The Academy Award-winning actress, who danced her way into the hearts of Americans across the country during the Great Depression – and proudly went toe-to-toe with Fred Astaire – died April 25, 1995, at age 83. In her lifetime, the screen icon made 73 movies in over four decades, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Olden befriended Rogers after attending her nightclub acts. In 1977, Olden began working for Rogers and two remained close until the star’s death.
Olden spoke to Fox News about what Rogers’ life was really like in her later years, fun facts about the screen legend that would surprise fans today and whether she remained pals with Astaire.
Fox News: What was your initial impression of Ginger Rogers?
Roberta Olden: She was very gracious. She was very interested in what I had to say. And she would always ask me questions like where I lived and what I did for a living. I was in my early 20s so she was asking about my family. But I just remember her being such a gracious, kind woman.
Fox News: As her personal assistant, what was a typical day like for you?
Olden: I lived in her house with her and her housekeeper. She would usually go swimming in the mornings and I would help her with any phone calls she needed, make travel plans and send out letters. Sometimes we would go to the grocery store, which she loved. I would help her with anything she needed, whether it was scheduling interviews, meetings, personal appearances – I was always there with her.
Fox News: You two ultimately became close and she even saw you as a daughter. Is that true?
Olden: Yes – she knew I had a very close relationship with my parents so she didn’t want to infringe on that. But she herself didn’t have any children. And she was always grateful to have young people that naturally gravitated toward her. She loved having young people around. And because we spent so much time together, she considered me kind of like a daughter. I was a nice substitute *laughs*.
Fox News: Did Ginger ever express any desire of wanting to become a mother?
Olden: I know she explained it in her book, but as far as I remember, she was very busy with her career. And I’m guessing, from what I know about her and the relationships she had with her husbands, maybe she didn’t find the right partner or husband to have a child with. But she was a very busy woman. I know there were many ladies in her circle who gave up things to have children, and that was great for them. But she was very much concerned with her career and concentrated on that.
Fox News: How did Ginger feel about Hollywood at that point in her life when you started working for her?
Olden: By the time I started working for her in 1977, she was past making movies and more concentrated on personal appearances. She did several television shows and a couple of stage productions. And she also directed one show.
But how did she feel about Hollywood? I think she was glad to have her mother alongside her and helping her navigate those difficult business decisions. I don’t think she had any real problems with anybody in the industry because she was a very likable person and very good at what she did. Ginger was also very devoted to her work, which I believe was key to her success.
Fox News: What are some fun facts about Ginger Rogers that would surprise fans today?
Olden: She was a very good tennis player. A lot of times when she would play tennis, I would go with her. She would always beat me even though I was 40, 50 years younger than her *laughs*. She could place the ball wherever she wanted and yet she would always beat me. She was also a very good golfer. She usually hit in the low 80s.
She also loved shopping. A lot of times when we were in New York, we would have to go to Bergdorf Goodman and see Nick, the salesman in the shoe department. He would always bring out the latest Bruno Magli shoes. She would pick out four or five of them, even though there was no room in her suitcase. But she would have them shipped anyway. She loved her shoes.
But she also loved going to the grocery store. I remember when we were getting ready to fix a big Thanksgiving dinner for some friends of hers, we headed to the grocery store together and went to look at spices. There was one man also looking at spices and he muttered, “Gee, I can’t find the ginger.” She turned, looked at him and said, “Well, here I am!” He just looked at her and said, “OK, thank you.” And he walked away. He didn’t pick up on it.
I remember another time when we were at the grocery store, she noticed these two little old ladies following her from aisle to aisle. They finally got the courage to come up and say, “We just love you, Barbara Stanwyck! Can we have your autograph?” And she signed it as Barbara Stanwyck. So that was fun *laughs*. I know back in her studio days, she was a bit of a practical joker and would joke around with the crew on set. Everyone thought she was just a pleasure to be around. She loved making people smile. Other fun facts? She played the accordion very early on in her career, although I never heard it. And she was an accomplished artist.
Fox News: What was life like for her in Southern Oregon?
Olden: She loved it. It was a place for her to just relax. She spent time cooking, making jam and fishing. And she was a great skeet shot! It was a quiet place where she could read, go fishing or horseback riding. She would let her hair down, wear no makeup and just be a regular person. She loved that, too.
Fox News: How did she feel about Fred Astaire?
Olden: Of course, their partnership was legendary. But they were also very complimentary of each other. I remember one time when we were in Beverly Hills, their choreographer invited her to his house for a big spaghetti dinner. Fred was there with his wife. We had a very nice dinner and they were all so kind. They joked and chatted about the gold old times. There was never any animosity as a lot of people might hope *laughs*. They genuinely admired and respected each other.
Fox News: What’s one memory of Ginger Rogers you love thinking about?
Olden: It would have to be when she was celebrated at the Kennedy Center Honors. That was very overdue, in my opinion. But I remember her just being so grateful and thrilled to be there. She loved knowing that she still meant so much to people.
Fox News: It also sounded like she was very much devoted to her Christian Science faith.
Olden: Oh yes, her mother raised her in the Christian Science faith. She said it offered her a real reliance upon God as a healing force. It became a part of her life.
I went to church with her several times to see what it was all about – I was raised Catholic. I remember on Wednesdays, they would have what is called a testimonial meeting where you can stand up, give thanks, and explain what kind of healing you’ve experienced. She used that in her daily life all the time. And it was a part of her life always. She was a very good Christian woman. It gave her peace.
Fox News: It’s been reported that Ginger told you that Lew Ayres was her true love. Did she ever share why their marriage ended?
Olden: No, she didn’t share the why with me. I mean, there’s a lot of speculation in the fan magazines, but she never shared that information with me. She fell in love with him when she saw him in “All Quiet on the Western Front,” which came out in 1930. She was finally able to meet him one day after she moved to Los Angeles.
They just clicked and got married. He was very intellectual, which she greatly admired. Unfortunately, their marriage only lasted a couple of years. But that’s what she always said, that he was her one true love. Not that she didn’t love the other men she was married to. But maybe she was thinking that as a young woman, this was really the man for her.
Fox News: How would you describe the last time you spoke to Ginger?
Olden: It was a very hard conversation because it was the morning that she passed away. It was difficult for me. I was reading the Bible and Science and Health. She just kind of looked at me, smiled and closed her eyes. And that was it. That was the extent of the conversation.
When somebody passes away that you have great admiration and love for, it’s hard. They’re like family. It would be like your mother passing away and you were holding her hand. It was a difficult day for me and for everybody else. I had great support from my family. And she also had a great support system of very close friends. It was just hard to know she was not going to be there anymore. … But I will say she was very calm and it was a peaceful passing.
Fox News: Ginger left you one of her prized possessions – her Oscar. Is that true?
Olden: Yes. As I came to know her, she knew about my collection of movie posters and photographs. She knew how important that was to me. So she left me all of her memorabilia, not just the Oscar. That includes photographs, scripts, business letters, papers, clothing, shoes – all sorts of things.
She knew I would take care of the memorabilia. There’s a lady in Missouri who owned the house where Ginger was born. She turned that into a museum. I’ve added some things to it. I continue to collect pieces so when I pass, they can go to a special place and they will all be taken care of properly. I think she just knew that I would take care of these items.
Fox News: Ginger lived a scandal-free life it seems. What was her secret?
Olden: She focused on her work. People in the industry had bills to pay and families to take care of. They didn’t get paid millions of dollars back then for every film that they did. So she made sure that the roles she got were not only good for her career but would also pay the bills.
She had her own house, her mother had a house, her grandfather had a house and she had a ranch in Oregon. She never whined if things didn’t go her way. And her drive wasn’t to just make money. Her drive was to make good pictures that fans would be proud of.
Fox News: What do you hope readers will get from your friendship with Ginger Rogers?
Olden: I hope people learn how much I admired her. I really enjoyed working and being with her. I love watching her films and her performances today because she was so good at them. When you see her films today, you can still spot that twinkle in her eye. I still remember that twinkle vividly. And she was the real deal. She was just as kind and sweet in person. We got along great.