Book Review: Ginger: Salute To A Star

Friday, March 8, 2019

I had not yet known of this biography's existence before a recent visit to Larry Edmunds bookstore in Hollywood. I was excited at the prospect of a book written about Ginger but not by Ginger. I was looking forward to a fresh perspective and that is just what I got.

Ginger: Salute To A Star begins at Waterloo Station in London, setting the scene for Ginger's arrival for the stage production of Mame at the Drury Lane Theater. Richards immediately provides background trivia on the show and how it came to be. Ginger's stage work can sometimes be swept under the rug in favor of stronger interest in her film partnership with Fred Astaire, so it was really nice to read about something new for a change.

After touching on her arrival in London, Richards backtracks to Ginger's early career in vaudeville and her life growing up near the stage. However, the author mentions that Ginger's father died and that she was the second of three children. It is important to note that this book was published in 1969. Ginger would not tell her personal story until 1991, in which she clarifies that her father did not die, he was simply out of the picture after the scary kidnapping incident and was never an active presence in her life. Most papers from back then state that her father died. This was likely an intentional tactic so that her real father, or even someone claiming to be, might not come forward. In her own book, Ginger briefly talks about the death of Lela's first child, and this is the only sibling she mentions.

I really enjoyed this excerpt from Richards' book that discusses Ginger's life on the road during her vaudeville shows. It gives an impressive visual of what her days in the later 1920s were like: "Life for Ginger became a montage of stuffy trains, clattering wheels, poky dressing rooms, snatched meals at stations, rehearsals, band calls, changes of costume, tiny hotels, new people, different theaters, different audiences, early train calls, packing. It may not have been the most refined University but, by heaven she learned about show business and life."

From there, the author breaks down her filmography by providing short summaries for each picture as well as his opinions on many of them. What I really appreciated is how respectful Richards was of Ginger and Lew Ayres' marriage complications and eventual divorce. Ginger was a private person when it came to many aspects of her life, and did not like to elaborate on her marriages, not even in her own autobiography. Richards does not state items as facts, only speculations. For example, he writes, "Perhaps eventually Ginger's boundless energy and capacity for life and living began to clash with Lew's more introspective, quieter attitude."

The author also does not make a huge deal about the ostrich feather dress incident during the filming of Top Hat, which I appreciated. This was an event that I think these days gets incredibly over-exaggerated. Some people blow it out of proportion and like to use it as a way to support rumors that Fred and Ginger did not get along, which could not be farther from the truth.

Once the bulk of her filmography has been covered, Richards takes us through her return to Broadway in Love and Let Love. This is where the meat of the story I was personally looking forward to begins. Those looking to learn more about Ginger's overall film career will find this book highly informative, but for me I was mainly excited to learn more about her career off the screen. This included descriptive chapters about her television engagements, summer stock, her appearance as Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly!, national tours and more.

Towards the end, Richards comes full circle and brings us back to Mame. He describes the star studded premieres and provides notices from the critics to get a better idea of what the publicity was like at the time. He wraps up the book with a montage of facts about Ginger, quotes her in several different interviews, and even gives background on her marriage to Bill Marshall, who she was still with when the book was published. He provides many first hand accounts from those who worked with Ginger, which was very nice and touching to read. Overall, I was very impressed with the research put into this book, especially at a time when information was not as easy to access and double check as it is with a simple Google search today. This is something I would absolutely recommend to Ginger fans everywhere who want something more after reading her own autobiography.

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1 comment

  1. Just ordered this on your recommendation. Can't wait to read it


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