The dress, a black chiffon froth of ruffles and pleats, was made for dancing, but its occupant insisted on remaining earthbound. Ginger Rogers didn't dance, didn't sing at the Library of Congress reception in her honor last night. She just accepted the verbal bouquets, curled the lips redder than any color appearing in nature into a smile and said things like, "Gosh! Thank you for coming!"
Ginger Rogers is the kind of star who, at 73, still says "gosh." She is the kind of star who, at 73, still has hair falling in what can only be described as golden locks. And she is the kind of star who sends some people into reveries of adoration.
"I am a Ginger Rogers fan from many, many years ago," said Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.).
"I don't know anyone who wasn't," said playwright and former ambassador Clare Boothe Luce, "of my age and all the way down to 40."
"Don't bring up our age," said actor and band leader Buddy Rogers, no relation to Ginger, who was clad in silver hair and lavender blazer.
"She was infinitely graceful and there was a wholesomeness and girlish quality about her that was -- don't mind what I'm going to say," Luce said for Buddy's benefit, "very un-Hollywood."
It was Buddy Rogers, the husband of the late Mary Pickford, who had enabled Hatfield, Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin and about 50 others to spend a little time with Ginger, receiving kisses from those lips and watching some clips of Ginger in the Library's Mary Pickford Theater. Buddy and the Mary Pickford Foundation gave $500,000 to the Library two years ago, and each year he presents another $50,000 installment, as he did last night, along with an old pal or two.
"I brought Lillian Gish and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., darling," said Buddy, who was once known as "America's Boyfriend" and for whom no sentence ends without a "darling" or two. "All Mary's friends. I brought Janie Withers last year, darling."
Last night, there were other Hollywood acquaintances.
"An old friend from California," Ginger Rogers said as she patted USIA Director Charles Z. Wick's lapel with vermilion-nailed hands. "They were lucky to get the Wicks."
Nails, blond hair and all, Rogers is in the process of directing her first show, a production of Rodgers and Hart's "Babes in Arms" in Tarrytown, N.Y. She spent a few minutes trying to persuade Kennedy Center chairman Roger Stevens to see the show's opening night. He didn't promise anything.
Ginger is given to a certain "What's-All-the-Fuss-About?" manner that manages to traverse the distance between modest and feisty with a quick twirl.
"It's like the old thing," she said of her directing job, "when someone asks you to dance, you say yes."
But she was also careful to drop, in an aside to the audience soon after they saw her sweep around a polished floor in the arms of Fred Astaire, "I made four movies to one of Fred's."
"These people are just indestructible, aren't they?" said Boorstin as Ginger and Buddy were ushered out of the theater. Waiting at the door was Roberta Olden, Ginger's secretary of eight years, who earlier in the party remained at a distance both respectful and within hearing range, holding two wine glasses, one her own and one marked with a faint shadow of the bright red lips.
"The first time I saw her, I was 6 years old," said Olden. "It was 'Annie Get Your Gun.' She was doing summer theater and my sister took me and that was it. I've met three presidents. I've been to the Academy Awards twice. I've had dinner with a lot of famous people. Some cabbies will give her the ride free because they've been so enamored of her. It's a thrill when you meet your idol face to face."