While timing's off a tad, award still moves the dancer

HONORED TO BE HERE

December 07, 1992|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,Staff Writer

Memo from Ginger Rogers to Macaulay Culkin: Keep up th good work, kid.

The Hollywood legend who never made a move the camera didn't like condemns most movies today as "sordid and ugly," but gives a rare thumbs up to "Home Alone" and can't wait to see the sequel.

As for the pint-sized actor, she says, "He has a good chance to be a very credible actor in the film business."

Ms. Rogers' own accomplishments were celebrated over the weekend when she and several other stars received annual awards from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington for their contribution to the country's cultural life.

In some ways, the honor was bittersweet for Ms. Rogers since her dancing partner, Fred Astaire, received the same recognition more than a decade ago.

"I think it's wonderful that I'm receiving it. I say better late than never," she said during a recent phone interview from her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

She'll be in Baltimore today to help dedicate the new Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Retired Persons affiliated with Govans Presbyterian Church. And this evening she'll attend a Ginger Rogers gala at the Senator Theatre that ends with a screening of "Kitty Foyle," the film for which she won the Best Actress Oscar in 1940.

Although she's selective about her public appearances, she decided to come to Baltimore because of the nature of this event. "They're gathering money for a church. And I like the idea of that," says Ms. Rogers, a Christian Scientist.

At 81, her voice is raspy and sometimes inaudible over the whir of a motorized wheelchair she now uses. Yet the moxie of the Missouri-born Virginia Katherine McMath who became the glamorous star of some 73 films remains.

She can't remember the last time she saw herself in one of her movies, although when guests ask to see them, she obliges.

"I'm always struck by the fact that the photography is quite interesting in black and white. I think it tells a story better. But the younger generation, the more red and green and blue and orange they see on the screen, the better they like it. I can't say I agree."

The one answer that still eludes her is exactly why she got into acting and dancing in the first place. Her career began as a

teen-ager after she won a Texas dance contest for doing the Charleston. For the next three years, she toured the vaudeville circuit. She graduated to the Broadway stage and major film stardom in the '30s and '40s.

While she made only 10 movies with Astaire, she's most remembered as his sidekick with the billowing gown and blond hair. Last year, she chronicled her Hollywood adventures in "Ginger: My Story."

"I'll tell you one thing," she says. "I think I was more qualified for this kind of life than anything else. . . . My stepfather played the piano by ear. I used to say I danced by ear."

Her trip to Washington reminded her of another more painful visit to the nation's capital years ago. After seeing President Ronald Reagan and signing autographs on the presidential yacht, she slipped down a ladder as she was leaving. Although she didn't break any bones, she's now in a wheelchair much of the time.

While this seems a particularly cruel fate for a woman who glided through her professional life, she says her faith has consoled her.

"But I've not decided that this is the way it's going to be forever," she says.

She's no longer able to play tennis or golf but keeps busy by reading the Bible, redecorating her California farmhouse and visiting her ranch in Oregon. Her closest friends are her assistant of 16 years and an aunt who also lives in California.

Ginger Rogers has had enough of this talk. She must go, she says, to paint her nails.

What color? "It's a happy shade. It looks like the inside of a watermelon."

As for the future, Ms. Rogers has not given up on the idea of acting again if the right part and the right leading man came along.

What about Macaulay Culkin?

She laughs softly and mulls over the idea.

"You know," she says, "he could do worse."

The dinner is $250 per person; Senator event is $35. For information, call (410) 880-2458.

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