THE GAY DIVORCEE, Mark Sandrich, The Continental, Best Original Song (First Academy Award) 1934
An American woman travels to England to seek a divorce from her absentee husband, where she meets – and falls for – a dashing performer. Cast: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Alice Brady.
In this beloved musical, Mimi Glossop (Ginger Rogers) journeys to England to seek a divorce from her absentee husband. When Mimi meets dashing performer Guy Holden (Fred Astaire), sparks fly, and, most importantly, lavish song-and-dance numbers ensue. While romance and comedy factor into the film, the production is largely a showcase for the legendary talents of Rogers and Astaire, most notably displayed in an extended sequence during the third act.
Following an apparently accidental teaming in 1933’s Flying Down to Rio (a fun Dolores Del Rio vehicle), Fred and Ginger got their first starring feature a year later. It was based on J. Hartley Manners’ play ‘The Gay Divorce’. The Hays Office insisted on shoving an ‘e’ on the end, for how could a divorce be so trifling as to be gay? Some UK prints still run with the original title. RKO assembled a sparkling ensemble cast of top-flight farceurs, bringing together (in ascending order of sublimity) Eric Blore, Edward Everett Horton and Erik Rhodes (“Are you a union man?”). Mark Sandrich directs the thing with a maximum of fuss and style. Hermes Pan helped Fred choreograph the numbers.
The plot is suitably and delightfully trivial. Musical star Guy Holden (Fred) happens upon a girl (Ginger), falls desperately in love with her, then spends the rest of the picture trying to free himself from marvellously silly plot threads and Everett Horton’s exquisite quadruple-takes.
Keeping just one song from Cole Porter’s original score, the timeless ‘Night and Day’, and adding only four others, The Gay Divorcée is more a comedy with songs than it is a musical comedy. But what comedy – and what songs! ‘Looking For a Needle in a Haystack’ is a masterpiece of economy: Fred a whirlwind of frustrated love-struck energy as he spins around his hotel room lamenting his missing love in peerless style. “Men don’t pine,” he memorably concludes, “Women pine. Men … suffer.” Everett Horton’s rare excursion into song-and-dance territory is a breath of hysterical, liberating ludicrousness, as he knocks knees with a young Betty Grable. ‘Don’t Let It Bother You’, performed by a chorus of dancing girls (and dolls), then spectacularly reprised by a tapping Astaire, is another treat. ‘The Continental’, the film’s vast production number is peculiarly edited but sporadically fine and offers a fitting climax.
It’s exceptional fluff, the heady, heightened escapism that you don’t come close to often. An extravagantly mounted, joyous comedy played to perfection by two stars at their irresistible peak.
Ginger Rogers, was an American actress, dancer, and singer during the “Golden Age” of Hollywood and is often considered an American icon. She won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her starring role in Kitty Foyle, but is best remembered for performing during the 1930s in RKO’s musical films with Fred Astaire. Wikipedia
So, who was Fred Astaire’s favorite partner? As he told it in an interview toward the end of his life, it was Rita Hayworth. The two danced together in You Were Never Lovelier and You’ll Never Get Rich, and apparently, the friendly feeling was mutual.
His most memorable dancing partnership was with Ginger Rogers, with whom he co-starred in a series of ten Hollywood musicals. The American Film Institute named Astaire the fifth-greatest male star of Classic Hollywood cinema in 100 Years.
The dancing partner who made Fred Astaire famous isn’t the one most people remember. Fred, born in 1899, and his sister, Adele, a year his senior, were the children of an Austrian immigrant named Austerlitz who had settled in Omaha, Nebraska.
Fred Astaire was an American dancer, singer, actor, choreographer, and television presenter. He is widely considered the most influential dancer in the history of film. His stage and subsequent film and television careers spanned a total of 76 years.
Astaire landed a small role in 1933’s Dancing Lady with Joan Crawford. The part opened the door to new opportunities, and Astaire signed a contract with RKO Radio Pictures. He was matched up with another Broadway talent, Ginger Rogers, for Flying Down to Rio, also in 1933. Cast as supporting players, their dance number stole the movie. Astaire and Rogers appeared in several more films together, including The Gay Divorcee (1934) and Top Hat (1935). The duo became the film’s most beloved dance team. Their routines featured a hybrid of styles—borrowing elements from tap, ballroom, and even ballet.
Off-screen, Astaire was known for his relentless pursuit of perfection. He thought nothing of rehearsing a scene for days, and Rogers eventually tired of the grueling schedule. The pair went their separate ways after 1939’s The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. Years later, they reunited once more for 1949’s The Barkleys of Broadway. Wikipedia