Watching this (and fearing broken ankles with each loop) I can’t helping thinking about that old quote Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels.
But no, if you watch closely you’ll see she doesn’t even step on the last chair. That means she had to trust that fucker to lift her gently to the ground while he was spinning down onto that chair. That takes major guts. I’d be pissing myself and fearing a broken neck if I were in her place. Kudos to her.
Okay so this is true, but a tiny part of a wider truth.
Ginger Rogers was a FUCKING BADASS. Ignore for a sec the rampant sexism in Hollywood (they once bleached her hair blonde in wardrobe without telling her beforehand), the fact that she fought her whole career against typecasting and stereotyping from fellow actors (Katharine Hepburn famously said of the Astaire/Rogers partnership “she gave him sex. He gave her class” ) for starting out in musicals, and went on to have a career lasting over fifty years, winning a Best Actress Oscar (Kitty Foyle, 1940). But… JUST focusing on the Astaire movies…
Not only did she dance “backwards” in high heels, the dances were a task in themselves. Astaire was an absolute perfectionist and choreographed for himself, so as a younger, less experienced dancer Rogers came in at a disadvantage and worked her ass off to match him.
Then there’s the filming complications… these numbers were filmed in ONE TAKE. So one thing goes wrong and you have to start over. Maybe you make a mistake or maybe your dress flies up because…
Ginger had to contend with her wardrobe. Dancing in heels is the norm at this time, but dancing in a dress designed for cinema cameras… not so much. They were heavy, embellished, uncomfortable, restrictive and cumbersome and essentially a third member of the dance, strapped to the body of one partner.Not only did she have to dance and look good, she had to control the dress too!
Take this routine from Swing Time… (it gets going proper at 1:30ish)
This dress has weights, YES WEIGHTS, sewn in to the hem to make it fly out and create a visual effect. So it’s heavy, it hurts if it hits you, and your partner gets mad if it hits him. So you gotta control it.
Well it turns out all these factors on this set, this particular day aren’t going so well. So you’re doing take after take, here’s no labour laws, so at 4am after 18 hours you’re still going, even though part of the routine requires you to spin up those curved stairs with no rail at high speed….
Okay so now back to those high heels. In Ginger’s autobiography she vividly remembers this night as the night she bled though her shoes. They did so many takes, her feet blistered, bled, and the white satin high heels she was wearing finished he night pink because they were literally full of blood. And still they keep shooting. She keeps dancing.
The take they use in the film is the last. Early hours. Bloody feet. And she spins, acts and bosses out until that last second. Because she was that professional, talented and bloody minded. This is the last set of spins…
So I say once again. Ginger Rogers was a badass.
She did everything Fred Astaire did backwards, in high heels, wearing a 20 pound dress, exhausted, injured and standing in a pool of her own blood. And watching her perform, you would never know.