Lela E. Rogers
Lela Emogen Owens
December 25, 1891
Council Bluffs, Iowa, USA
|Died||May 25, 1977 (aged 85)|
|Other names||Lela Liebrand|
|Occupation||Screenwriter, journalist, producer, film editor|
Lela E. Rogers (1891-1977), sometimes known as Lela Liebrand, was an American journalist, film producer, film editor, and screenwriter. She was the mother of actress Ginger Rogers.
Born on Christmas Day in 1891 to Walter Owens and Saphrona Ball in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Lela was the oldest of four daughters. She attended grade school in Kansas City, Missouri, where her family finally settled down, and then went to business school to become a stenographer. Her first job was as at a furniture store in Kansas City when she was 16.
In 1909, she married William Eddins McMath, an electrical engineer, and in 1911, the couple moved to Independence, Missouri, where she worked as a newspaper reporter. It was there that she gave birth to her daughter, Virginia, or Ginger for short. She'd eventually become a theater reporter for The Fort Worth Record in Fort Worth, Texas, where Ginger was first raised.
After obtaining a divorce when Ginger was 3, Lela eventually moved to Hollywood, and by 1916, she was writing scripts under the name Lela Liebrand. At this time, she wrote stories for child actress Baby Marie Osborne, among other credits. She also traveled to Kansas to write, direct, and produce a tourism film while working for Pathé.
During World War I, she was one of the first women to enlist in the Marine Corps, where she handled publicity. She eventually became the only female editor of Marine newspaper, Leatherneck. At this time, she served as secretary to Col. Albert S. McLemore. While enlisted, she also wrote and directed about 75,000 feet of film for the Marines. She married John Rogers in Kansas City in 1920.
During the late 1930s and early 1940s, she worked as an assistant to Charles Koerner, RKO's vice president of production, and was put in charge of the studio's new talent. She soon parlayed this role into the role as a producer, supervising production on Ginger's films. In 1942, she played the mother of Ginger's character in Billy Wilder's comedy The Major and the Minor.
For a time, she ran her own acting school on the RKO lot, where she taught pupils like Betty Grable and Lucille Ball. Ball would later credit Lela for making her into the actress she became.
In 1947, Lela--a founding member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals and a devout Christian Scientist--testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee. At the time, there were rumors that she was dating the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover.
She died in 1977 in Palm Springs.
A museum dedicated to Lela Rogers and her daughter, Ginger Rogers is located at 100 W Moore Street, in Independence, Missouri where Ginger was born. The Owens-Rogers Museum is open to the public from April through September annually. Displays include photos, memorabilia, newspaper articles, magazines, and stories about the two women.