Film: Design & Architecture

Fred, Ginger, and Some Bad Ballet

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Shall We Dance from 1937 has some very stylized sets. Several scenes feature custom designed hotel rooms for each sex, which is common in Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films. I’m pretty sure that in reality, this never happened. Here’s a list of common design trends used for contemporary film interiors during the 1930s and 40s: padded and/or studded walls, curving walls, lots of built-ins, wall murals, bare-bulb sconces, heavy usage of fluorescent wall and overhead light fixtures. The following photos will show you what I’m referring to.

(above) And this is suppose to be an ordinary rehearsal in an ordinary studio with some extraordinarily bad technique.
(above) And this is suppose to be an ordinary rehearsal in an ordinary studio with some extraordinarily bad technique.
(above) Ginger and some other man
(above) Ginger and some other man
(above) Her Parisian apartment obtained on a dancer’s salary during the Depression.
(above) Her Parisian apartment obtained on a dancer’s salary during the Depression.
(above) Here she’s complaining about being famous.
(above) Here she’s complaining about being famous.
(above) A satin padded dado might be a good idea for any dancer who’s required to dance backwards and in heels.
(above) A satin padded dado might be a good idea for any dancer who’s required to dance backwards and in heels.
(above) This is her place in New York.
(above) This is her place in New York.
(above) Note the fireplace wall and the grate.
(above) Note the fireplace wall and the grate.
(above) Both of their apartment/hotel entry doors have a brass or bronze relief ornament on the inside. An exquisite trend of this era that I would love to see return.
(above) Both of their apartment/hotel entry doors have a brass or bronze relief ornament on the inside. An exquisite trend of this era that I would love to see return.
(above) Another popular trend of this era is shadow silhouettes on the walls, but only on the walls of film sets.
(above) Another popular trend of this era is shadow silhouettes on the walls, but only on the walls of film sets.
(above) Another view of her fireplace wall. The upholstery fabric on her various couches and banquettes is some sort of fuzzy material.
(above) Another view of her fireplace wall. The upholstery fabric on her various couches and banquettes is some sort of fuzzy material.
(above) So let me get this straight. As a dancer during the Depression, she could afford swanky apartments in both Paris and New York, fancy lingerie, and a lady’s maid.
(above) So let me get this straight. As a dancer during the Depression, she could afford swanky apartments in both Paris and New York, fancy lingerie, and a lady’s maid.
(above) And this ladies’ maid’s first duty of the day is to serve this “starving artist” breakfast in bed.
(above) And this ladies’ maid’s first duty of the day is to serve this “starving artist” breakfast in bed.
(above) This is his apartment in the same building on the same floor in New York. So why are his ceilings much lower?
(above) This is his apartment in the same building on the same floor in New York. So why are his ceilings much lower?
(above) I love the padded wall with the stud design, but I’m not too keen about the flower arrangements.
(above) I love the padded wall with the stud design, but I’m not too keen about the flower arrangements.
(above) Budget wasn’t a problem when this partition wall was built.
(above) Budget wasn’t a problem when this partition wall was built.
(above) The entry foyer to the hotel’s night club.
(above) The entry foyer to the hotel’s night club.
(above) Here’s another very interesting partition. This one divides the foyer from the club.
(above) Here’s another very interesting partition. This one divides the foyer from the club.
(above) In those days, every hotel and apartment building had its own night club, which was packed seven days a week with formally attired guests. Of course, a tuxedo would not do for Fred Astaire. Only white tie and tails for him.
(above) In those days, every hotel and apartment building had its own night club, which was packed seven days a week with formally attired guests. Of course, a tuxedo would not do for Fred Astaire. Only white tie and tails for him.
(above) Another common feature would be the in-house orchestra.
(above) Another common feature would be the in-house orchestra.
(above) Another example of shadow silhouettes in set design.
(above) Another example of shadow silhouettes in set design.

2 thoughts on “Fred, Ginger, and Some Bad Ballet”

  1. Alaina says:

    My grandmother was Ginger’s maid. Thank you for posting the photos of her.

    1. Patsy Ann says:

      Very cool, Alaina! What a fun and interesting grandmother you had.

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