Steps Gingerly

This one was Fiona’s idea.

In the magnificent THE RKO STORY episode dealing with Astaire & Rogers’ careers at that studio, some amusing anecdotes are spieled out concerning the dresses Ginger wore and the problems they caused Fred in their dance numbers ~

The feather dress which would shed light strands across the art deco set, and over Fred’s immaculate tux, befouling it in his eyes.

And the beaded dress with long sleeves which would savagely slap Fred’s face when he swung Ginger around.

But there were other dresses too, of which the documentarists are silent, their existence a closely guarded lie secret. Come with me now as I lead you into the vaults where the programme-makers sealed their unused footage.

Camera assistant Freck Pealy: “Oh sure, Ginger would come up with some screwy ideas for dresses. One problem was, you couldn’t always light ’em. One dress she wanted to wear, it was all made o’ mirror. The whole thing, top to bottom, was one big lookin’ glass. Well [director] Mark Sandrich took one look at it and said, ‘Ginger, we can’t use it. You can see the camera reflected in your tits.’ Ginger didn’t like that, she stormed off, but he got his way.”

Art director Munroe Streeves: “Another time there was a different kind of problem. Ginger would seize upon an idea and have a costume made, and although it would look pretty, she couldn’t dance in it. like the stone dress.”

Interviewer Leslie Megahey: “Stone dress?”

Streeves: “I think it was granite. About a foot thick. It all fitted together on grooves and she had to be cemented into it. Her arms were free, and her feet stuck out the bottom, and it was quite low-cut. Or low-carved, I should say. Well, once she had it on, they winched her up onto her feet, and she cried, ‘Stop, it’s too heavy!’ It would have crushed her feet, that thing, and her feet were insured for $100,000, back when that was a lot of money. So after that [producer] Pandro Berman stepped in and said any costumes had to be cleared by him first. Ginger didn’t like that, but she had to go along with it.”

Executive producer Pandro S. Berman: “Some of the craziest ideas for dresses landed on my goddamn desk. She had one idea, molten gold. Had some scientist schmoe from UCLA said he could fix it up so it wouldn’t burn her to death. Something to do with cool air circulating inside. I put the brakes on that one, I can tell you. And then there was some plan to use human skin. Different colours, you know? Well, the idea was at least feasible, but we couldn’t get the material. If this had been wartime it might have been different.”

Fred Astaire: “Sometimes I had to put my foot down. Bernard [Newman, costume designer] would come to Ginger with these schemes. Like a suit of armour with a mace built in. Well, after the business with theĀ beaded sleeves I wasn’t about to accept that. There was the electrical dress. They wanted to feed cables up through the floor to make it sparkle. Ginger would have been insulated inside it, but as I said, ‘How am I supposed to take her in my arms?’ It was very… imaginative, but they hadn’t thought it through.”

Ginger: “I still think some of those dresses would have been sensational on the screen. One idea I came up with myself, which the studio was interested in, we couldn’t do because the Breen Office objected. The costume was basically an x-ray screen, and you would have seen my skeleton as I danced. I thought that would be very beautiful, you know, with the bones moving. But the censors said it was too revealing.”

Megahey: “Were any of these costume ideas ever used elsewhere?”

Ginger: “You couldn’t, you know, because they were all owned by the studios. The clockwork dress was one I was extremely keen on, it was all made of metal and powered by machinery. I sat inside at a control console, operating it. I eventually did see something similar in a movie, but I guess studios just weren’t thinking that way back then.”

Megahey: “What was the movie?”

Ginger: “I think it was called Robot Jox. Something like that.”

5 Responses to “Steps Gingerly”

  1. Yes, a lot of very interesting stuff about the debt Robot Jox owes Ginger Rogers. Remember the chainsaw-between-the-legs dress she had to wear for “Yukon Hoo-Ha!” Although she didn’t dance in that one.

  2. Shame on you. You have now filled me with the urge to watch the Peter Strauss opus, “Spacehunter – Adventures in the Forbidden Zone”. What is a geek to do?

  3. With Molly Ringwald, right? Can I recommend Aldo Lado’s The Humanoid? Lado is significant not just for having helmed the excellent Short Night of Glass Dolls, but for having a surname that’s an anagram of his first name. Something that can’t be said of Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

  4. spacehunter – adventures in the forbidden zone is pretty good. it takes place mostly on a barren, featureless planet. it wasn’t supposed to be that way but their hand was forced because michael ironside had chewed all the scenery

  5. Chewed it into a fine powder, which he then snorted.

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