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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Portraits of the Past: Local gal Ginger danced her way to fame

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  • This is the birthday of movie star Ginger Rogers. She was a local Kansas City area girl, born July 16, 1911, in Independence, Mo.
    Her acting career and dancing routines across the silver screen have made Hollywood history, and she hobnobbed and starred with all of the top named movie stars of her day, but she was best remembered for films she made dancing with Fred Astaire.
    There are many stories about Ginger Rogers, but one favorite was her first encounter with a president.
    According to her biography, “Ginger, My Story,” the office of the President of the United States called to ask if she would accept an invitation to honor Franklin D. Roosevelt’s birthday ball Feb. 4, 1936, in the Oval Office.
    “I was honored by the request,” Ginger wrote, “but I wasn’t sure I wanted to accept, but I was pressured by RKO into accepting the invitation.”
    Since this was before the days of television, the celebration was broadcast nationwide on the radio, and Roosevelt was prepared to give one of his famous speeches to the nation during the ceremonies.
    “When mother and I arrived at the Oval Office, we were seated next to the Secretary of Labor, Francis Perkins. The radio men were hovering around the president’s desk, adjusting microphones and wires. One of them said, 'We have about 10 or 12 minutes before you go on, Mr. President.'”
    “The president nodded and checked his watch, and then he looked in my direction,” Ginger wrote. “Beckoning to his aid, he whispered something in his ear. The aid turned to look at me, nodded his head, and walked over to my chair. He leaned down and whispered, ‘The President would like for you to dance for him.’”
    “I was dumbfounded. But, where would I dance?” she asked.
    The Oval Office floor was nearly smothered in a 2-inch, sink-your-heels-into-it type carpet, beautiful to look at but impossible to dance on.
    The aid pointed to a small section of exposed marble floor in front of the tall French doors.
    “There?” I said in a small voice.
    “Yes,” he answered in a semi-whisper.
    “So, what’s a girl supposed to do? I got up and walked over to the small molecule of marble. I was wearing a form fitting evening gown with 8-inch slits on both sides of the skirt. Two thin straps with an orchid corsage on my left shoulder.”
    “The marble felt cold and foreboding under my satin slippers. It also felt slippery, which worried me the most.”
    The music started with a slow waltz and she started to move in a graceful manner, then the music broke into a “Wild Rhythm” at breakneck speed.
    Page 2 of 2 - “Striving to find a middle ground of rhythm,” she wrote. “I came dangerously close to the 2-inch rug facing me. In whirling, I lost my balance and though I didn’t fall, the shoulder strap which held the heavy orchids on my left shoulder fell, dragging the front of my dress down with it. I grabbed the dress as fast as I could to keep from standing half naked in front of the president, but I wasn’t quite quick enough. Holding my corsage and the front of my dress clutched in my hands, I made a quick curtsy before the stunned audience and made straight for my chair, embarrassed beyond words.”
    When everything was over with, Roosevelt summoned her to his desk with a smile and graciously thanked her for dancing on such short notice.
    But, the neatest thing about Miss Rogers is she always called this her hometown, and came back to visit often.
     
    Information from "Ginger, My Story," by Ginger Rogers, was used in this column.
    To reach Ted W. Stillwell, email teddy.stillwell@yahoo.com, or (816) 252-9909.

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