Ginger Rogers, 83, the glamorous blonde who made dance floor magic with Fred Astaire in a string of unforgettable musicals and won an Academy Award as best actress for "Kitty Foyle," died April 25 at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Riverside County Coroner Veronica Martinez said only that Miss Rogers had died of what appeared to be natural causes.
Miss Rogers's career spanned 65 years in every field of show business, from vaudeville to television. During the 1940s, she was one of the highest-paid, most sought-after Hollywood stars, appearing in hits such as "Roxie Hart," "Tom, Dick and Harry," "The Major and the Minor," "Lady in the Dark" and "Weekend at the Waldorf."
She was most remembered for the blissful partnership with Astaire in sparkling musicals that brightened Depression-era America. He in top hat and tails, she in a flowing gown, they glided over polished floors in a perfect display of grace and romance.
She once called their teaming "just a wonderful happening. It wasn't planned. I thought it turned out to be magic. I was told even in the first picture people could see something was happening."
In most of their 10 films together, Astaire was the smitten pursuer and she was the reluctant beauty. Despite the air of romance, there were no love scenes. In her 1991 autobiography, Miss Rogers claimed that Astaire's wife, Phyllis, didn't want him kissing other women.
Miss Rogers continued to perform her musical show into her late seventies, until ill health forced her to use a wheelchair. Even so, she toured extensively to promote her autobiography, "Ginger: My Story." She also continued to receive honors at film festivals and tributes -- the most notable being the Kennedy Center Honors in December 1992.
Her hard-driving mother, Lela Rogers, managed Miss Rogers's career from the beginning to the glory years, steering her onto the vaudeville and Broadway stages and battling Hollywood studio bosses. It was Lela Rogers who introduced Miss Rogers to Christian Science, which provided her with lifelong solace.
The career seemed to be everything. Miss Rogers married and divorced five times. She had no children.
"I yearned for a long, happy marriage with one person," she wrote. "But my life has been blessed in so many other ways that I wanted to share the good times and the hard times with a public that has shown me unbounded appreciation and loyalty."
She was born Virginia Katherine McMath on July 16, 1911, in Independence, Mo. Her father had abandoned his pregnant wife.
A cousin couldn't pronounce Virginia, and the name came out "Ginja." It was Ginger thereafter, and Miss Rogers adopted her stepfather's last name when she began performing.
Lela Rogers worked on the Fort Worth Record newspaper as a reviewer, and her daughter met many of the touring vaudeville stars. Eddie Foy Jr., a member of the Seven Little Foys, taught her the new dance craze, the Charleston. "He gave me my ticket into show business," Miss Rogers recalled.
She won the prize as Charleston Champion of Texas and soon was touring the country in a vaudeville act created by her mother, "Ginger Rogers and Her Redheads." Her first New York engagement was with the Paul Ash orchestra at the Paramount Theater. She began appearing in musical short films and, on Christmas 1929, opened in a Broadway musical, "Top Speed."
Miss Rogers began her movie career in 1930 with Paramount's "Young Man of Manhattan." It was a secondary role as a society flapper, but she made a strong impression, especially with her line: "Cigarette me, big boy." The phrase became part of the vernacular.
"Girl Crazy," a tune-filled Gershwin musical in 1930, established Miss Rogers's stardom, despite the sensation created by Ethel Merman singing "I Got Rhythm." During rehearsals, the producers were dissatisfied with the "Embraceable You" number and called in the expert help of Astaire, then starring on Broadway with his sister, Adele. Astaire watched the routine in the theater lobby and said, "Here, Ginger, try it with me."
It was the first Astaire-Rogers dance. They later went dancing at the Casino in Central Park, but no romance ensued.
She had made 20 films before they joined on "Flying Down to Rio" in 1933; he had appeared in one.
In her book, Miss Rogers dealt with the legends about her relationship with Astaire. She emphasized that he was no Svengali and that they didn't hate each other, "despite occasional snits."
"We had fun, and it shows," she wrote. "True, we were never bosom buddies off the screen; we were different people with different interests. We were a couple only on film."
Besides "Rio," their musicals for RKO Studio were "The Gay Divorcee," "Roberta," "Top Hat," "Follow the Fleet," "Swing Time," "Shall We Dance?" "Carefree" and "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle." By 1939, the Astaire-Rogers vogue had run its course, and their careers separated.
They had one reunion in 1949. Gene Kelly broke a leg, and Astaire came out of retirement to replace him in "The Barkleys of Broadway," a musical about a battling star couple. Then co-star Judy Garland became ill, and Miss Rogers took over her role.
After the first breakup of the team, some industry observers believed Miss Rogers's career would languish without Astaire. She defied them by playing a dramatic role in "Kitty Foyle" that won her the Oscar.
After reading the Christopher Morley novel about a working girl, she declined the project because of explicit love scenes. But she changed her mind when the script proved more acceptable to the film industry's self-censorship code.
Miss Rogers's film career thrived for 25 years because of her adaptability to the times. In early movies such as "42nd Street," "Hat Check Girl" and "Sitting Pretty," she often was a wisecracking, gum-chewing modern woman.
She proved herself with comedy and romance in the musicals with Astaire and with drama in "Kitty Foyle," "I'll Be Seeing You," "Tender Comrade" and "Storm Warning." She could be down-to-earth in "Roxie Hart" and "Primrose Path" or sophisticated in "Lady in the Dark" and "Forever Female." An essentially modern woman, she seemed unsuited for costume movies. Her one venture, as Dolly Madison in "Magnificent Doll," was a failure.
Miss Rogers's last film was in 1965 as Jean Harlow's mother in one of two quickly made versions of the star's life.
In interviews, she expressed her distaste for the new frankness in Hollywood films. "We made happy pictures that people enjoyed seeing, not the kind that audiences have to go through a trauma to see nowadays," she said.
In movies, Miss Rogers created the impression of a bright, wholesome, assertive woman. That was the way she appeared in real life.
In keeping with her faith, she neither smoked nor drank. The bar in her home served ice cream sodas, not liquor.
Her romances included Hollywood notables such as Howard Hughes and Jimmy Stewart. At 17, she married Edward Jackson Culpepper, an older man who was a vaudeville comedian known as Jack Pepper. She divorced him two years later. She married Lew Ayres in 1934, when both their stars were rising in Hollywood. Their careers kept them apart, and they divorced in 1940.
Her other marriages were to actor Jack Briggs (1943-1948); French actor Jacques Bergerac (1953-1957); and actor-producer William Marshall (1961-1970).
In her later years, Miss Rogers divided her time between her 400-acre ranch on the Rogue River in Oregon and a home in California. CAPTION: GINGER ROGERS