to the fore.
Fought for Lucille like she was her own child.
But you never, ever felt in your life like she was really driving you,
-That she was...?
-No, no, no.
She was not that - and is not that kind of a woman. No, no, no.
She is very direct, and she's to the point,
and if she felt I didn't have the talent to do what was
meant for me to do, she would grab me by the scruff of my neck
and out I would go, and she would find something to fill that place.
-Are you amenable to that kind of discipline?
Well, I think if you have some respect for the person,
the person who is bringing this into your experience,
you either follow it or you fall by the wayside.
You have to respect someone with knowledge.
Finally, before you go, I want to ask you about your painting,
because this is something... What do you find...?
What do you get out of your painting?
Well, I think it's the most satisfying experience to be
an amateur painter, because you lose the world, you lose all of the...
little itsy-bitsies that trouble us all, you know, now and then,
and you can just put it all behind you.
I enjoy thoroughly... It's like listening to a symphony for me,
to be able to take a canvas and put fresh oil on it,
and then start just...
-Of course, I do a lot of things with the knife, as we call it!
The, er... With the knife.
And I... My little painting down in the front, there,
called The Anniversary Bouquet, which I'd like to show you,
incidentally, is all done in knife,
and it's a still life of some...anthurium.
So...what do I get out of it?
I just absolutely adore it, I can lose days and weeks,
if I were allowed to paint, and paint alone.
I would - day and night would be the same, with me.
Just put a little food under the door.
It wasn't till the 1970s that Ginger's onscreen partner,
Fred Astaire, gave an interview to the BBC.
Although in his 70s himself by then, he was still working.
Nominated for an Oscar for the Towering Inferno film,
appearing with Gene Kelly in That's Entertainment 2,
and dropping in on Michael Parkinson,
who had Astaire at the top of his wish list for years.
-I think I must establish first of all, Fred,
because I do happen to know,
you don't like being interviewed, do you?
With you, I love it.
You know, I mean, I'm sure I will.
I will, I will.
But you once had a reputation in America, didn't you?
You were once nominated, I think, by the gossip columnists
-among the ten least cooperative stars in Hollywood.
Yes, I was, and several people were very envious of me for that.
I remember Ronald Colman was furious, because he wanted to be first.
And, um...of course, that goes way, way back.
But it was all in fun, anyway, because...there was nothing,
you know, all those things you read in the paper,
and they sound a little rough, but they're not.
-They're not rough.
I was interested, also, in reading your biography,
to find out that in fact your sister Adele had a nickname for you,
which was Moaning Minnie.
Well, I know that, but she wasn't the only one,
it was some friends of mine, some fellows, some friends of mine
who called me it, because I was worried about things all the time.
Whenever there's a job to do in showbiz, you worry about it.
And they used to kid me about it. So...
I got used to that, that was so long ago,
I've... I haven't heard that one for a long time!
How long, in fact, have you been in show business?
HE GASPS Well, um...
You mean, how long I actually have...? Well, I'll tell you.
See, I started at the age of four and a half,
appearing professionally, and if you add that up...
to now, I have been performing professionally for 71 years!
Well, how nice.
Thank you, I... I didn't say it for that purpose, thank you so much.
I, um...it broke me up when I thought about it. "Oh, my gosh!
"This can't be."
But it is actually so.
I was born in 1899, and then at four and a half I went to New York,
No, I appeared at about four and a half,
but I went to New York when I was about four,
and then there was some kind of a professional appearance
that occurred around that time,
so I added it all up and that's what it is.
I interviewed Bing Crosby recently,
and he thought he was a veteran, and it'd only been 50 years.
Oh, he's such a child, for heaven's sake!
In fact, I mean, you were quite old, weren't you,
by professional standards, when you went in to the movies?
-You were 34, weren't you? Something like that.
-Well, I... Yeah.
It was in 1933, and that made me 34.
One thinks of... Oh, you can think of half a dozen, more perhaps,
outstanding solo routines that you've done in movies,
doing all kinds of things with different props and things.
What about one of my favourite sequences of yours,
from a film called Carefree,
which is the one where you hit the golf balls,
I mean, it was an astonishing bit of precision.
Before we talk about that, before we explain it, let's have a look.
We've got a clip here.
As I say, it's from a film called Carefree, and it really is
an extraordinary piece of, well, imagination and execution.
It's coming up now.
-That was incredible.
-I really loved doing that number.
Had a lot of practice at it.
One of the things I remember particularly was,
in order to keep the balls in view of the camera, we had a tree,
the location we did this, there was a tree, a big tree background
so you could see those little white balls.
Some people thought it was done with trickery, and it wasn't,
but I was hitting them and they were going straight,
but they were going up a little too quick
and out of the camera lens thing, so the camera guy would say,
"Can't you keep those a little lower, please?"
I said, "Look, I've got enough troubles here!"
So anyway, I flatten my swing and I kept them down and it worked.
Anyway, I enjoyed it. I'm glad you liked it, thanks very much.
It was super, yeah.
A lot of these numbers that you danced for these people
who wrote them, you were dressed up in what became your trademark -
the top hat, the white tie and tails.
Two questions. How much is that really you?
Oh, I don't like wearing a full dress suit, I hate it.
I had so much of it that people thought I was born in it.
But it was necessary for the thing we were doing at that point.
I actually haven't worn it anywhere in a film for quite a long time.
I had to wear it to a couple of shindigs I went to recently,
but I just don't like it.
It's stiff and, you know...
-It made you dance very well.
-I worked for that.
We've got a clip here, let's have a look at it.
Probably the last time that you appeared onscreen in that rig,
and that was in Blue Skies.
Well, that isn't a full dress suit, the one you're talking about.
-It's a tail...
-Let's have a look.
SPEECH DROWNED BY APPLAUSE
-Did you enjoy watching that?
-Well, it interests me to see it again.
I haven't seen it lately, and, I mean, I know it's there,
because I always remember it, it was very complicated to get it
together, all the stuff, the screens, the separate screens.
I did one thing alone and then you changed the set
so one line would go this way. That was another shot.
Then the other line would go that way -
-in other words, a multiple amount of...
Yes, of split screens put all together. A very complicated process.
It wasn't all ready to look finished
until about three months after it was made,
and I was very interested to know how they would ever get it together,
how a wonderful department of special effects could get that
all synced properly - that's what I worried about.
You knock the hell out of your canes, don't you?
Oh, I've broken a lot of them.
Sometimes on purpose,
I got mad because I wasn't getting something and I was trying to get it.
Another slight technical thing that always puzzled me
whenever I see that sequence, and that is, how do you get that
cane off the floor to shoot into your hand?
Is that trick photography?
Well, it's not trick photography, it's a mechanical thing.
There was a little hole in the ground on the stage that had a little thing
that shot up and when the cane was there, it went like that and came up.
A fellow out there had to press the button just right, and you had
to have a musician to do it because the timing had to be just
a fraction ahead of that beat, because if you did it on the beat,
it would have been a little late and throwing things out.
So he had to go... So it landed up in my hand.
Things like that take a lot of time.
And you pray all the time that they're going to work!
That was supposed to be a retirement movie, that, wasn't it?
It was announced at the time that, after that, you'd finished.
Why was that? Why at that time were you thinking of retiring?
Well, I think everybody gets that feeling, "Look,
"I've done about all I can do now and I think I want to quit."
And I actually did decide to retire then.
And then something happened...
I think, I think it was...
This goes back a number of years, I can't exactly remember,
but I think it was...
Oh, I know.
Gene Kelly was doing a movie called Easter Parade
and he fell out of it because he'd hurt his leg,
and then they got out to me and said, "Would I come over and take it over?"
And start over again and do it with me, and he called me and it
looked like a good show, and so I did it, so I was back in business again.
So, then I stayed again for a while and had ideas again and quit again.
I think a lot of people do that.
I know a number of people who say, I can't do it, I can't think anymore.
You think you can't and then maybe you can't, I don't know.
Your mother wanted you to retire in fact when you were 35, didn't she?
Oh, my mother, yes.
My mother, she said, "Sonny, I think you should retire when you're 34."
I don't know why she didn't say 35, but she said 34. I said, "Why?"
She said, "Well, you started so early, you've worked so many years
"and it's about time."
She's such a wonderful woman, my goodness gracious.
She had these cute ideas.
I said, "Well, I'm afraid it isn't going to be possible,"
so that was all there was of that.
I'm going to ask you a question.
Well, I'm not going to ask you a question.
The question I'm not going to ask you is
who was your favourite dancing partner,
because you're not going to give me an answer to that, are you?
Well, I can't,
because I've always said my favourite dance partner is Bing Crosby.
-That gets me out.
-Why is it though?
Gene Kelly is exactly the same,
you won't talk about your dancing partners. Why is that?
Well, it's difficult,
because the gals are all so good, and you just don't want to say,
"Gee-whiz, I like that one better than the other one."
It just... He had the same viewpoint. I just couldn't do it properly.
I mean, each one had something special,
and to say which is the best, I say, well, I really don't know.
Some were more effective than others and all that - when it comes to
actual dancing, there are certain ways and styles and techniques,
and I could go listing a whole lot of names, but I don't want to get any
priorities because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings about it.
But did your attitude as a perfectionist,
this worrier that you've admitted yourself being...
Excuse me, I must say Ginger was certainly the most effective
partner I had. Everybody knows that.
It was a whole other thing, what we did.
I can't say... I just want to pay tribute to Ginger because we did so
many pictures together, and, believe me, it was a value to have that gal.
Woo! She had it. She was just great.
There were all sorts of rumours about you and Ginger,
-weren't there, in Hollywood?
-There was fighting.
Listen, that was the biggest nonsense ever.
We were talking before,
you told me there was somebody who said there was a 25-year war...
Between you and your dancing partners.
Ridiculous. Absolutely nothing like it.
Ginger and I never had any fight.
When Ginger kicked me down the stairs, I loved it, I really did.
LAUGHTER I said, "Please, do that again."
She was just the same way, she could hardly wait for me
to kick her in the ankle, you know?
No, actually, seriously - never had a fight with Ginger, never.
There were questionable conversations about material. You say,
"I don't like it" or "I do like it," or "I think we shouldn't,"
"Oh, yes, no,"
but you don't fight, I can't fight with the people I work with.
I just can't. I just couldn't do it. It didn't happen.
The press would have liked it that way, so we laughed about it.
Well, let's talk about one partner that in fact you can talk about
without hurting his or her feelings, because it happens to be a hat rack.
-Which you used in a film called Royal Wedding, didn't you?
Let's have a look at that clip first of all,
then we'll talk about it in a minute.
It is, as I say, from a film called Royal Wedding, and it's
you in a gymnasium, and you start doing all kinds of weird things
with the equipment.
When you watch that played back there,
do you remember actually making it?
Well, a lot of it, I really didn't.
I didn't. Of course, I saw it earlier today, as you remember,
and I remarked about it.
I really was surprised about probably at least a third of it.
At least a third of it.
I knew that things happened in the gymnasium,
because that was part of the plot of the thing I went up there to...
I don't know what it was about, but it was... I was there.
So I pick up this hat rack,
imagining, making believe it's the girl, and dancing it around.
But I didn't remember some of the stuff that makes me laugh
when I see it, like, I don't remember kicking that punching bag.
That made me laugh all of a sudden.
It's just silly!
Yes, it would have been easier to have gone like that, actually!
But, see, everything happens, when you get something,
an idea working, and there's all this stuff around.
I remember one thing... I don't want to go on with this too long,
but I know in the gymnasium in that scene,
there wasn't enough stuff to get,
so I said, "Well, get me some of those things,
"and then get me that horse," and we'd get something for that,
and so we worked until we got enough that I thought would be...
To make a number out of it, you see.
But you start off with one idea and then end up,
-if it gets going, you get a lot of things.
-Well, one thing, of course,
there you didn't have a problem with,
you couldn't have possibly have a problem with a partner like that.
One problem you didn't have there,
that you must often have had with lady partners,
was the problem of what they wore.
Because we see you dancing around with girls
in incredible creations, and it must have been difficult at times.
Well, sometimes they had things that just wouldn't work.
There'd be a whole lot of dress, and you couldn't see the feet,
or anything, and I'd step on the thing and tear it or something,
and we'd find that out before we started shooting.
You'd find out at the dress rehearsal
or at the costume fitting or something.
They always would ask me to come and see it and see if it worked,
and then I'd say... GASPS
"Oh, sorry, baby."
You've got to do something, and then they're always wanting
to do what worked, too, because they realised it.
But one or two things did happen that were funny, with Ginger.
She had a dress on with very heavy beaded sleeves.
It was way down here, and they were waving around,
a sort of long dress with beads on it, weighed a tonne, this stuff,
and I was doing this dance with her,
and getting it done, and spinning around,
and the very first take, this thing hit me across here,
and I honestly didn't remember anything else about it.
We just kept dancing until the thing was over, and I kept saying,
"Oh, boy, what is this?"
We have to finish and now, because nobody has said "Cut".
The director did not say cut.
He didn't see it, because it happened probably
just in back when he was turning around, and anyway,
I was groggy from this thing, partly, anyway,
and then we finished the whole thing,
and they wanted to take another for protection, and they took,
I think we took about 10 or 12 takes of this difficult dance.
I think it was called Let's Face The Music And Dance.
We decided to stop working, because we were too tired
and come in the next day after doing all these other takes,
and believe me, we really wore ourselves out.
We went to look at the rushes, some quick rushes
to see it on the film.
And the first take was the one we used in the picture.
-That's always the case, isn't it?
-The first one, and good gracious!
I didn't know, and I couldn't even see where I got hit.
And then there was the feather thing with Ginger,
which became kind of a legend. She had a feather dress that...
like a snowstorm, it took off, when we were cheek to cheek,
and there were feathers in this thing,
and then she, take after take, the screen was full of feathers,
and it was like snowing,
and then we'd have to stop, sweep up the feathers.
In fact, when she moulted enough...
..we were able to go on with the dance and it was fine,
and then of course, some people made that that was a fight.
That was no fight. We were roaring with laughter by the end.
That same celebrated dance, cheek to cheek, from Top Hat,
and those rumours that Astaire and Rogers didn't get on,
came up again in 1991. Ginger Rogers was in London,
promoting her autobiography,
and gave this interview to Selina Scott.
What do you think of when you see that clip again
after all these years?
Well, I look at it with gratitude.
Because that was part of my growing theatrically.
What about all these rumours that you didn't get on with Fred Astaire,
that you hated him, he hated you?
Well, it was like all rumours are. It was just a rumour. Nothing else.
And it was started by the publicity department of RKO Studios.
They wanted to keep our name in the paper, so people would talk about us,
so people would go to see our movies, and so they thought up this thing.
Why didn't they say you were romantically involved with him?
That would have been a good ruse, wouldn't it, at that time?
Well, I think they would have been shot by Mrs Astaire!
She was as bad as that, was she?
Well, she was very insistent with her husband
about what happened when he was on the set.
And she never wanted him to kiss the leading lady.
That was an agreement that he made with the producer,
so that they would be happy at home.
Were you ever romantically involved with Fred Astaire?
No, I had a date with him once,
many years before we started dancing together.
I danced with him...
Excuse me. I...
A date that we had.
But then I left New York City for Hollywood, and after that,
I didn't have a chance to see him until he arrived at RKO Studios
by the insistence of our producer, Pandro Berman.
He had been in New York and had seen Fred
in The Gay Divorcee, the stage show.
And he thought that would be a good thing to buy
to give to the two of us to do.
A lot of people, you see, forget that you were in fact
a far bigger star than he was when you two got together.
And it was billed as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers,
and yet, it should really have been the other way around,
Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
Ah, you forget one thing. It's a man's world.
Did that bug you then?
It still does. LAUGHTER
There was a chemistry, though, between the two of you.
There was something going on there. What was it? Where did it come from?
It was just the love of the dance. We both loved to dance.
And we both loved to express ourselves in the dance.
-But I remember reading that your feet bled at times...
..with the work that you were doing.
Well, we danced up steps, about 18 or 19 steps,
and there was a dance on the main floor previous to that step,
and then we had to dance up the stairs, the top of the stairs,
we did a lot of whirls.
And when I finished doing one take of that,
after rehearsals and so on...
They said, "Look, what's the matter with your foot?"
And I had blisters on my feet from dancing so much
in new shoes, that had just been dyed to match the dress,
and they were still wet.
Have you suffered physically because of this dance?
If you think of footballers and ballet dancers,
and they finish dancing, their bones start creaking, seizing up.
I mean, have you ultimately suffered because of it?
Well, I don't think I really suffered anything.
I think I just had a bloody blister every once in a while.
Your bones are still good. When did you last dance in public?
It can't be long ago? No? When was it?
Can you remember when you last danced in public?
-You mean on the stage?
-On the stage, yes.
It was right here in London, actually.
I was at the Palladium with my show, The Ginger Rogers Show.
Yes. Are you content?
-Very briefly, are you content with your life now, Ginger?
-Yes, I am.
And the book has helped to get a lot of it out?
Well, it was great writing the book.
I could go back and remember all the things that happened,
and in that memory,
I sort of played it over and over, like you play back on the screen.
It was great fun. I really enjoyed it.
I catch myself laughing at some of the memories I had, you know?
Well, Ginger, it's been our pleasure having you here
to share your memories with us tonight.
Well, thank you, Selina. It's lovely to be here, darling.
-Thank you very much indeed.
-Thank you so much.
Ginger Rogers died four years after that interview, aged 83.
Fred Astaire had died in 1987, aged 88.
And they were both buried
in the same memorial cemetery in California.
On each occasion, their passing had people once again remembering
and praising the magical chemistry of the unique partnership.
Astaire, everyone agreed,
was one of the greatest dancers of all time.
And Rogers, as one famous quote declared,
"Did everything Astaire could do, but backwards, and in heels."
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
A retrospective look at television appearances made over the years by legendary Hollywood double act Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, capturing the milestones and highlights of their lives and careers.
Narrated by Sylvia Syms.