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Ginger Rogers From 42nd Street To Cinderella, Via Chicago

by Mark Zimmer

As a few of Rogers' movies have finally hit DVD, and dOc talks about her films and the digital medium with one of the people who knew her best.

Roberta Olden acted as personal assistant to Ginger Rogers for 18 years, from 1978 until Rogers' death in 1995. During that time, she also helped Miss Rogers complete her autobiography, doing necessary research and typing as Rogers dictated. dOc recently spoke to Olden about some of Rogers' films finally being released on DVD.

dOc: Other than James Cagney, Ginger Rogers seems to be the most underrepresented major Hollywood star on DVD.

Roberta Olden: Yeah, I'm disappointed about that too. But I've heard through other friends that George Feltenstein at Warner Bros. is planning to do the musical series from RKO to come out either at the end of this year or at the end of next. So I do know that those will come out quite soon, but as to why Kitty Foyle hasn't come out, or Stage Door or Tom, Dick and Harry and some of the other ones, I'm not quite sure. I think that whoever's in charge of that should get on the ball. I love 42nd Street, that's good, and there's what seems to be a bootleg copy of Heartbeat out there, but the quality on it is terrible; I wouldn't give you two cents. Shriek in the Night is okay. I did work with a gentleman over in London; I supplied him with photographs for a DVD series on Ginger and Fred over in England. That came out in November, but that's Region 2, for PAL. So hopefully they'll do another series of another four films over there so those people will be able to enjoy it. That's nice, but let's get going over here.

dOc: That would be good. Whenever classic films come up the inevitable question follows as to where the Astaire & Rogers pictures are.

RO: Oh, sure, I've seen that many times. It's my understanding that they're trying to remaster them completely in a digital format and get rid of all of the skips and whatever so they'll be perfect viewing, as best you can, on a DVD. So that's the technical side of what's going on.

dOc: I'd heard some rumors that Mrs. Astaire had some sort of control over those pictures; is there anything to that?

RO: Well, from my understanding of it, I don't see how that's possible. She has control over Fred's image as it pertains to clips, but a whole movie is a whole movie, and I don't think his contract calls for him to own rights to any other kind of media, but you'd have to check that out. I'd say that would not be correct; I certainly hope not.

dOc: One of the pictures that just came out on DVD was Roxie Hart, from 1942.

RO: I just got it. I wanted to see what the extra features were on it. They show two of the theatrical trailers. The film looks like it's in very good quality, so I'm happy and pleased about that. But I was disappointed that there wasn't more background information. I know there are a couple of clips in the 20th Century vault that have outtakes and also one of Ginger doing another dance that was cut from the film, so I was hoping they'd put some of that in there. I guess beggars can't be choosers in some instances. [Note: Some of this deleted material can be found on 20th Century Fox's DVD Hidden Hollywood 2, including the dance sequence.] But it looks really nice. And the same thing on 20th Century Fox's We're Not Married.

dOc: Can you tell me a bit about the filming of Roxie Hart?

RO: When they were beginning to shoot the film, one Sunday was December 7, 1941, and the next day of course everyone was glued to their radios trying to figure out what was going on, so that was pretty traumatic. She told me she was rather insistent that the studio find her a metal staircase for her to do her tap dance. As you can tell by looking at the film, it turned out quite well. She had that surface to dance on, and she said that Gwen Verdon wanted to do something very similar when she did the musical Chicago in 1975, the first time, but I don't think they were able to accomplish that. But at least Miss Rogers was able to do it the way she wanted on that. She had worked with the choreographer, Hermes Pan, obviously a long time, so they knew what to do. It turned out quite well; it's always been a favorite moment in that film for me.

dOc: She's got quite a supporting cast in that film too.

RO: Oh yeah, terrific. George Montgomery, Adolphe Menjou, Sara Allgood, George Chandler—of course, that guy is everywhere. Nigel Bruce—it's too bad that his part was so dramatically cut. Every so often I look at the scripts that she has—I don't know if they were shooting scripts or original scripts—but he had a much bigger part. I guess they had to cut out some scenes of his. He kind of got left behind.

dOc: Do you recollect what was missing?

RO: There was more of Nigel Bruce coming to see her in jail and acting more like an agent, more than those few brief scenes at the beginning. I think the end was a little different also, but I can't recollect what it was. I know I've seen pictures of it, and it doesn't just end in a car. That's a little bit different as well. It would have been nice, when you see DVDs of films nowadays, they have so much information: alternate endings, deleted scenes, and things like that. It would be interesting to find out if they have deleted scenes from a lot of these old films and stick them in there. But I'm happy it came out even if it just came out because of Chicago. I don't know if that was the reason why, but certainly I'm prejudiced against the two versions. I like Roxie Hart better.

dOc: One of the others that came out this week was, as you mentioned, We're Not Married.

RO: Right. She didn't have too much to say about that, other than it was a nice opportunity to work with a good comedian in Fred Allen and some other people, but perhaps it was just a job and not something extremely special. I know that she enjoyed working it.

dOc: She seems to have a really good chemistry with Fred Allen.

RO: They do; they play off each other quite a bit. Their scenes really do sparkle.

dOc: Another one from the same year, 1952, came out a while ago, mostly thanks to the fact that it too has Marilyn Monroe in it, Monkey Business.

RO: Right, The Marilyn Collection. She really loved making that one because she and Cary Grant were such very good friends, and you can certainly see the chemistry in their scenes together, and I know she had a lot of fun making that. She did say that one time the monkeys got loose on the set when they were filming that [scene] in the board room, and a lot of time was spent trying to get him back down out of the rafters.

dOc: Was that the only time she worked with Howard Hawks?

RO: I think so. She was supposed to do Ball of Fire, but she turned that one down. She was also asked to do His Girl Friday, so that would have been two other opportunities to work with him. She would have been great in His Girl Friday. That was something she may have wanted to rethink; I know there were a couple of them out there that she wished she could have done but changed her mind. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

dOc: And then one of the last projects she worked on was Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella.

RO: Yeah, for TV. I really don't know how she got involved in that. I'm not sure if that was filmed in Los Angeles or New York. I know she was working in Hello Dolly at the time, or maybe it was just prior to her going into that production. That was a nice part; people certainly remember her being the Queen, I do know that. It'd be interesting to hear what Stuart Damon or Lesley Anne Warren would have to say about working with her.

dOc: You had mentioned 42nd Street earlier.

RO: Of course, that was one of the early musicals, in '33, and she had a nice part in that. I think she was also dating Mervyn LeRoy at the time, so it was nice that he was able to find a good spot for her in a really big musical like that. She had a nice song with Una Merkel, Shuffle Off to Buffalo. That worked out well for her. Of course her famous line as Anytime Annie, that's priceless no matter how you look at it. "She only said no once, and she didn't hear the question." I know that she was disappointed in later years when that film was to be released in a colorized version. She was very much against that and went to Washington DC before a Senate Committe hearing on that, having to do with copyrights. She was very opposed to that happening. I know one of her other films actually had that happen. There was a version of Bachelor Mother that came out that was colorized, and it certainly was not an acceptable-looking film. So I guess the powers-that-be decided that it was not really the thing to do because you don't see those happening any more. It was a learning experience for her, and 42nd Street shot her on to bigger and better things, so that was good, too.

dOc: Do you know whether there are any other deleted scenes for these other films?

RO: I'm sure that in some vault there are other scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor, but I would love to think there's something of the musicals still available that she made with Fred or the others, but I really don't know. It's not something that has ever surfaced before, so it's kind of doubtful if there are extra scenes out there, but it sure would be a nice little surprise.