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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Joan's encounter with Ginger Rogers' mother Lela

Lela Rogers (1891-1977) was a Hollywood screenwriter, publicist, and from 1938-1945 worked as an executive assistant at RKO.

The following is an excerpt from Ginger Rogers' autobiography "Ginger: My Story" (1991). (My notes in blue)

While I was working, my mother [Lela Rogers] also found an outlet for her abundant energies and talent. Mother's long experience in Hollywood made her very knowledgeable about the business. For some time, she ran a workshop in East Hollywood called the Hollytown Theater, where aspiring actors had an opportunity to train and to appear in plays. The RKO front office decided that it would be good for the younger contract players on the lot to have someone to guide them. Lela was asked to come to RKO and shift her workshop activities to the Hollywood Playhouse. In no time she was casting and producing plays in the little theater on the RKO lot. The producers often dropped in to observe the new talent. After seeing a few of the plays she directed, I was very proud of her.

Mother contacted all the contract players to offer them acting lessons and asked J.R. McDonough, head of the stuido, to use his authority to get the young players to respond. Most of them, including Lucille Ball, Betty Grable, Joy Hodges, Leon Ames, Anne Shirley, Tyrone Power, [This is interesting because Ty's films were at Fox; perhaps Ginger was mistaken when she wrote this?] and Phyllis Fraser, did; only one person failed to answer, Joan Fontaine. [Most of Joan's early films were with RKO before her breakthrough role in Rebecca] Mother was sitting in her office with Al Nash, a writer, when she telephoned Joan to ask her why she had chosen to stay away.

"Lela Rogers," Joan said in a businesslike tone, "You can't teach me anything."

Mother gasped at this, hung up the phone, and repeated the conversation. Al said, "I guess you can't win 'em all."

Sometime later, Joan Fontaine called Mother's office and said, "Mrs. Rogers, if you have nothing better to do tonight, there's a preview over at the Fox Wilshire of my new movie. Maybe you'd like to see it." Mother said she'd be delighted. That evening she took Al Nash with her. The movie was Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca. When Mother left the theater, she turned to Al and said "You know, that kid knew what she was talking about. What a talent. She certainly didn't need me. All she needed was Hitchcock!"

1 comments:

Clara said...

LOL, thanks for sharing.

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