Seventy-five years ago today, the who's who of Hollywood gathered at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles for the 13th annual Academy Awards.
Bob Hope was the host, the second of 19 times through the years. Jimmy Stewart won his only acting Oscar, for “The Philadelphia Story.” Walter Brennan won his third acting Oscar – a rare feat – as best supporting actor in “The Westerner.”
And Ginger Rogers was named best actress for “Kitty Foyle.”
She and Fred Astaire were famous for the 10 dance movies they made together, but by 1940, when the best-selling “Kitty Foyle” was being adapted for the screen, Rogers had largely turned to dramatic roles. She excelled there as well.
“Everything about her is just amazing,” says Marge Padgitt of Independence.
Consider Padgitt a fan.
“I grew up loving Ginger Rogers,” she says. “My mom was a huge fan.”
Next week she and her husband, Gene, are set to close on buying the Ginger Rogers birthplace in Independence.
“We just plan on turning the interior into a museum about Ginger Rogers,” she said.
The small bungalow is on a corner on Moore Street a couple blocks west of William Chrisman High School. It was built in 1906 in what at the time was one of the city's newer neighborhoods. Lela McMath rented the house in July 1911.
“Nine months pregnant and abandoned by her husband, Lela was forced to find work to support herself once the baby arrived,” local historical researchers Liana Twente and Audrey Elder wrote in a history of the house. “ ... The Sand Company (an advertising firm) hired her to work as a typist for $6 per week, expecting her in the office by the first of August.”
Virginia Katherine McMath came along July 16, 1911. Her mother, raising the baby alone for several years, later became a successful figure in Hollywood as a screenwriter and executive, and as her daughter's manager.
Mother and daughter weren't in Independence all that long.
“As far as I can tell, about four years,” Padgitt says.
Rogers did not forget Independence. She came here for a cover story for Life magazine in 1942, she visited Harry Truman in the 1960s, and the city held a warm welcome with a parade not long before her death in 1995.
Padgitt has a copy of that Life magazine, and it's handy for this project. It gives her an idea of how to restore the house. A chimney needs to go back in. The porch and front door need to be redone. But some of the inside stuff is original – a clawfoot tub, a tin ceiling, a cast-iron sink and counter in the kitchen.
So there is work to do.
“This is a year project,” Padgitt says.
Rogers at one point was among the best paid performers in Hollywood and, Padgitt says, was strong and outspoken. But Hollywood didn't change her.
“Stardom didn't go to her head,” she says.