Today's entry definitely reflects the "& Co." portion of this site, because it relates to one of the filmland notables whose birth anniversary is today -- the great Ginger Rogers, born July 16, 1911, four years to the day after fellow legend Barbara Stanwyck. Also in the cast of our tale is someone intimately involved with Carole Lombard...in fact, it's believed he deflowered her in the late 1920s. We are, of course, referring to the billionaire/aviator/inventor/producer/di
Hughes romanced, promoted and/or bedded many of Hollywood's most legendary leading ladies -- and while his relationship with Lombard was both clandestine and brief (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/11206.html), he was far more open about being seen with Rogers, as this 1937 photograph makes evident:
In fact, they had known each other since the early '30s; here they are at the Hollywood premiere of Ginger's film "42nd Street" in 1933:
The late '30s were good times for both Howard and Ginger. Rogers was riding high as RKO's meal ticket, both on her own and as leading lady for Fred Astaire. Hughes broke the transcontinental air speed record in January of '37 and the following year received a New York ticker-tape parade for a record-breaking global flight.
Hughes, who earlier had been in a long relationship with Katharine Hepburn, now eyed her "Stage Door" co-star. In "Hughes: The Private Diaries, Memos and Letters," author Richard Hack wrote that in 1940, he started seriously courting Rogers -- recently divorced from her second husband, actor Lew Ayres -- through her mother, Lela. That October, Howard proposed to Ginger...and she accepted, receiving a five-carat, square-cut emerald Cartier engagement ring. Rogers asked Edith Head, designing at RKO's neighbor Paramount, to create a wedding gown. Hughes bought a tract of land at Cahuenga Park, near the "HOLLYWOODLAND" (now "HOLLYWOOD") sign, where he reportedly planned to build a mansion for himself and Rogers (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/287452.html).
All well and good -- except there was another woman involved. Heck, make that two other women, er. girls.
Faith Domergue is little remembered today, save for "This Island Earth" and few other science fiction films, but in 1940, at age 16, she had just signed with Warners. Hughes met her on board a yacht that summer and was smitten. He dated her discreetly and proposed marriage that fall...giving her a six-carat diamond ring from Tiffany. So according to Hack, Howard now was engaged to two actresses, neither aware of the status of the other.
But that's not all.
These days, people best know Gloria Vanderbilt for her designer jeans of the late 1970s or as the mother of newscaster Anderson Cooper. In 1940, she was a 16-year-old heiress who Hughes took a liking to, and began courting her.
How did this Lothario manage to juggle the trio? He installed three telephone lines in his home and gave each woman a separate number. Moreover, his personal secretary made sure any liaisons were kept considerably separate.
Vanderbilt dropped out of the running first, falling for playboy Pat Di Cicco (whom she eventually married, then divorced some years later after an abusive relationship). That left Rogers and Domergue.
Ginger was beginning to have second thoughts about Howard, who tried to take control over her personal and professional career. Eventually, she learned the truth from writer Alden Nash (who had failed to sell several of his scripts to Hughes' Caddo Company); he made her aware that Hughes had regularly visited Domergue's residence, which just happened to be across the street from where he lived. To say that Rogers was livid would be an understatement. Wrote Hack:
"The sound that came from Ginger's room rocked the Rogers house to the point that Lela ran shrieking through the door, certain her daughter was being attacked. Scarfs, bras and panties flew as Ginger rummaged through her doors removing any item that Hughes had ever given her. Dumping them all in a brown bag, including several necklaces, a ruby bracelet, and the emerald engagement ring, Ginger busied herself writing a farewell note..."
Rogers then received a telephone call saying Hughes had been injured in an automobile accident. She immediately went to Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital where, according to Hack, she marched into his hospital room, pushed the bag into his chest, and sternly said, "Faith Domergue needs these more than I do." Ginger quickly turned and left, slamming the door behind her.
The next morning, a station wagon Howard had given her was missing from her garage. She reported it as stolen, only to learn it was the property of Hughes Tool Company and had been repossessed. "She never saw Howard Hughes again," Hack wrote.
According to another author, Lombard once told actress Miriam Hopkins that Hughes -- who was dating Rogers at an event both attended -- has "got Clark [Gable] beat by four inches, but Hughes has no soul" (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/57165.html). Both Ginger and Carole could probably vouch for Howard's soullessness. Meanwhile, in the final months of 1940, Hughes moved onto his next project, a Billy the Kid saga called "The Outlaw," and the focal point of the film's promotion, a buxom newcomer named Jane Russell:
So Ginger Rogers didn't win Howard Hughes and his multimillions -- but in the spring of 1941, she won an Academy Award as best actress for "Kitty Foyle." And that's a trade-off any actress would make.
In honor of Rogers' birthday, let's hear her sing. Astaire, one of the all-time great interpreters of popular song, performed the vast majority of the songs in the Fred and Ginger musicals...but she was a fine singer, too (remember, she introduced the Gershwins' "Embraceable You" on Broadway). Here's Rogers doing "Music Makes Me" from 1933's "Flying Down To Rio"; the dress she wears and the lyrics she sings makes this unquestionably pre-Code: