Remembering Lela Rogers

Friday, May 25, 2018

It's no secret that Ginger shared an unbreakable bond with her mother Lela. This is clearly apparent in the way the two speak about each other in interviews, and from the way Ginger so highly regards Lela throughout the pages of her 1991 autobiography.

Lela in 1938
Lela was the strongest player in Ginger's career. She encouraged Ginger to pursue acting, but only when she felt she was ready. She was in charge of many aspects of Ginger's professional life, and offered her advice and guidance as a manager and teacher. In addition, Lela provided insight into Ginger's personality through interviews, something I find incredibly valuable today, considering Ginger was a fairly private person and often didn't go into too much detail about her personal life. I rely on Lela's accounts and memories greatly when seeking to further understand Ginger's character.

It is very easy to see where Ginger got her strong-willed nature and determination, as Lela was not one to back down from anything. A very confident woman, she also possessed a great deal of courage. She was not intimidating, but when she spoke, people listened. She was petite and feminine, yet fierce and unyielding. Perhaps one of the most simple but accurate ways to describe Lela lies in the title of this Rosalind Shaffer column from 1945:

Another important element Lela introduced to her daughter was religion. Both women were devout Christian Scientists with very firm beliefs. Religion played a significant role throughout each of their lives, and became especially valuable to Ginger after Lela's death.

At the time of Lela's passing, Ginger was busy with her traveling nightclub act The Ginger Rogers Show. She was struggling to afford nurses and extra care for her mother, who had fallen ill. She had a contract to perform at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey that May in 1977, and had conflicting thoughts about leaving her mother. She knew she needed the money to provide for Lela, but she was terrified at the thought of being apart from her during such a difficult time. Nevertheless, Lela encouraged her to go.

On May 25, Ginger was in New Jersey preparing for a show when she received the tragic news of her mother's death. "I could never bear to think of the day when I would have to say goodbye to my mother; now it had come and I wasn't even with her. I didn't know what to do. I was in a fog. I turned my thoughts to God and prayed."

Lela was her world, and although traumatized by this loss, Ginger found through God the strength she needed to pick herself up and go on to give an outstanding performance on stage that evening to a welcoming audience. When asked how this was possible, she always stated that it is what her mother would have wanted, and it is what she signed up to do.

It's one thing to read about someone, but it's another to know them personally. One can only imagine what Lela must have been like in life, but through Ginger's memories, it is easy to tell that she must have been an angel. So that is exactly how I will continue to carry on her memory as well: a ray of light and guidance to many people she crossed paths with, and as Ginger's own hero.

Lela and Ginger

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