Among the Rogers classics on TCM's schedule are two of the actress' most important vehicles: Sam Wood's romantic melodrama Kitty Foyle (1940, right), which earned Rogers a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of a working-class young woman who falls for a high-society type (Dennis Morgan), and Billy Wilder's The Major and the Minor (1942), considered by some to be Rogers' best film.
In The Major and the Minor, Rogers plays a woman who disguises herself as a little girl so as to travel half-fare on her way back home from New York. On the train, she's befriended by army major Ray Milland, who develops fatherly feelings toward her. Later on, those fatherly feelings become increasingly less chaste, which made audiences in 1942 laugh but would make politically correct audiences in 2010 squirm.
Let'em squirm: The Major and the Minor is a delightful comedy, with both Rogers and Ray Milland in top form. In a bitchy supporting role, Rita Johnson steals (or at least gets close to stealing) all of her scenes.
I'd also recommend Leo McCarey's Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942), which at the time was poorly received by critics who found that a comedy about Nazism was in bad taste. (Similar accusations greeted Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be that same year.) It's been a while since I last saw this one, but at the time I found it very funny. Rogers is excellent as a gold digger who unwittingly marries a conniving Nazi. Cary Grant is the befuddled good guy, while Walter Slezak is outstanding as the Nazi.
The First Traveling Saleslady (1956), one of the last productions made at the moribund RKO, is considered by some to be one of the worst movies of Ginger Rogers' career. As so often happens, I disagree.
I find Arthur Lubin's The First Traveling Saleslady a thoroughly enjoyable comedy, with Rogers and Barry Nelson displaying great chemistry as she tries to convince early 20th-century Texans that a woman can be as good a salesperson as a guy. All in all, The First Traveling Saleslady is a 1956 production with a surprisingly modern feel.
As a plus, even granite-faced Clint Eastwood comes across as a real human being in this one. Had he remained human, he'd probably never have become a star – though I, personally, might have become a fan. (Lubin has been credited for giving Eastwood his first several breaks. In addition to Eastwood, the gay director peppered The First Traveling Saleslady with good-looking guys in supporting roles and bit parts.)
Another curiosity: Carol Channing is nearly unrecognizable as Eastwood's paramour. Check it out.
Patricia Collinge, Kim Hunter, Ginger Rogers Tender Comrade
Schedule and synopsis from the TCM website:
5:00pm [Romance] Kitty Foyle (1940)
A girl from the wrong side of the tracks endures scandal and heartbreak when she falls for a high-society boy.
Cast: Ginger Rogers, Dennis Morgan, James Craig, Eduardo Ciannelli Dir: Sam Wood BW-108 min.
7:00pm Tom, Dick And Harry (1941)
A girl accepts three wedding proposals at once and dreams of marriage to each man.
Cast: Ginger Rogers, George Murphy, Alan Marshal, Burgess Meredith Dir: Garson Kanin BW-87 min.
8:30pm Major and the Minor, The (1942)
A woman disguises herself as a little girl and ends up in a military academy.
Cast: Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland, Rita Johnson, Robert Benchley Dir: Billy Wilder BW-100 min.
10:15pm [Short Film] Short Film: One Reel Wonders: Lions On The Loose (1941)
Cast: Pete Smith BW-8 min.
10:30pm Primrose Path (1940)
The youngest child in a family of prostitutes tries to go straight with a working man.
Cast: Ginger Rogers, Joel McCrea, Marjorie Rambeau, Henry Travers Dir: Gregory La Cava BW-93 min.
2:00am Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942)
A radio correspondent tries to rescue a burlesque queen from her marriage to a Nazi official.
Cast: Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Walter Slezak, Albert Dekker Dir: Leo McCarey BW-115 min.
5:45am [Romance] Weekend at the Waldorf (1945)
In this remake of Grand Hotel, guests at a New York hotel fight to survive personal tragedy.
Cast: Ginger Rogers, Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon, Van Johnson Dir: Robert Z. Leonard BW-130 min.
8:00am First Traveling Saleslady, The (1956)
A corset designer takes a job selling barbed wire in the wild West.
Cast: Ginger Rogers, Barry Nelson, Carol Channing, David Brian Dir: Arthur Lubin C-92 min.
9:45am It Had to Be You (1947)
A runaway bride meets her match in a handsome fireman.
Cast: Ginger Rogers, Cornel Wilde, Percy Waram, Spring Byington Dir: Rudolph Maté BW-98 min.
11:30am Tight Spot (1955)
A district attorney tries to get a hardboiled woman to testify against the mob.
Cast: Ginger Rogers, Edward G. Robinson, Brian Keith, Lucy Marlow Dir: Phil Karlson BW-96 min.
Photo: RKO Pictures