The room has been scented with a flowery perfume; there are four bouquets of roses and tulips on the dresser, and four pink suitcases placed tidily against the hotel room wall.Then Ginger Rogers makes her entrance, and seats herself at a small table. "You'll be all right," she tells a photographer. "You have front lighting."
The bed has been moved from its alcove under a canopy at her wish. "I cannot sleep in a hole, I'm not a mongoose," she explains.
Nearly 70, her hair is, in fact, ginger, curled under in the familiar pageboy. Blue eyes beam out from under heavy black eyelashes; her mouth is a slash of fuchsia. She's wearing a navy blue Ultrasuede jacket and navy slacks, and there's a blue chiffon scarf tied in a bow at her neck. Her fingernails are long red talons, and her expression one of ennui.
"Activity is life," she says, explaining why she has no intention of retiring. She was in Washington for the Gridiron dinner Saturday night, and for the Washington Performing Arts Society tea dance Sunday.
Vice President George Bush and his wife Barbara were honored guests at the tea dance. "You won't see me dance," Bush said as he entered the ballroom. "I wouldn't inflict that on anybody." But before too long, he was waltzing with Rogers, as the band played "What the World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love."
"Ginger has something to tell you," Bush said, beckoning a reporter. "He holds a girl just like Fred Astaire," she said, looking up at him. "And if I can dance more than four steps with him, I'll tell you if he dances like him, too." Bush laughed.
Rogers did not know she was expected to perform at the Gridiron, she said, but being something of a trouper who's been performing since she was a teen-ager in vaudeville, she expected to manage all right with her new lyrics to "Isn't It a Lovely Day to be Caught in the Rain."
"I've asked them to put the words on cards, though," she said before her rehearsal Saturday afternoon. "When you've been singing the same words for so long, it's practically impossible to forget them."
Her last film was in 1965, when she played Jean Harlow's mother in "Harlow." She made 68 films altogether, including "Kitty Foyle," for which she won an Academy Award, and the 10 musicals with Fred Astaire that earned her a permanent niche in film history.
She was typed as a wisecracker, a brash cutie, a perky blond. And she still delivers her lines funneled out the side of her mouth, her expression saying, "I think this is as dumb as you do, but let's have a little fun with it anyway."
Offstage, she was film land's "outdoor girl," according to one early article, a woman who "worked off her restless energy between films on the tennis court -- she was the type who leaped the net -- the golf links, or in her pool. . . She returned from shopping expeditions staggering under loads of golf clubs, badminton equipment and sports togs. She kept a medicine ball around the house . . . played the pipe organ, piano, accordion and xylophone."
There's no special secret to this energy, she says, "anyone can have it, if they want." In 1980, she took her night club act, "The Ginger Rogers Show, An Evening to Remember," which she's been doing since 1975, to Europe, South America, Australia, and all over the United States, and did 17 weeks in "Anything Goes." "Then I took three months off."
She has had five husbands, a marriage rate she thinks was definitely affected by her work.
"Any career woman who is married has a chance of having a SHAKE-UP in her marriage," she says. "And I say that in capital letters. Particularly if the woman has an attention-getting career. Very few men can take it. Now Margaret Thatcher's husband, he's just aglow with pride. I think he's marvelous. There's a man, a real man. It's outstanding when a man will allow his mate to be continually in the limelight and not have it pinch at him."
When she has time off, she lives in Rancho Mirage, Calif., or Eagle Point, Ore., "far from the maddening crowd," and throws herself into painting and potting and other crafts. She also, she says, "prays her way through the day."
"God's right here, you know why?" she says, gesturing around the room. "Because all of us are here. My belief in God gives me support, strength, substance, joy, happiness, health, friendship, life."
Earlier Saturday, one of her movies had been on television.It was "Storm Warning" (1951), in which her costars were Doris Day and . . . Ronald Reagan.
"I was a traveling saleslady," she explains, telling the story of the film. "I arrive in a little town, about 20,000 people, to visit my sister, Doris Day, and meet her new husband. When I get there the town is dark . . . there's nobody around. As she's looking around for a telephone, she hears a lot of running. She's in a place where they do not see her . . . it's the Ku Klux Klan."
She continues to tell the story, acting out dialogue, describing scenes. The character she played witnessed a murder, and the murderer turns out to be her sister's new husband. "And thereby hangs the tale," she finishes. Reagan played the district attorney.
She arrived at the $100-per-person tea dance -- a benefit for the WPAS Concerts in the Schools program -- wearing a bamboo-patterned chiffon dress with a handkerchief hem, escorted by a friend, local businessman Alex Dandy, who was wearing a white-on-white necktie. Her secretary followed her with a camera, snapping her picture with everyone.
"Who's that?" asked a woman passing by the ballroom. "Oh. Very good for 70 years old. Look at those high heels. Anyone else here famous?"