The Gay Divorcee
Unrated; Directed by Mark Sandrich; Starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Alice Brady, Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, Betty Grable
Magic can happen. An unlikely Broadway star and an ex-chorus girl dance one number together in Flying Down to Rio and the RKO Pictures studio executives decide to put the two performers in another movie. The unlikely pair was Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the movie was The Gay Divorcee, and movie history was made.
Astaire had been starring on Broadway in a Cole Porter musical called The Gay Divorce, so the studio purchased the rights to the play, threw out all the songs but one, changed the title by adding an extra “e” in order to please the censors, and started one of the most successful partnerships in film history. The plot is silly, as were all of the Astaire and Rogers movies, but it wasn’t the plot that made both Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers stars – it was the dancing. No one would have considered Fred Astaire wildly attractive, but he didn’t seduce with his looks. No, he swept a woman off her feet when he danced with her. And Ginger skillfully showed how it felt to be wooed by a seductive dance.
In The Gay Divorcee, Mimi Glossop (Ginger Rogers) is in need of a divorce from her schmuck of a husband. In desperation, she decides to hire a professional “co-respondent” (someone who plays the lover – they hadn’t heard of a “no fault” divorce back then). Of course, she mistakes Guy Holden (Fred Astaire) as the co-respondent and silly hi-jinks occur.
In support of its fledgling stars, RKO cast a gaggle of excellent comic actors, including Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore , Alice Brady, and Erik Rhodes, repeating the role he played on Broadway. There is some music too. “The Continental” was a 17-minute extravaganza and earned the very first Oscar® for Best Song in a movie. Other songs include “Let’s K-nock K-neez,” performed by a very young Betty Grable. Yet the masterpiece is the one Cole Porter song retained from the stage musical: “Night and Day.” It’s dancing to this song that Fred found a way to seduce not only Ginger, but audiences.
You can catch The Gay Divorcee as part of the NAU Film Series on Tuesday, February 10 at 7:00pm. The spring series, sponsored by The College of Arts and Letters and Cline Library, focuses on actors and actresses we all love. Other upcoming films in the series include To Kill a Mockingbird, It Happened One Night, and more. To find out more about the series go to http://www.cal.nau.edu/film/.
The Gay Divorcee is worth watching to see history being made. When the music starts and the dancing begins plucky Ginger and elegant Fred overcome the silly plots and discover a new way to seduce movie-goers.