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Ginger Rogers went country for Professional Sweetheart (1933), her first film at RKO, the film studio thatwould make her a star. This is not to say she plays a hillbilly; instead, due to unexpected circumstances, she abandons her urban lifestyle for a rural one. When the film opens she's a radio star known as "The Purity Girl of the Air," who sings songs and pitches GregoryRatoff's line of washcloths. When Rogers decides she'd like a liveliersocial life, Ratoff picks a Kentucky rube (Norman Foster) to serve as herpublic escort (for publicity reasons) only to learn that his star has fallen for the hick and wants tofollow him back to the hills. The confusion that follows as he tries towin back his star is heightened by the comic antics of such seasoned characteractors as ZaSu Pitts, Frank McHugh, Allen Jenkins, Edgar Kennedy andFranklin Pangborn.
Professional Sweetheart was one of several comedies produced in the thirties that poked funat the growing popularity of radio, where stars often bore no resemblanceto the characters they played on the air. Known for her witty barbs and satiric humor, former newswoman Maurine Dallas Watkins was hired by RKO to write the script. Watkinshad been a one-play wonder on Broadway, but what a play. She used herexperiences as a courtroom reporter to create Chicago, a trenchantexposf justice as show business that still delights audiences as thebasis of the hit stage and screen musical of the same name. The play alsoprovided Rogers with one of her best starring vehicles, Roxie Hart,in which she played the chorus girl wannabe who would later prove a potentstar role for Gwen Verdon on stage and Renee Zellweger on screen.
But that was almost a decade away when Rogers took on the role of GloryEden. She had been knocking around the movies since the coming of sound,with a brief break to star on Broadway in the Gershwin musical GirlCrazy. Rogers had played leads in low-budget films and supportingroles in bigger pictures, most noticeably as a wise-cracking chorus girl in42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933 (both 1932). She'd eventeamed with Foster before, though they had only flirted in 1930's YoungMan of Manhattan, while established star Claudette Colbert got him inthe final clinch.
After Rogers' success in the Warner Bros. musicals,Harry Cohn, head of production at Columbia Pictures, had asked her to testfor a contract. He turned her down because he thought her smile too big,but that didn't stop him from making a pass at her. When Rogers threatenedto tell his wife, he backed off, but he was a good enough sport to send hertest to RKO, where executives were looking for a new leading lady. Theysigned Rogers to a three-picture deal at $1,600 a week. Oddly, theyweren't that impressed with her singing. For the only time in her career,she was dubbed. The real singer of "My Imaginary Sweetheart" was EttaMoten, a black singer who had soloed impressively on "Remember My ForgottenMan" in Gold Diggers of 1933. It was the only real gripe Rogers had about making Professional Sweetheart. Regarding her dubbing, she wrote (in her autobiography Ginger My Story), "I was amazed and annoyed. I had been singing professionally on the stage and screen for years and thought it ridiculous to hear someone else's voice coming out of my mouth."
Professional Sweetheart went through two other titles --Careless and The Purity Girl -- before it hit the screen. Italso got a new title in England. Censors there thought ProfessionalSweetheart sounded like a film about the world's oldest profession, sothey called it Imaginary Sweetheart. But whatever the title, thefilm brought Rogers strong reviews and a chance to re-team with Fosterlater that year in Rafter Romance. By that time, RKO had decided tomake her a permanent fixture and signed her to a seven-year contract at$1,100 a week -- less money but more security. The move paid off a fewpictures later when Rogers stepped in for the honeymooning Dorothy Jordanto play Fred Astaire's dancing partner in Flying Down to Rio (1933),the film that made her a star.
Producer: H.N. Swanson
Director: William A. Seiter
Screenplay: Maurine Watkins
Based on a story by Watkins
Cinematography: Edward Cronjager
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase, Carroll Clark
Score: Edward Eliscu, Harry Akst, Max Steiner
Principal Cast: Ginger Rogers (Glory Eden), Norman Foster (Jim Davey), ZaSuPitts (Elmerada de Leon), Frank McHugh (Speed), Allen Jenkins (O'Connor),Gregory Ratoff (Ipswich), Edgar Kennedy (Kelsey), Lucien Littlefield (Ed,Announcer), Franklin Pangborn (Childress), Betty Furness (Blonde Reporter),Sterling Holloway (Scribe), Akim Tamiroff (Waiter).
by Frank Miller