Jul 8, 2006

The Ginge & Stany Birthday Bash

Banks are closed. Post offices won't be open, either. Most people will relax and enjoy July 16th as the holiday that legions of classic cinema fans recognize it to be, making the most of their time off of work.

Well, it could be that it's a Sunday, too - but I'd like to think it's America's way of paying homage to two of its finest examples of the classic Hollywood actress. July 16 marks the birthday of not only gorgeous blonde hoofer Ginger Rogers, but also of tough-as-nails screen siren (and later, small-screen matriarch) Barbara Stanwyck: it's practically a made-to-order holiday for me.

Bright, sassy, and beautiful, Stanwyck and Rogers both exemplified the archetypical, multi-faceted star of the 1930's and early '40's. Barbara may have played the stripper to Gary Cooper's prim professor (1941's Ball of Fire is a surefire classic) and sure, Ginger was somewhat the female Fred Astaire in oh, say, 9 films, but each delivered darker, richer performances in more demanding dramas, like Rogers' Kitty Foyle and Stanwyck's famous Wilder-directed Double Indemnity. I don't mean to downplay their lighter, more comedic roles, either: Depression-era audiences were as enthralled with Ginger's golden locks and gorgeous gams as the critics were impressed with her serious turns - and her legacy, preserved on film for posterity and newly released on dvd, is inarguably a vividly great one.

Barbara Stanwyck, meanwhile, is a fascinating study - though unconventionally beautiful and possessing a seemingly unfathomable resevoir of talent, she is somewhat forgotten to all but the most ardent fans of classic movies, a paradox as an esoteric celebrity. She turned out some deliciously scandalous pre-code pictures like Night Nurse (1931) and Baby Face (1933) before creating onscreen classics such as the weep-inducing Stella Dallas, 1944's Double Indemnity, and, in 1941, three delightfully daring (and different) movies: Ball of Fire, The Lady Eve, and Meet John Doe. Sociable, kind, and refreshingly down-to-earth, Stanwyck was highly esteemed among her co-stars and valued by the studio bosses and directors she worked with, who particularly noted her on-set patience and strong work ethic.

So I urge you to salute these two vivacious and unforgettable stars next weekend, by any means as unique as the women themselves - I, for one, plan to spend a rare day indoors reveling in air conditioning, Irving Berlin soundtracks, and the incomparable Ms. Stanwyck in a parade of fur coats and seductive double entendres. It doesn't matter how you remember these women...just remember them.

Discussion Junction: What's your favorite non-Astaire Ginger Rogers movie? Your favorite Barbara Stanwyck flick? Do you own any of these women's films?

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