They started out "flying down to rio" and ended up telling the story of the famous dancing Castles with nine movie hits by 1939. They were Fred and Ginger. Yep, Astaire and Rogers, and they were the most famous movie dance team in film history. In 1939, after six years of hoofing, waltzing and generally making movie magic, they shot their last film together (until Ginger took over for an ailing Judy Garland opposite Fred in 1949's The Barkley's of Broadway). They made major money for not so major studio RKO, but each wanted to branch out in his or her own career path. Rogers had been making strides in a solo starring career for a few years by the time they parted company, in fact she had been a supporting player and minor lead for years. More recently she had made a splash in Stage Door (1937), Having Wonderful Time (1938) and Bachelor Mother (1939). Next she wanted to break out in dramatic roles.
Kitty Foyle was a bestselling novel by Christopher Morley about a career working girl from humble beginnings in Philadelphia, who gets involved with two men, a rich playboy with an upper crust pedigree Wynward "Wyn" Strafford VI (Dennis Morgan) and a poor but idealistic doctor Mark Eisen (James Craig). Wyn is her first and true love, but their differences in social standing create problems. Despite protests from her blustering but loving Irish father, Kitty falls head over heels for the loaded pretty boy and takes a job as his personal secretary at the struggling magazine he owns (his money is not his own but a trust fund from the Main Line family he refuses to break from). When the rag folds and she realizes Wyn will never buck up against his family, she takes a job in New York. There she meets Mark, who woos her much differently than Wyn had, choosing to play cards in the tiny apartment she shares with two other girls. When the Philadelphia freewheeler, whom she'd never gotten out of her system, shows up in New York, Kitty throws over her solid steady and marries Wyn. When the couple returns, with wedding bands in tow, to Philadelphia, Kitty's fears about the social gap between them proves legitimate and they split as quickly as they had joined. More turmoil, more heartache for the heroine and by the end of the picture she has a big decision to make.
The film is a grand showcase for Rogers, who traded her honey blond hair for a brunette coif to push the drama a little farther away from the comedy. Although a well produced film, if not for Ginger and the RKO build it would have been a standard soaper in its day. Instead it was the studio's biggest financial success of the year (#10 of top grossing films for 1940) and nominated for an Oscar as Best Picture of the year. Also nominated was none other than former Astaire dancing partner, Ginger Rogers for Best Actress. Her competition was fierce, going up against Bette Davis in The Letter, Joan Fontaine in Rebecca, Martha Scott in Our Town and her old RKO rival Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story. When the winner was announced in 1941 it was the lovely Miss Rogers. She had broken away from her lightweight image and won the highest honor the industry could bestow.