Quote of the Week

Good morning, it’s Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, the day of the week when I unearth an uplifting or stimulating quotation. Today’s comes from a venerable Hollywood hoofer.

Eighty-seven years ago today, a building opened in New York City that was so spectacular visitors could imagine what the United States might look like again after the Great Depression. Despite the stock market crash, John D. Rockefeller Jr. had gone ahead with his plans to open a new venue for art and entertainment in midtown Manhattan. The first finished project within the sprawling complex was Radio City Music Hall, a name that still reverberates around the world.

David Sarnoff, head of a fledgling broadcasting outfit called the National Broadcasting Co., had coined the catchy appellation “Radio City.”

The result was a premiere on this date in 1932 that, while it lost its owner money, stamped Rockefeller’s new building as the place to go in New York — at prices most people could afford — to forget the troubles of everyday life.

The following year, the Radio City Hall Music Christmas Spectacular began its long run. Prohibition had been repealed, so many customers were in higher spirits during the 1933 holiday season. Putting them in the Christmas frame of mind was an eight-and-a-half-minute animated Walt Disney-produced version of “The Night Before Christmas.”

The first-run movie shown that year was “Flying Down to Rio,” starring a new song-and-dance man named Fred Astaire, partnered for the first time in this musical with 22-year-old Ginger Rogers.

Fred Astaire had been underwhelming in his screen test: RKO’s David O. Selznick called it “wretched” while disparaging Astaire’s large ears — even while acknowledging his “tremendous” charm. Later, this tale morphed into a Hollywood legend that the summary on Astaire’s screen test was “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Balding. Can dance a little.” This story seems apocryphal, but Astaire later said it was true, and that the exact language was: “Can’t act. Slightly bald. Also dances.”

Astaire and Rogers weren’t the stars of “Flying Down to Rio,” but they stole the picture. Fifty-five years later, at the Democratic National Convention, future Texas Gov. Ann Richards would get a laugh by invoking the female half of that famous duo as a feminist icon. “If you give us a chance, we can perform,” Richards said. “After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”

It was a good line, but real-life Ginger Rogers acquitted herself with distinction in the battle of the sexes — and in other battles as well. A life-long Republican, she was raised by a mother who had her own career in newspapers and movies and who was one of the first women to join the United States Marine Corps. Her famous daughter was married five times (but never to Fred Astaire), fought hard for equitable pay in her movies, became wealthy through her own shrewd investments, had close women friends such as Bette Davis and Lucille Ball, and directed her first picture in her mid-70s.

As for Fred Astaire, he overcame those big ears and balding pate by dint of his uncommonly elegant dancing.  And while he and Rogers were never linked romantically, their on-screen chemistry was undeniable. It was based on shared talent and mutual self-confidence. “I loved Fred so, and I mean that in the nicest, warmest way: I had such affection for him artistically,” Rogers once said. “I think that experience with Fred was a divine blessing. It blessed me, I know, and I don’t think blessings are one-sided.”

And that’s your quote of the week.

Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)
ccannon@realclearpolitics.com

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