Ginger Rogers’ breakthrough year was 1933, when she appeared in an incredible 10 movies. Of those, three were directed by William A. Seiter, including her first film at RKO, Professional Sweetheart. A surprisingly biting satire of the radio industry at the time, it also serves as a showcase for her talents as a comedian.
The professional sweetheart of the title is Glory Elen (Rogers), the “Purity Girl” of the Ippsie Wippsie Hour. All she wants to do is get rid of her image as the perfect girl-next-door, but boss Sam Ipswich (Gregory Ratoff) and his underlings can’t risk her ruining that. In an effort to please her, the men try to find her the perfect boyfriend. Speed Dennis (Frank McHugh), Sam’s PR man, suggests the man be the “purest Anglo-Saxon” to appeal to the corn belt. Glory randomly picks a letter written by male Kentucky fans and finds one by Jim Davey (Norman Foster).
Speed later brings Jim to New York and pushes him to propose to Glory because the media expects a wedding and damn it, they’ll get one. Their relationship gets off to a rocky start, but they eventually realize they love each other in spite of his small-town personality and her big-city dreams.
Professional Sweetheart was written by Maurine Watkins, best known for writing the 1926 stage play Chicago, which would later be turned into the Rogers-starring Roxie Hart (1942), a Broadway musical and a 2002 Oscar-winning movie. The script is dripping with wit and one-liners and, just like Chicago, there is an incredible cynicism running through it. Watkins understood just how easy it is to manipulate the press and public, and how stupid men think they can control smart women. However, where Roxie Hart wanted to be loved, Glory just wanted to escape.
The most bizarre thing about Professional Sweetheart – and something that will take longtime Ginger fans out of the movie – is it includes the only time Rogers was ever dubbed by another singer. For some inexplicable reason, Etta Moten (the black singer who sang “Remember My Forgotten Man” in Gold Diggers of 1933) was brought in to sing “My Imaginary Sweetheart.” Considering how familiar we all are with Rogers’ voice, it is so bizarre to hear someone else’s voice coming out of her mouth.
– Ginger Rogers (Ginger My Story, via the TCM Database)
“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.”
There certainly is certainly something Capra-esque about the story, where a naive boy meets a world-weary girl and is tempted by the new atmosphere. But Professional Sweetheart is told from the woman’s perspective and she’s the real driving force from start to finish. This is a movie where Rogers plays a character underestimated too many times, controlled by too many men and desperate to break-out. It’s the kind of story that would disappear from Hollywood after the Production Code would kick into full gear, and makes you realize how forward-thinking Pre-Code movies were.
Filled to the brim with fantastic supporting actors, Professional Sweetheart is a fun, delectable treat for Rogers fans that is ripe for rediscovery. Although set in a radio industry that no longer exists and was made 85 years ago, not all that much has changed, just replace “radio industry” with “social media.”
Thanks to Warner Archive for providing this disc to review! It is now available at WBShop.com.