BACK in 1981 I had a date with Ginger Rogers -- yes, I said, a date! It was a fulfillment of a fantasy I shared with millions of young men who watched Ginger (and, incidentally, Fred) dance in those wonderful movies back in the '30s and '40s.
How did it happen? Let's turn to Ginger's memoirs, ''Ginger: My Story'' for her account of how it came about:
''In March 1981,'' she writes, ''I was invited by Godfrey Sperling Jr., a senior Washington columnist for The Christian Science Monitor, to come to the Gridiron dinner, which is held every year in Washington, D.C.
''Various members of the news media do amusing tongue-in-cheek satire skits and songs about politicians. Whether they plan to make fun of the President or the Speaker of the House, they go at it tooth and nail. I did a little soft shoe with Philip Geyelin, an important newspaperman. It brought the house down, but not because of me; the audience couldn't get over Mr. Geyelin's dancing ability. After the number, I was taken to the dais and seated two seats away from President Reagan.''
So it was that at 6:15 p.m. on the night of the Gridiron dinner I knocked on Ms. Rogers's hotel room door. I was quite suitably dressed -- white tie and tails, which is the required male attire for all of these annual Gridiron functions, going back to 1885.
This meeting with my fantasy girlfriend of years ago is a blur. Ginger opened the door and I stumblingly apologized for coming early (I was supposed to be there at 6:30): ''I always arrived early for my dates years ago,'' I lamely muttered to Ms. Rogers and her campanion, Roberta Olden.
To me, Ginger looked like she had just stepped out of one of her movies. I'm not good on describing what women wear. But it was a typical Ginger Rogers flowing dance ballgown -- black chiffon with black ostrich feathers -- just like I had expected.