Mother Of A Teenage Rebel

Friday, June 4, 2021


Ginger Rogers and Betty Lou Keim in Teenage Rebel. Photo: Park Circus

Seeing as the Turner Classic Movies network is spotlighting teenage screen rebels on Thursdays this month, what better title from Ginger’s extensive filmography to write about than the 1956 drama Teenage Rebel? This film features Ginger portraying the mother of movie newcomer Betty Lou Keim, and is one of the very small selection of titles where we get to watch Ginger act as a mom. It is my best guess that not everyone reading this post right now has had the chance to see Teenage Rebel, as it is one of her lesser known and later films. Most have likely witnessed Ginger’s motherly acting skills in Bachelor Mother (1939), where she unexpectedly plays parent to a newborn that is not biologically hers, but comes to cherish the responsibility.

Teenage Rebel features themes far different than Bachelor Mother, but are still somewhat parallel in their own unique ways. Here we get to see Ginger’s character having to deal with the drama that comes along with a reluctant teenage daughter who she now must take on the responsibility of after not seeing her for years. Dodie (Betty Lou Keim) has been separated from her mother while living with her father in another country, and is now being transferred to live with her mom and her mom’s family that consists of her step-father (Michael Rennie), and a young step-brother (Rusty Swope). The drama of Ginger’s character attempting to make amends with her daughter is what drives the plot, as Dodie gets herself into typical defiant scenarios along the way.

Teenage Rebel was originally an Edith Sommers play titled A Roomful of Roses, and opened in 1955 starring Patricia Neal. 20th Century Fox soon purchased the rights with the intention of starring Ginger. According to studio correspondence, Ginger was concerned about her looks in the film. She wanted her character, Nancy Fallon, to be glamorous like her audience had been used to seeing her over the years. However, the Fox team disagreed. An unsigned note from June 1956 states: “She mustn’t look too soign√©, too glamorous Hollywood star. It will injure us immeasurably with the critics, and with the public if she does. The more casual her appearance, the better. Give us, much of the time, Ginger Rogers as she looks when she comes off the tennis court after three or four sets.”

It makes sense that Ginger would hope her characters could maintain their glamour. As with most female Hollywood stars who were reaching their 40s and 50s around this time, it was often difficult to come to terms with the fact that the days of being cast as the young dancer, new mother, or adolescent honeymooner were coming to a close as Hollywood reached an era of newcomers to the screen. Instead of playing the young girl who could transform her identity into a small child holding a balloon on a train in order to travel half-fare, we now get to see Ginger as a matured mother of two who must navigate the challenges and responsibilities of guiding her argumentative teenager.

I enjoy this movie. I think it showcases such a wonderful a side to Ginger’s acting skills: the mature, casual elegance that she maintained throughout many of her films of the 1950s, and that is what charms me so much about Nancy Fallon. Fans of her works with Fred Astaire will appreciate a small ode to her dancing career manifested in a scene in which she is dancing around the backyard with co-star Michel Rennie. Her dancing roles on screen had become less and less by this time, her most recent being The Barkley’s of Broadway seven years before Teenage Rebel, but it is clear to see she still possessed that same playfulness. Teenage Rebel is currently available on streaming services such as Prime Video, YouTube Movies, and Apple TV.

Ginger Rogers with Michael Rennie in Teenage Rebel

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