Onboard the Concorde to Europe, Roberta Olden always offered her caviar to Hollywood legend Ginger Rogers. “The Concorde served caviar as an appetizer to dinner,” Roberta recalls to Closer magazine in the latest issue, on newsstands now. “I didn’t like caviar but Ginger loved it, so she always took mine!”
For 18 years beginning in 1977, Roberta traveled and lived with the Academy Award-winning actress and famed dance partner of Fred
Astaire as her personal assistant — a job which grew into a close friendship. “I was very fortunate because Ginger was a wonderful person,” Roberta says. “She didn’t have any children and thought of me as a daughter.”
Roberta enjoyed a host of rarified experiences, like traveling by supersonic jet and watching as Ginger’s career — which included Broadway, dramas, comedies and her 1930s dance films — was celebrated at the Kennedy Center Honors in 1992. Yet despite the glamour that surrounded her, Roberta describes Ginger as a very down-to-earth woman. “She liked to cook. She read a lot. She was an extraordinarily good artist and painter. She loved going to church,” Roberta recalls, noting that Ginger’s Christian Scientist faith was her bedrock. “She tried to live up to their teachings,” she says.
On an average day, Roberta would answer fan mail, make travel arrangements and perform other secretarial duties for the star. “I also went shopping with her,” says Roberta, who adds that Ginger adored shopping. “Whenever we went to New York she loved to go to Bergdorf Goodman and buy a lot of shoes. She loved shoes!” she confides. “She also liked to go to the grocery store. She was not the type of person to relegate those chores to someone else.”
For fun, the women often played tennis and golf together. “Ginger was quite a good athlete. She always beat me, even though I was younger,” recalls Roberta. “That was a little disheartening for me, but she earned it!”
Evenings would also pass convivially. Roberta would usually eat dinner with Ginger — the meals were either prepared by the star or by her longtime housekeeper, Erma. Later, they might watch TV together. “Ginger loved Murder, She Wrote,” she says. “She and Angela Lansbury were friends.”
Roberta describes the five times-divorced actress as “a person who knew her own mind,” but sometimes Ginger would confide in her young assistant. “She said that Lew Ayres was her one true love,” Roberta remembers. Ginger fell for Lew on the set of 1933’s Don’t Bet on Love and married him a year later. Sadly, they separated in 1936 and divorced in 1940.
When Ginger passed away at age 83 in 1995, she left all her memorabilia to Roberta, including her prized possession: the Best Actress Oscar for 1940’s Kitty Foyle. “I treasure it so much,” says Roberta. “She was just a wonderful person to be around and I still miss her.”
For this story and more, pick up the latest issue of Closer magazine, on newsstands now!
Reporting by Natalie Posner