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Ginger Rogers, 1911-1995

Nobody caught Ginger Rogers acting, partly because she disappeared into her roles completely, and partly because she rarely appeared in obscure, arty, or intellectually difficult movies.

Like Astaire, her natural habitat was the Hollywood extravaganza--especially the musical, although she did fine work in glossy, popular dramas, winning an Oscar as best actress in 1942 as the resilient heroine of Kitty Foyle, and in a number of romantic comedies, including Tom, Dick, and Harry, Once Upon a Honeymoon , and I'll Be Seeing You. The strangest was writer-director Billy Wilder's perverse 1943 film The Major and the Minor, in which she played an impoverished woman heading home to Iowa dressed as a 12-year-old (in order to save money on train fare) who falls for an Army officer (Ray Milland) employed at a military academy. Rogers' most enduring gift--her absolutely matter-of-fact delivery, which made the most preposterous scenes and lines believable--has rarely been showcased to better effect.

Ultimately, her ability to find the glamour in the girl next door--the dreamer inside the typing pool employee, the hungry ingenue inside the starstruck teen--forms the core of her appeal, and will guarantee her legacy. Even when she was absorbing quirky and outrageous characters through her pores, she was among the most real, the most seemingly approachable, of any of Hollywood's stars.

Pauline Kael, another great lady who makes bold tasks look easy, said it best: "She made American women marvelous.

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