BACKWARDS IN HIGH HEELS Play Guide Backwards in High Heels

Backwards in High Heels
Play Guide
Arizona Theatre Company
Play Guide
Backwards in High Heels
It is Arizona Theatre Company’s goal to share the enriching experience of live theatre. This play
guide is intended to help you prepare for your visit to Arizona Theatre Company. Should you
have comments or suggestions regarding the play guide, or if you need more information about
scheduling trips to see an ATC production, please feel free to contact us:
Tucson: Alison C. Terry
Phoenix: Cale Epps
Education Manager
Education Manager
(520)884-8210 ext 8506
(602)256-6899 ext 6503
(520)628-9129 fax
(602)256-7399 fax
Backwards in High Heels Play Guide compiled and written by Jennifer Bazzell, Literary Manager
and Juliet Wilhelmi. Discussion questions and activities prepared by Alison C. Terry, Tucson
Education Manager; Cale Epps, Phoenix Education Manager. Layout by Gabriel Armijo.
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Play Guide
Mr. Craig Altschul
Anonymous (1)
Mr. and Mrs. Rob Aronoff
Ms. Beth A. Bank
Mr. Robert Begam
Ms. Gayle Bentley
Mr. and Mrs. Joel Bez
Mr. Tom Bobo
Ms. Gayle Brezack
Mr. Randy Brookshier
Ms. Penny Buckley
Mr. Tom Carlson
Mr. and Mrs. Larry A. Cesare
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Clark
Mr. and Mrs. Tyrone Clark
Mr. Thomas Chapman
Ms. Mimi Cohen
Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Coris
Ms. Kathleen Cummings
Mr. Craig Dean
Mr. and Mrs. Darryl B. Dobras
Ms. Jill Doddy
Mr. Jerry D. Drossos
Mr. and Mrs. Bruce L. Dusenberry
Mr. and Mrs. Burton and Zelda Faigen
Mr. Peter Faur
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Glaser
Ms. Roseanne Gonzalez
Ms. Florence M. Goldwater
Ms. Laura Grafman
Mr. Greg B. Hales
Mr. Brian Hauser
Mr. and Mrs. Richard F. Imwalle
Mr. Bill Kelley
Drs. Steven and Marta Ketchel
Mr. Rich and Kraemer
Mr. and Mrs. David Krogen
Mr. and Mrs. John Lamse
Mr. Raul Leon
Mrs. Ann C. Lynn
Mr. and Mrs. Doug McClure
Mr. and Mrs. James J. Meenaghan
Ms. Thelma Miller
Ms. Barbara Montandon
Mr. and Mrs. Fred A. Nachman III
Ms. Dana Pitt, Donald Pitt Family Foundation
Mr. Michael Ratliff
Steve Ratliff
Vicki Ratliff
Susan Rollins
Ms. Sandra D. Rutherford
Mr. Marc Sandroff
Ms. Karen T. Scates
Drs. John and Helen Schaefer
Mr. and Ms. Mark and Amy Schiavoni
Mr. and Ms. Michael and Enid Seiden
Ms. Gretchen H. Shine
Ms. Peggi Simmons
Ms. Wendi Sorensen
Mr. Jeffrey Sorrentino
Ms. Val Sundberg
Mr. Joe Tarver and Ms. Peggy Johnson
Ms. Janet Traylor
Mr. Brad Trebing
Mr. Chuck Watson
Mr. Tom Whalen
Ms. Rebecca Winninger
Ms. Teresa Welborn
Dr. Raymond L. and Mrs. Julianne Woosley
Backwards in High Heels
Thousands of people make our work at ATC possible!
Arizona Theatre Company is a professional, not-for-profit theatre company.
This means all of our artists, administrators and production staff are paid
professionals, and the income we receive from ticket sales and contributions
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directors and designers from all over the country
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-the list is endless- representing an amazing range
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Herberger Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona
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Temple of Music and Art in Tucson, Arizona
strives to reach new levels of artistic
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Backwards in High Heels
She danced her way into our hearts in the
arms of Fred Astaire, setting the gold standard
for grace and elegance on the silver screen. In
her surprising true-life story, we follow Ginger
Rogers from the vaudeville stage at the age of 15
through her ascension to Hollywood goddess.
Backwards in High Heels is the story of a smalltown girl from Texas who dazzled the whole
wide world, playing everything from 'the girl
next door' to the modern woman with a mind
of her own. It's a candy box of show-stopping
dance numbers, great songs and some surprising
revelations about the movie legend.
Anna Aimee White and Matthew LaBanca in
Backwards in High Heels. Photo by Frank Atura.
Ginger Rogers was born Virginia Katherine
McMath in Independence, Missouri on July 16,
1911. Her parents, Lela and William Eddins
McMath, separated soon after their daughter’s
birth and continually fought for custody of their
daughter until William’s death when Ginger was
eleven. In her early youth, Rogers stayed with her
grandparents in Kansas City while her mother had
a short screenwriting career in Hollywood. Many
individuals who knew Rogers as a child claim
that she could dance before she could walk.
Lela eventually married John Rogers, a Marine,
and mother and daughter followed him to Dallas,
Texas. Though he never formally adopted Ginger,
she took his surname. In Dallas, Virginia began to
perform with her stepfather in local shows. At age
sixteen, she emerged the champion of a Charleston
Ginger Rogers
contest in Ft. Worth, earning her a spot on an
interstate theatre tour known as the Orpheum circuit (a company that toured vaudeville
shows). About this time, Rogers took to calling herself “Ginger,” inspired by the nickname
“Ginja” (shorthand for Virginia) she was given by her cousins as a young girl. Her first act
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Backwards in High Heels
on the Orpheum circuit, “Ginger and the Redheads,” was so popular that she stayed on
tour for another four years. During this time, she met her first husband, circuit dancer Jack
Culpepper; the marriage was brief, only lasting from 1929-1931.
On tour, Rogers appeared in St. Louis with the Skouras Brothers and in Chicago’s
Oriental Theatre with Paul Ash before settling in New York to pursue her dreams of
Broadway. In 1929, her first musical, Top Speed, played for a promising 20-week run,
getting her noticed by executives at Paramount. She had previously appeared in several
short films, but Paramount provided her first opportunity to appear in a full-length film
with Young Man of Manhattan. Next, she starred with Ethel Merman on Broadway in
George and Ira Gershwin’s Girl Crazy
(one of the choreographers for this show
was an up-and-coming Fred Astaire).
The show was an overnight sensation,
and Ginger Rogers became a star.
Following her success with Girl Crazy
she made a large number of films in a
short period of time, including The Sap
from Syracuse and Follow the Leader,
both in 1930; Honor Among Lovers in
1931; and The Tenderfoot and Hat Check
Anna Aimee White who plays
Girl in 1932. In 1933, she played Anytime
Ginger Rogers in ATC’s production
Annie in 42nd Street, solidifying her status
as an icon of the screen. She also sang
“We’re in the Money” and “Sitting Pretty” in Gold Diggers of 1933. By the time she
made her first appearance with Fred Astaire in Flying Down to Rio (1933), Rogers
had nineteen films to her name.
The Rogers-Astaire combination lit up the screen and kept audiences cheering. Though
Rogers had never had any classical dance training, she found her own expressive style
that Americans embraced. She and Astaire starred together in nine additional musicals,
becoming a lasting symbol of elegance in American film. Rogers eventually decided to
end her career with Astaire and try for serious acting roles. The decision ultimately paid
off; her dramatic role in the non-musical Kitty Foyle earned her the Academy Award for
Best Actress in 1941.
Throughout the rest of her life, Rogers continued her career in film and theatre, though
she was never able to recapture the magic of her early career. Her starring role in Hello,
Dolly! helped revamp the show for a second Broadway run in 1965. In 1985, she
directed the movie Babes in Arms. She also appeared on TV and radio shows across
the country. Rogers was married five times; all of her marriages ended in divorce. In
addition to Jack Culpepper, her husbands included star of All Quiet on the Western
Front Lew Ayres, comedian Jack Briggs, French lawyer and actor Jacques Bergerac and
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Backwards in High Heels
director and producer William Marshall. The only constant relationship throughout her
entire life was her close-knit relationship with her mother, who passed away in 1977.
In 1995, Ginger Rogers died of congestive heart failure in her home in Rancho Mirage,
California at the age of 83.
"The magic of Astaire and Rogers cannot be
explained; it can only be felt. They created a
style, a mood, a happening. They flirted, chased,
courted, slid, caressed, hopped, skipped, jumped,
bent, swayed, clasped, wafted, undulated,
nestled, leapt, quivered, glided, spun - in sum,
made love before our eyes. We have not seen
their like since."
–Garson Kanin, Hollywood writer and director
Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire
For many people, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers embody the quintessential
dance partnership. Garson Kanin, it seems, could only attempt to describe the
wordless chemistry that has charmed moviegoers by the millions for decades.
Fred and Ginger were acquainted through their work on Broadway before
stepping onto the set of Flying Down to Rio in 1933. They had even dated for
a time.Their pairing in this first film was somewhat accidental; Ginger was
brought in as a replacement for Fred’s partner Dorothy Jordan. Though both
played supporting roles, Ginger and Fred inadvertently stole the show with their
adorable charm and unparalleled elegance. Interestingly, this film marked the
only instance in which Ginger was billed ahead of Fred, because of her film
Needless to say, the Astaire-Rogers duo was the centerpiece of RKO’s next
film, The Gay Divorcee (1935), a timely tale of marriage norms and love at first
sight. Fred and Ginger stayed on for a total of nine films with RKO, all of them
lighthearted musicals. They starred in Top Hat in 1935 (featuring the famous
number “Cheek to Cheek” and other Irving Berlin standards), Shall We Dance
in 1937, and Carefree in 1938, among others. MGM produced the duo’s tenth
and final musical, The Barkleys of Broadway, in 1949. Many of the Gershwin
melodies from this movie would find their way into the Great American
Though none were Academy Award winners, the Astaire-Rogers movies endure
as American film classics. Through an expert blend of aesthetics and personality,
they call to audiences today just as they staved off the effects of the Great
Depression almost eighty years ago.
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Written by Juliet Wilhelmi and Jenny Bazzell
Backwards in High Heels
Ginger Rogers made an amazing 77 films in her 35 year film career, most of which
were concentrated into the first six years of work. She continued to make occasional
television appearances up through 1987, including several episodes of The Red Skelton
Hour, a televised version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (also starring Lesley
Anne Warren, Walter Pidgeon, Celeste Holm, Jo Van Fleet and Pat Carroll) and a two-part
episode of The Love Boat, among others.
Romance in Manhattan
Star of Midnight
Top Hat
In Person
A Day of a Man of Affairs
A Night in a Dormitory
Campus Sweethearts
Young Man of Manhattan
The Sap from Syracuse
Queen High
Office Blues
Follow the Leader
Honor Among Lovers
The Tip-Off
Suicide Fleet
Carnival Boat
The Tenderfoot
The Thirteenth Guest
Hat Check Girl
You Said a Mouthful
First promotion of the Rogers-Astaire
pairing for Flying Down to Rio
Broadway Bad
42nd Street
Gold Diggers of 1933
Professional Sweetheart
Don't Bet on Love
A Shriek in the Night
Rafter Romance
Chance at Heaven
Sitting Pretty
Flying Down to Rio
Twenty Million
Finishing School
Change of Heart
The Gay Divorcee
Follow the Fleet
Swing Time
Shall We Dance
Stage Door
Vivacious Lady
Having Wonderful Time
Actor Matthew LaBanca who plays
Fred Astaire and other roles in ATC’s
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The Story of Vernon and
Irene Castle
Bachelor Mother
5th Ave Girl
Backwards in High Heels
Magnificent Doll
It Had to Be You
The Barkleys of Broadway
Primrose Path
Lucky Partners
Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of
a Woman
Forever Female
Twist of Fate
Black Widow
Tom Dick and Harry
Tight Spot
Roxie Hart
Tales of Manhattan
The Major and the Minor
Once Tender Comrade
Upon a Honeymoon
The First Traveling Saleslady
Lady in the Dark
I'll Be Seeing You
Week-End at the Waldorf
Perfect Strangers
Storm Warning
The Groom Wore Spurs
We're Not Married!
Monkey Business
Teenage Rebel
Oh, Men! Oh, Women!
The Confession
Heather Lee who plays
Lela in ATC’s production
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Backwards in High Heels
Christopher McGovern: (Co-Creator/Book/Original
Songs/Musical Arrangements) returns to ATC where he
music directed, conducted and performed in Hair, [title of
show] and The Pajama Game. He is the Author/Composer
of Lizzie Borden (Goodspeed Musicals), Backwards in
High Heels, A Visit To Roswell and many original songs.
He has worked Off-Broadway on That’s Life (Outer
Critics Circle nomination), The Jazz Singer, Sheba, The
Fishkin Touch and Totie, among others. His national tours
Christopher McGovern, co-creator of
include Fame and The Presidents with Rich Little, and
Backwards in High Heels
international arrangements for Disney Worldwide (The
Lion King/Hong Kong and Aladdin/Tokyo). His favorite regional credits include Sisters of
Swing (Carbonell nominations), Beehive, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,
Little Shop of Horrors, Godspell, Grease, World Goes ‘Round, Last Five Years and A
Marvelous Party. He received this year's Carbonell Award and Silver Palm Award for Cagney
(music and lyrics) and Some Kind Of Wonderful (Co-Creator/Arranger.) He has worked as
Producer/Arranger/Orchestrator and Songwriter on recordings by Tony-nominees Rebecca
Luker (Leaving Home), Susan Egan (Coffee House, Winter Tracks, Live) and Alison Fraser
(Men in My Life). Mr. McGovern has performed in concert with Susan Egan (national tour
including Carnegie Hall), Karen Mason, Liz Callaway, Roslyn Kind and many others.
In addition to the original songs created by Christopher McGovern, many old favorites
appear in Backwards in High Heels. Below is a list of some of the famous composers
whose music appears in the musical.
The Gershwins: Brothers George Gershwin
(1898 – 1937) and Ira Gershwin 1896 –
1983) worked together to create some of the
most memorable songs in the American Jazz
repertoire. Some of their most famous songs
include “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,”
“S’Wonderful,” “Someone to Watch Over
Me,” “Summertime,” ”Fascinating Rhythm,”
“Embraceable You” and countless others.
Though each brother had a solo career, the
music they created together was unparalleled
and continues to inspire generations.
George Gershwin/
Ira Gershwin
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Backwards in High Heels
Jerome Kern: Jerome David Kern (1885 – 1945) was
an American composer of musical theatre and popular
music. One of the most important American theatre
composers of the early 20th century, he wrote more than
700 songs, used in over 100 stage works, including such
classics as "Ol' Man River," "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man,"
"A Fine Romance," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "All the
Things You Are," "The Way You Look Tonight," "Long Ago
(and Far Away)" and "Who?".
Irving Berlin
Jerome Kern
Irving Berlin: Irving Berlin (1888 – 1989) was an
American composer and lyricist, widely considered one
of the greatest songwriters in history. Composer George
Gershwin called him "the greatest songwriter that has ever
lived” and composer Jerome Kern concluded that "Irving
Berlin has no place in American music - he is American
music." Famous Irving Berlin songs include “Cheek to
Cheek,” “God Bless America,” “Blue Skies,” “Let's Face
the Music and Dance,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” and “White
Christmas” among hundreds of others.
Al Dubin: Al Dubin (1891 - 1945) was a Swiss-born lyricist
who ultimately made his mark on American music. He wrote
lyrics for several famous Broadway shows, but his perhaps
most famous for his lyrics for the film 42nd Street (which
was later adapted into a Broadway musical). Some of his
most famous lyrical compositions include "42nd Street,” "I
Only Have Eyes for You," "Lullaby of Broadway" and "The
Anniversary Waltz."
Harry Warren
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Al Dubin
Harry Warren: Harry Warren (1893 – 1981) was an American
composer and lyricist. Warren was the first major American
songwriter to write primarily for film. He wrote the music for
the first blockbuster film musical, 42nd Street. Other wellknown Warren hits included "I Only Have Eyes for You," "You
Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby," "Jeepers Creepers," "The
Gold Diggers' Song (We're in the Money)," "That's Amore,"
"The More I See You," "At Last" and "Chattanooga Choo Choo”
One of America's most prolific film composers, Warren's songs
have been featured in over 300 films.
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Backwards in High Heels
Dorothy Fields: Dorothy Fields (July 15, 1905 – March 28, 1974)
was an American librettist and lyricist. She wrote over 400 songs
for Broadway musicals and films and was one of the first successful
Tin Pan Alley and Hollywood female songwriters. Her most famous
compositions include “I Can't Give You Anything But Love,” “Don't
Blame Me,” “On The Sunny Side Of The Street,” “A Fine Romance,”
“I'm In The Mood For Love,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Big
Spender,” “If My Friends Could See Me Now” and “On the Sunny
Side of the Street."
*some bios above adapted from
Dorothy Fields
Just how did Backwards in High Heels come to be? Literary Manager Jenny Bazzell put
questions about the show’s development and history to creator Christopher McGovern, an ATC
favorite for his role as Music Director for ATC hits like The Pajama Game and Hair. Chris was
kind enough to give us some background about the show so we could share it with you!
Jenny Bazzell: How did the initial idea
Christopher McGovern: I was Music
Directing a biographical musical for
another theatre company and it got
me to thinking about the nature of
celebrity, and why people are so drawn
to stories about famous people. We
have become a 24-hour news cycle
and a reality TV culture, and I was
interested in exploring someone who
got to be a celebrity the old fashioned
way: with talent and hard work! It was
also interesting to me to use dance in
the story-telling, and of course I love
the 1920s and 1930s. The films Ginger
made in that period were so glamorous
and classy. It's fascinating that one of the Stanley Bahorek, Kelly McCormick Christopher
many peaks of Ginger's career was during McGovern, Sal Sabella and Lauren Lebowitz in Arizona
Theatre Company's [title of show]. Photo by Tim Fuller.
the worst of the Great Depression - and
she was playing these upscale roles in
luxurious settings. The height of "escapism."
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Backwards in High Heels
JB: Were you already an expert about the life of Ginger Rogers when you began work on
this musical? Were there aspects of Ginger Rogers’s life that surprised you or presented
difficulties in the writing?
CM: I have written a few musicals based on life stories (Cagney, Lizzie Borden) and I think
the biggest trick is balancing the actual events of a person's life with what is dramatically
important to be placed on the stage. So in my research on Ginger, her most critical and
lasting relationship was with her mother, Lela. And suddenly her story seemed like it
could leap over the particulars of her life and become more universal and relevant to a
contemporary audience. While the times may have changed, parent-child relationships
remain as complex, rich and emotional as ever. The fact that Ginger and Lela's relationship
had show business as a backdrop made it a natural to put on the stage. Ginger never had a
child, so I think show business and her career filled that place in her life.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in my research was that Ginger was such a tough cookie with
the studios. It is easy to imagine Bette Davis standing up to Jack Warner for more money,
better treatment, more challenging projects, but you just don't think of Ginger that way, at
least initially. But she actually might have paved the way for those other ladies that came
after her. She demanded equal pay, and was willing to risk her career to take on roles that
she might not have gotten without a struggle. To win the Oscar for a drama was both a
triumph and a well earned reward for her going out on an artistic limb (I am speaking of
Kitty Foyle, of course.) Hard to imagine, but women getting the right to vote happened in
Lela and Ginger’s lifetimes.
The largest writing challenge was how to work her five marriages into the storytelling. I am
quite pleased with how we were able to compact them into the surprising use of a Berlin
number (I hope anyhow!). Her first romantic relationship is explored in more detail, but
as in every biographical piece, you have to keep what's important front and center, and
that is her complicated relationship with Lela. It is also challenging not to make the show
become "And then I wrote" (or in this case "And then I danced"), so finding new uses of
the source songs as well as interesting ways to tell the story hopefully mix that formula up
a bit. This version was directed by Scott Schwartz - an amazing director who asked me a
lot of questions, and was very interested in treating this production as a World Premiere,
even though it had been produced previously. Scott had a fresh take on the piece, which
inspired me to re-examine my writing. Scott and I shared an understanding of what the
show could be, and he is the consummate chief: adept at handling all personalities and
all departments. He's an artist and a gentleman, and I hope this is the first of many future
JB: Some of the music is by classic American composers like George Gershwin, Irving
Berlin and Jerome Kern, but there are also original songs that you created specifically for
the show. What was it like trying to combine the two types of music?
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CM: By far, it is one of the things I am proudest of. I wanted to use some of those
famous songs associated with Ginger in her films - and I think an audience has an
expectation to hear them. But it was critical to me to make the songs work as "book
songs." In other words, I did not want to stop the action just to do an unrelated number.
After settling into the show, I wanted the audience to become unaware of the "famous"
songs and to be involved in the story. So when you see "Embraceable You," it is used
as a proposal for example, or "Change Partners" frames Lela's account of Ginger's
marriages. When a stagehand sings "There may be trouble ahead..." it precedes Ginger
about to tangle with the head of the studio. As far as the four original songs (and tons
of original dance music I created for the show), it is much easier writing within the
restrictions of a time period. Many people have commented or written about how well
the original songs fit into the whole "score." I take that as a huge compliment. I would
never compare myself to the songwriting giants whose works appear in the score...but
there were a few moments where a "source song" just didn't do what I needed it to do
for the story. I hope when an audience leaves the show, it feels like they have heard an
entirely new score, even though it has been fashioned out of songs culled from many
sources, as well as songs newly written for the production. Of course Patti Colombo,
the choreographer, did a brilliant job using movement to help tell the story as well, and
the dance music was altered for her. I would imagine a show about Ginger would be a
dream show for a choreographer, as well as really hard work!
JB: So often when ATC audiences see you, you’re onstage serving as music director for
ATC shows like The Pajama Game, Hair and [title of show]. For this show, is it nice to sit
back and not have to be on stage every night?
CM: It's TERRIFIC! Don't get me wrong, I love playing and conducting shows, and ATC
is one of my favorite theatres to play in (actually TWO of my favorites.) But it is healthy
to let a show go - and let someone else contribute their vision and their interpretation.
Stepping back, I was able to see the bigger picture since so much had been created in
the rehearsal process. I loved seeing this brilliant cast and Scott and Patti's vision of the
piece, and I took it as a great compliment that they lavished it with such smarts and
love. On Opening Night, I just let it all go and became a part of the audience. It really
is a lovely production of the show, due in large part to Scott, Patti and the gorgeous
designs of Walt Spangler (set) and Alejo Vietti (costumes). Plus, you can't ask for better
than this cast. Better yet, since I'm not playing or conducting, it's fun to be able to have
a glass of wine BEFORE the show starts!
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Backwards in High Heels
The “Golden Age of
Hollywood” describes the
period in movie history
when output of highquality films was intense,
studios reigned supreme
and stars were created
and shined brightly for
decades, forever endearing
themselves to the hearts
of the American public.
During the Golden Age
of Hollywood, which
lasted from the late 1920s
silent-film era to the late
Stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age
1940s, thousands of classic
movies were issued from Hollywood’s studios. Though scholars and historians argue, many
individuals date the start of the Golden Age to the release of The Jazz Singer in 1927.
Starring Al Jolson, The Jazz Singer was the first “talkie” and thus
ended the silent film era. With the creation of “talkies,” the film
industry began a period of increasing box-office profits for films
as sound was introduced, replacing the live music that previously
accompanied silent films.
At this point in history, Hollywood operated under the studio
system of film making and the “Big Five” studios were responsible
for almost all films produced in America. Throughout the teens and
twenties, well-known ambitious men like Samuel Goldwyn, William
Fox, Carl Laemmle, Adolph Zukor, Louis B. Mayer, and the Warner
Brothers (Harry, Albert, Samuel, and Jack) consolidated their filmmaking power in the form of movie studios. The each had a role in forming what came to
be known as the “Big Five,” which refers to the five large studios that made the vast majority
of all films (20th Century Fox, RKO Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., and MetroGoldwyn-Mayer). The major studios kept thousands of people
on salary — actors, producers, directors, writers, stunt men,
craftspersons, and technicians. They owned or leased movie
ranches in rural Southern California for location shooting
of westerns and other large scale genre films. In addition to
creating films, the studios also owned hundreds of theaters in
cities and towns across the nation that showed their films and
that were always in need of fresh material (essentially creating
a monopoly on the film industry).
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Backwards in High Heels
Throughout the Golden Age, most Hollywood films fell into clearly defined
categories: western, slapstick comedy, musical, horror, animated cartoon,
biopic (biographical picture), etc. Though formulaic, the public clamored to
see the myriad of films released, especially the uplifting films and musicals
that were popular escapism during the Great Depression. Exact numbers are
uncertain, but it is estimated that in the late twenties and early thirties, 90
million people went to the movies weekly (including repeat attendees). That
number dropped during the worst years of the Great Depression, though is still
estimated at an astounding 60 million despite the economic hardships
the country was facing.
In addition to the “Big Five” studios there were also the “Little Three” which included
Universal Pictures, Columbia Pictures, and United Artists.
The studio era of Hollywood history meant that stars were contracted
with a particular studio, outlining the actors’ responsibilities and
the number of films they were required to make. Incomes and
choice of roles were limited for actors compared to today’s open
market approach to film production. Thus, during the Golden Age,
audiences could usually guess which studio made which film based
on the actors who appeared in it. For example, MGM claimed it had
contracted "more stars than there are in heaven.” MGM boasted such
stars as Clark Gable, Lionel Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, Jeanette
MacDonald and husband Gene Raymond, Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, and Gene Kelly during
the Golden Age.
Many film historians have remarked upon the many great works
of cinema that emerged from this period of highly regimented
film-making. One reason this was possible is that, with so many
movies being made, not every one had to be a big hit. A studio
could gamble on a medium-budget feature with a good script
and relatively unknown actors: Citizen Kane, directed by Orson
A movie still from Citizen Kane
Welles and often regarded as the greatest film of all time, fits
that description. In other cases, strong-willed directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Frank Capra
battled the studios in order to achieve their artistic visions. The apogee of the studio system
may have been the year 1939, which saw the release of such classics as The Wizard of Oz,
Gone with the Wind (still the most successful film of all time when numbers are adjusted
for inflation), Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wuthering Heights, Only Angels
Have Wings, Ninotchka, and Midnight. Other films from the Golden Age period that are now
considered to be classics include Casablanca, It's a Wonderful Life, It Happened One Night,
the original King Kong, Mutiny on the Bounty, City Lights, Red River and Top Hat.
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The Golden Age began to draw to a close through a Supreme
Court decision, United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. In
short, the decision decreed that the studios had been engaging
in monopoly behavior of the film industry and determined
they were no longer allowed to practice business in the same
fashion. The studios had to change their operational practices,
ending many of the procedures that had garnered them so
much power (and allowed the Golden Age to flourish). Striking
the final blow to the Golden Age was the advent of television,
which provided people with a way to watch stories in the
privacy and comfort of their own home, rather than having
to go to a movie theatre. Though some historians define the
Golden Age as continuing into the 1960s, by the middle of the
1950s, the true Golden Age was ending, though its impact will
never be forgotten.
The invention of television brought
the Golden Age to a close
-Based loosely on, modified by Jenny Bazzell
Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger’s elegant dance style did not exist in a vacuum. Their
influences and the influences of the choreographers who created many of their famous
routines were varied. Below is a timeline of the history of dance in the nineteenth and
early twentieth century leading up to the emergence of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire’s
explosion of popularity.
1834: The first Waltz is reportedly danced in Boston.
1900: The Floradora Sextet performs the first synchronized tap routine.
1907: The first tapping chorus line appears as part of Ziegfield’s Follies.
1912: The Argentine Tango first appears in Britain.
1914: The American Foxtrot makes its way across the Atlantic to England,
where it is danced at a faster tempo and renamed “The Quickstep.”
Artist Renoir’s depiction of
the Waltz from the 1880s
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1926: The Savoy Ballroom opens in New York City. It
will be a premiere dance venue throughout the next
1927: “Shorty George” Snowden coins the term
“Lindy Hop.” While watching a local dance contest
at the Savoy, a reporter asks Snowden for the name
of the dance being performed. He glances down at a
newspaper headline about Charles Lindburgh which
reads, “Lindy Hops the Atlantic,” and announces “The
Lindy Hop!”
The Savoy Ballroom
1930s: The Jitterbug, a six-beat variant of the Lindy Hop, emerges. In time, the terms
“swing,” “lindy,” and “jitterbug” become interchangeable.
1935: Herbert White starts the dance group “Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers”, which grows to be
wildly popular on the Savoy scene.
1938: Innovative swing choreographer Dean Collins arrives in Hollywood. His work on
over forty movies paves the way for the Hollywood dance musical.
1940s: A “world dances” craze sweeps the ballroom realm. Dances that received new or
revived attention include the Tango from Argentina, the Samba from Brazil, the Paso Doble
from Spain, and the Waltz from Austria. The American Foxtrot regains popularity as well.
Formal teaching of lindy, jitterbug, and swing begins.The Arthur Murray Dance Studio
establishes the divide between “East Coast Swing” and “West Coast Swing”. Other swing
variants that emerge include the Balboa, the Shag, and the Jive.
The East-West Divide: In the 1940s, the Arthur Murray Dance Studio commissioned
instructors around the country to study and teach the popular dances of their respective
cities. This challenged dance teachers to “condense” the complex, individualized
footwork of the regional swing dances into simplified forms for the general public. As a
result, they coined the categories of swing that are familiar today. “East-Coast Swing”
is a simple, 6-beat cycle that evolved from the Lindy Hop and the Foxtrot. “West-Coast
Swing” is a more quick-footed variant that can have up to 8 counts and is danced in a
smaller radius than its Eastern equivalent.
-Written by Juliet Wilhelmi
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“Behold, every one that useth proverbs shall use this proverb against thee, saying, As
is the mother, so is her daughter.” – King James Bible
The relationship between mother and daughter is a complex,
multi-dimensional one. Throughout history, mothers have
encouraged, cajoled, nudged, prodded and sometimes outright
shoved their daughters into following the path in life that they
thought best for their offspring. Of course, every mother is
different and every mother-daughter relationship is unique in
its own way. The relationship between Ginger Rogers and her
Lela and Ginger Rogers
mother Lela was complicated by Ginger’s success (as well as
her headstrong nature) and Lela’s insistence she knew what was best for Ginger’s life. As
Ginger never had any children, she never experienced the mother-daughter relationship
from a mother’s point of view – who knows how that would have changed her perception
of her mother’s “interference” in her life. Below is a list of famous mother-daughter pairs
from history, today and fiction, each filled with its own unique challenges.
Marie Curie (1867-1934) and Irene Joliot-Curie (1897-1958)
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) and Mary Shelley (1797-1851)
Anne Boleyn (c.1504-1536) and Elizabeth I of England (1533-1693)
Goldie Hawn & Kate Hudson
Blythe Danner & Gwyneth Paltrow
Janet Leigh & Jamie Lee Curtis
Jaid Barrymore & Drew Barrymore
Judy Garland & Liza Minnelli
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Tippi Hedren & Melanie Griffith
& Mary Wollstonecraft
Michelle Philips & Chynna Philips
Sharon Osbourne & Kelly Osbourne
Joan Rivers & Melissa Rivers
Ivana Trump & Ivanka Trump
Sharon and Kelly Osbourne
Hillary Clinton & Chelsea Clinton
Kathy Hilton & Paris and Nikki Hilton
Diana Ross & Tracee Ellis Ross
Debbie Reynolds & Carrie Fisher
Jayne Mansfield & Mariska Hargitay
Priscilla Presley & Lisa Marie Presley
Diane Ladd & Laura Dern
Ingrid Bergman & Isabella Rossellini
Sarah Palin & Bristol Palin
Vanessa Redgrave & Natasha Richardson
Lisa Marie and Priscilla Presley
“Mama” Rose & Gypsy Rose Lee
Wilma Flintstone & Pebbles Flintstone
Sarah and Bristol Palin
Marge Simpson & Lisa Simpson
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Abott and Costello: A famous comedy duo who worked
extensively in radio, film and television in the 1940s and 1950s.
Their most famous routine, “Who’s on First” is perhaps the most
well-known comedy routine of all time and set the bar for all
comedians that followed.
Comedy duo Abbott & Costello
Bette Davis: An actress well-known for her intense portrayal
of dramatic roles (and her forceful nature both on and offscreen) made Bette Davis one of the most iconic film stars
of her day. Though Ginger Rogers and Bette Davis had very
different onscreen personas for many years, they were good
Bette Davis
Busby Berkeley: A highly influential Hollywood movie
director and musical choreographer, Berkeley’s musical
numbers are still some of the most famous screen moments
of all time. He was known for using shots that looked down
from above on his dancers while they created complex
geometric patterns with their bodies.
Ethel Merman: An actress and singer who dazzled both
Busby Berkeley
stage and screen with her powerful voice and persona. She
appeared in Girl Crazy alongside Ginger Rogers in 1930,
as well as in I Got Rhythm in 1930, Anything Goes in 1936, and There’s No Business Like
Show Business in 1954. A star of both the stage and the screen, she has been called "the
undisputed First Lady of the musical comedy stage."
Feathers: A nickname that Fred Astaire used for Ginger. It came about on the set of Top Hat,
perhaps their most famous film, made in 1935. For the principal number “Cheek to Cheek,”
Ginger insisted on wearing a lavish ostrich feather dress. While the dress moved well, it
would scatter feathers when she danced - all across the floor, in front of the cameras, and in
Fred’s hair and clothes. Fred Astaire and Hermes Pan jokingly rewrote the lyrics to “Cheek to
Cheek” to say “Feathers, I see feathers…” In the end, Fred apologized to Ginger with a gold
feather charm and a note reading “You were right.”
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Flying Down to Rio: A Hollywood reporter recalls when Astaire and Rogers “flew down
to Rio.” This is a reference to their first film, Flying Down to Rio, made in 1933. (The
reporter next says that Astaire and Rogers “got a gay divorce”… this refers to their second
film, The Gay Divorcee.)
George Shaefer: A producer at RKO. He served as the company’s president starting
in 1941.
Harper’s Magazine: When Ginger waxes romantic about Jack
Culpepper, Lela tells her not to believe everything she reads in
Harper’s. This general interest magazine, still in publication
today, came out with its first issue in 1850 and covers a broad
range of subjects, including finances, fashion, politics, writing,
and art.
Hermes Pan: A celebrated choreographer who worked with
Fred Astaire on many of his films.
Hermes Pan (with Fred Astaire
working out a dance routine)
Jimmy Stewart
Jack Briggs: Ginger’s third husband, Briggs was an actor and
radio broadcaster throughout the 1940s. The two of them met
on the set of Tom, Dick, and Harry in 1940.
James (Jimmy) Stewart: An actor who was the “nice guy”
of Hollywood for many years. He made a wide variety of
movies of different genres, including his classic films
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Philadelphia Story,
Harvey, It's a Wonderful Life, Rear Window, Rope, The
Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo.
Katherine Hepburn: A film and stage actress who was wellknown for her quick tongue and New England accent. She won
four Best Actress Oscars during her career, a feat no other actress
has matched. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked her as the
greatest female star in the history of the American cinema.
Katharine Hepburn
Lew Ayres: This film actor, Ginger’s second husband, is best remembered for his starring
role in All Quiet on the Western Front in 1930.
“Little pitchers have big ears”: An idiom that Ginger refers to as a teenager, meaning that
children hear and understand more than adults might give them credit for.
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Marlene Dietrich: A German-American actress known for her
glamorous style and beauty. She played femme fatales throughout
her long career. Her most famous films include Morocco,
Dishonored, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, The Scarlet
Empress, and The Devil is a Woman.
Orpheum Circuit: Ginger’s first tour is with Orpheum Circuit, Inc., an entertainment
company started by Martin Beck in 1880. Beck owned a series of vaudeville and movie
theatres throughout the country. Those that remain open are called Orpheum Theatres
to this day; Orpheum Theatres still exist in Pheonix and Flagstaff, though no longer as
part of a circuit. A show like Ginger’s would have travelled from Orpheum theatre to
Orpheum theatre.
Prohibition: A portion of the play occurs during the period
between 1920 and 1933 in which the Eighteenth Amendment to
the Constitution outlawed the trade and consumption of alcohol
in the United States.
Shirley Temple: Perhaps the most famous child star of all
time, Shirley Temple got her start in film at the age of three. She
was a singer, a dancer, and an actress by the time she was five,
beating out adult stars for parts in major films.
Shirley Temple
Speakeasy: A venue in which alcohol was illegally served. During Prohibition,
speakeasies operated in the United States in secret locations.
RKO, or Radio-Keith-Orpheum Pictures: RKO was one of the “Big Five” movie
production and distribution companies of Hollywood’s “Golden Age” (which spanned
approximately from 1920 to 1950). This studio gave Ginger her start in film and
produced nine of the ten Astaire-Rogers movies.
Theda Bara: Ginger refers to this American silent film star
repeatedly: “Theda Bara always said, ‘the spots in the front and the
scoops in the back.’” While Ginger praises Bara’s film expertise,
most remember her as one of American film’s first sex symbols,
sporting a distinctive “gothic” look.
Theda Bara
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Vernon and Irene Castle: A husband-and-wife ballroom
dancing pair popular on Broadway around the turn of the
century. In the show, Ginger supposes that she and Jack could
become “the next Vernon and Irene.” This reference is subtly
ironic, as one of Ginger’s last films with Fred Astaire tells the
story of the Castles.
The World’s Fair: A large public exhibition held in any
country that displays products of science, technology, and
culture. In 1939, the World’s Fair to which Ginger refers was
held in New York. It covered over 1,000 acres and drew a
crowd of 206,000.
Vernon and Irene Castle
Prepared by Jennifer Bazzell
Discussion Questions
1. Think about the lyrics to Fascinating Rhythm by George and Ira Gershwin, and its use
in Backwards in High Heels. Do you think Ginger Rogers felt conflicted about her
career? Why or why not?
2. Ginger really wanted to get out of Texas. Why did she want that so badly? Do you
ever feel like you just want to get away from where you are and do something else?
Why or why not?
3. Discuss Ginger’s relationship with her mother, Lela. Do you feel that they had a good
relationship? How did being in show business impact that relationship?
4. Do you think that Lela is a little jealous of Ginger’s success? Why or why not? What
did Lela give up in order to give Ginger a better childhood outside of Hollywood?
How do you think Lela felt when Ginger just wanted to be in show business?
5. Many of the songs found in Backwards in High Heels were not written specifically for
this musical. How does the presence of these songs move the plot forward? Do you
feel that each song has a purpose within the play? Why or why not?
6. How do you think that musical theatre and dance influence television shows today?
Do you watch shows about dance or that contain musical numbers? Why do you think
that this kind of television has come back at this point in history?
7. How do you think that Ginger Rogers’ career impacted her personal life? What
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evidence can you find in the play that backs up your assertion?
8. Ginger Rogers worked very hard to be in control of her career, almost from the
beginning. Given the time period during which she was rising up through the
Hollywood ranks, why is this significant? Using examples from the play, discuss the
ways in which Ginger managed her career.
9. Several of the actors play multiple characters in Backwards in High Heels. Using
specific examples from the play, discuss how these actors use their acting tools (voice,
physicality, imagination) to distinguish one character from another. Are the actors
successful in differentiating one character from another?
10. Some of the actors in this play are portraying iconic film actors from the Golden Age of
Hollywood. How do you think that developing one of these iconic characters might
differ from developing a character with whom fewer people are familiar? How is it the
same? As an actor, do you think you would like to play one of these famous actors?
Why or why not?
(Based on Language Arts State Standards)
1. Select one of America’s great dancers other than Ginger Rogers and write a research
paper that develops a logical argument or thesis about this person’s influence on dance
(particularly in film), contains comprehensive, supporting information from a variety of
credible and cited sources, and conforms to the MLA style manual.
2. Select one of America’s great dancers other than Ginger Rogers. Write an expository essay
in which you compare/contrast his or her dance style(s) to that of Ginger Rogers.
3. Select and view one of Ginger Rogers’ movies and a few episodes of So You Think You
Can Dance. Write an expository essay in which you compare/contrast the dance styles
exhibited in the film with those found in So You Think You Can Dance. Which dance
styles are exhibited in each? How has dance on film/television evolved over time?
4. Write a summary of Ginger Rogers’ life that presents information clearly and accurately
and contains the most significant details.
5. Write a letter from Ginger Rogers to her mother, Lela, once her mother is no longer touring
with Ginger. What does Ginger need to tell her mother in this moment? Use examples
from the script to determine what Ginger writes to her mother about. Use standard letter
format, complete sentences, and appropriate punctuation.
6. Write a research paper tracing the history and evolution of tap dancing. Out of what
dance styles did tap evolve? What are the cultural roots of this style of dance, and what
is its significance, particularly in the African-American community? Has tap influenced
other styles of dance, and if so, how? What is the significance of the fact that it was
ultimately white film stars like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire who brought this style of
dance to mainstream audiences?
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7. Write a research paper detailing the evolution of song and dance in film beginning
during The Golden Age of Hollywood and continuing through contemporary film and
television. How did this trend start? How is the use of song and dance in film related
to musical theatre? When did this trend begin to die out? When did it begin again?
How has television continued or reinvented the use of song and dance as a method of
(Based on the Theatre Arts State Standards)
The writers of Backwards in High Heels, Lynnette Barkley and Christopher McGovern,
have created a musical that combines original compositions with popular songs of Ginger
Rogers’ era. This music, regardless of the composer, is used to push the story of Ginger
Rogers’ life forward in a way that is compelling and entertaining to an audience.
When a performer steps onto the stage, he simultaneously commits himself to an act of
giving and storytelling. The story he tells may take a myriad of different forms- catharsis,
joy, music, dance- but the performer’s audience comes to the theatre to be led by the hand
and told an amazing story.
A musical might be described as a story of such heightened emotion that its characters have
no choice but to express themselves by means of impromptu song and dance. That said,
the skeleton of a musical is always its story. The singing and dancing always propel that
story in someway.
1. Instruct your students to pick a piece of music of any genre. The only
guidelines are the music must move the students in some way (i.e. inspire
them, fill them with energy, move them to tears, make them laugh, etc.) and
it must be classroom appropriate. Students may work individually or in
groups of up to three. For this exercise, group work is ideal. Group work
will allow interaction between the students and collaboration in order to
determine what is eventually created.
2. Ask your students to listen to their piece of music enough times so that a
story is created in their minds. In other words, let the way the music moves
them become images in their imaginations. Then instruct them to allow
those images to connect to each other until they form a story that has linear
movement and can be communicated and understood by an audience.
• If the students in the group have different stories in mind, encourage
them to explore ways of combining those stories for maximum dramatic
or comedic impact.
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3. Ask your students to plot out a beginning, middle, and an end to this story.
These parts should correspond somehow with the music. They should use
mainly body language in the telling and if the music has words, instruct
them that they may sing along. Additional dialogue should not be used, the
idea being that if your students trust their imaginations fully and effectively
use non-verbal communication to create the world of the story (the way a
professional performer does), the audience will see and follow the story as
4. When the basic outline of the story is mapped out, ask your students to
consider the trajectory of their stories. In much the same way as a musical,
ask your students to decide where a moment of random and impromptu a
dance would best move the story forward. Dance is this instance may be
thought of as a basic expression of any emotion utilizing the body. This
“dance break” can be as loose as mosh pit style movement, or it may be a
stylized and choreographed set of movements. The strongest choice that
can be made in terms of type of movement is that which fulfills and propels
the story they have created. The story is the skeleton and the movement is
the muscle that propels the skeleton.
5. Now ask your students to create a script of their story they will use to
realize their performance. Since the ‘dialogue’ of this scene is the song
lyrics (if present), the scene might be plotted out using the lyrics to indicate
specific pieces of action.
Example 1 (Using Its Too Darn Hot from Kiss Me Kate, written by Cole
Lyric: “It’s too darn hot.”
Action: Jack, Jill, and Debbie fan their faces with their hands and pretend
to swoon in the heat.
Example 2 (Using “Dream of a Witches Sabbath”, the 5th Movement of
Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz)
1 minute 43 seconds – At crescendo
Action: Alex and Sam jump onto the stage, running from Amy, who is the
Monster, startling her and causing her to fall down.
1 minute 53 seconds – Clarinet featured
Action: Alex and Sam consider the situation, and wonder if the Monster is
really a monster at all…they begin to explore.
Scripting the scene in this way will allow the students to think more
concretely about how to most effectively communicate their story to the
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6. Ask your students to perform their stories for the class. The music
should be used as the backdrop.
Once all of the groups have performed, ask the following debriefing questions.
1. Was it difficult to agree on a song with your group? How did
you ultimately decide on your song? What was it about that
song that spoke strongly to all of you?
2. Did your group agree immediately on the story, or did you have
to make compromises? Was this easy or difficult?
3. As you developed your story, did it change from your first idea?
How did you handle this?
4. Ask the class to go through each scene. Were the stories clear?
What could have been clarified? Ask the students if they now
hear different things in the song(s) then they did before. What
do they hear now?
5. Do you feel you have a better understanding of how songs
might be chosen or written for a musical? Why or why not?
Sources Include: (The Internet Movie Database) (Ginger Rogers official site)
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