Fred Astaire: Wikis


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Fred Astaire

in Royal Wedding (1951)
Born Frederick Austerlitz
May 10, 1899(1899-05-10)
Omaha, Nebraska,
United States
Died June 22, 1987 (aged 88)
Los Angeles, California,
United States
Occupation Actor, dancer, singer
Years active 1917–1981
Spouse(s) Phyllis Livingston Potter
Robyn Smith

Fred Astaire (May 10, 1899 – June 22, 1987), born Frederick Austerlitz,[1] was an American film and Broadway stage dancer, choreographer, singer and actor. His stage and subsequent film career spanned a total of 76 years, during which he made 31 musical films. He was named the fifth Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute. He is particularly associated with Ginger Rogers, with whom he made ten films.

According to another major innovator in filmed dance, Gene Kelly, "The history of dance on film begins with Astaire." Beyond film and television, many classical dancers and choreographers, Rudolf Nureyev, Michael Jackson, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Jerome Robbins among them, also acknowledged his importance and influence.


Life and career

1899-1917: Early life and career

Fred and Adele Astaire, c.1906

Astaire was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of Johanna "Ann" (née Geilus) and Frederic "Fritz" Austerlitz (born September 8, 1868, as Friedrich Emanuel Austerlitz).[1][2][3] Astaire's mother was born in the United States to Lutheran German immigrants from East Prussia and Alsace, while Astaire's father was born in Linz, Austria, to Jewish parents who had converted to Catholicism.[1][4][5][6]

After arriving in New York City at age 24 on October 26, 1892, and being processed at Ellis Island,[7] Astaire's father, hoping to find work in his brewing trade, moved to Omaha, Nebraska, and landed a job with the Storz Brewing Company. Astaire's mother dreamed of escaping Omaha by virtue of her children's talents after Adele Astaire early on revealed herself to be an instinctive dancer and singer. She planned a "brother-and-sister act," which was common in vaudeville at the time. Although Astaire refused dance lessons at first, he easily mimicked his older sister's step and took up piano, accordion, and clarinet.

When their father suddenly lost his job, the family moved to New York City to launch the show business career of the children. Despite Adele and Fred's teasing rivalry, they quickly acknowledged their individual strengths, his durability and her greater talent. Sister and brother took the name "Astaire" in 1905, as they were taught dance, speaking, and singing in preparation for developing an act. Family legend attributes the name to an uncle surnamed "L'Astaire".[8]

Their first act was called Juvenile Artists Presenting an Electric Musical Toe-Dancing Novelty. Fred wore a top hat and tails in the first half and a lobster outfit in the second. The goofy act debuted in Keyport, New Jersey, in a "tryout theater." The local paper wrote, "the Astaires are the greatest child act in vaudeville."[9]

As a result of their father's salesmanship, Fred and Adele rapidly landed a major contract and played the famed Orpheum circuit not only in Omaha but throughout the United States. Soon Adele grew to at least three inches taller than Fred and the pair began to look incongruous. The family decided to take a two-year break from show business to let time take its course and to avoid trouble from the Gerry Society and the child labor laws of the time. In 1912, Fred became an Episcopalian.[10]

The career of the Astaire siblings resumed with mixed fortunes, though with increasing skill and polish, as they began to incorporate tap dancing into their routines. Astaire's dancing was inspired by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and John “Bubbles” Sublett.[11] From vaudeville dancer Aurelio Coccia, they learned the tango, waltz, and other ballroom dances popularized by Vernon and Irene Castle.

Some sources[12] state that the Astaire siblings appeared in a 1915 film entitled Fanchon, the Cricket, starring Mary Pickford, but the Astaires have consistently denied this.[13][14]:103

Fred Astaire first met George Gershwin, who was working as a song plugger in Jerome H. Remick's, in 1916.[15] Fred had already been hunting for new music and dance ideas. Their chance meeting was to deeply affect the careers of both artists.

Astaire was always on the lookout for new steps on the circuit and was starting to demonstrate his ceaseless quest for novelty and perfection. The Astaires broke into Broadway in 1917 with Over The Top, a patriotic revue.

1917–33: stage career in Broadway and London

Fred and Adele Astaire in 1921

They followed up with several more shows, and of their work in The Passing Show of 1918 Heywood Broun wrote: "In an evening in which there was an abundance of good dancing, Fred Astaire stood out.... He and his partner, Adele Astaire, made the show pause early in the evening with a beautiful loose-limbed dance."[16]

By this time, Astaire's dancing skill was beginning to outshine his sister's, though she still set the tone of their act and her sparkle and humor drew much of the attention, due in part to Fred's careful preparation and strong supporting choreography.

During the 1920s, Fred and Adele appeared on Broadway and on the London stage in shows such as George and Ira Gershwin's Lady Be Good (1924) and Funny Face (1927), and later in The Band Wagon (1931), winning popular acclaim with the theater crowd on both sides of the Atlantic. By then, Astaire's tap dancing was recognized as among the best, as Robert Benchley wrote in 1930, "I don't think that I will plunge the nation into war by stating that Fred is the greatest tap-dancer in the world."[17]:5

After the close of Funny Face, the Astaires went to Hollywood for a screen test (now lost) at Paramount Pictures but were not considered suitable for films.

They split in 1932 when Adele married her first husband, Lord Charles Arthur Francis Cavendish, a son of the Duke of Devonshire. Fred Astaire went on to achieve success on his own on Broadway and in London with Gay Divorce, while considering offers from Hollywood. The end of the partnership was traumatic for Astaire but stimulated him to expand his range. Free of the brother-sister constraints of the former pairing and with a new partner (Claire Luce), he created a romantic partnered dance to Cole Porter's "Night and Day", which had been written for Gay Divorce. Luce stated that she had to encourage him to take a more romantic approach: "Come on, Fred, I'm not your sister, you know."[17]:6 The success of the stage play was credited to this number, and when recreated in the film version of the play The Gay Divorcee (1934), it ushered in a new era in filmed dance.[17]:23,26,61 Recently, film footage taken by Fred Stone of Astaire performing in Gay Divorce with Luce's successor, Dorothy Stone, in New York in 1933 was uncovered by dancer and historian Betsy Baytos and now represents the earliest extant performance footage of Astaire.[18]

1933–39: Astaire and Rogers at RKO

The announcement of the Astaire–Rogers screen partnership – from the trailer to Flying Down to Rio. This is the only time Rogers took billing over Astaire.

According to Hollywood folklore, a screen test report on Astaire for RKO Pictures, now lost along with the test, is reported to have read: "Can't sing. Can't act. Balding. Can dance a little." The producer of the Astaire-Rogers pictures, Pandro S. Berman, claimed he had never heard the story in the 1930s and that it only emerged years later.[17]:7 Astaire later insisted that the report had actually read: "Can't act. Slightly bald. Also dances".[19] In any case, the test was clearly disappointing, and David O. Selznick, who had signed Astaire to RKO and commissioned the test, stated in a memo, "I am uncertain about the man, but I feel, in spite of his enormous ears and bad chin line, that his charm is so tremendous that it comes through even on this wretched test."[17]:7 However, this did not affect RKO's plans for Astaire, first lending him for a few days to MGM in 1933 for his Hollywood debut, where he appeared as himself dancing with Joan Crawford in the successful musical film Dancing Lady.

On his return to RKO Pictures, he got fifth billing alongside Ginger Rogers in the 1933 Dolores del Río vehicle Flying Down to Rio. In a review, Variety magazine attributed its massive success to Astaire's presence: "The main point of Flying Down to Rio is the screen promise of Fred Astaire.... He's assuredly a bet after this one, for he's distinctly likable on the screen, the mike is kind to his voice and as a dancer he remains in a class by himself. The latter observation will be no news to the profession, which has long admitted that Astaire starts dancing where the others stop hoofing."[17]:7

Having already been linked to his sister Adele on stage, Astaire was initially very reluctant to become part of another dance team. He wrote his agent, "I don't mind making another picture with her but as for this team idea it's out! I've just managed to live down one partnership and I don't want to be bothered with any more."[17]:8 He was persuaded by the obvious public appeal of the Astaire-Rogers pairing. The partnership, and the choreography of Astaire and Hermes Pan, helped make dancing an important element of the Hollywood film musical. Astaire and Rogers made ten films together, including The Gay Divorcee (1934), Roberta (1935), Top Hat (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936), Swing Time (1936), Shall We Dance (1937), and Carefree (1938). Six out of the nine musicals he created became the biggest moneymakers for RKO; all of the films brought a certain prestige and artistry that all studios coveted at the time. Their partnership elevated them both to stardom; as Katharine Hepburn reportedly said, "He gives her class and she gives him sex."[20]:134

Astaire easily received the benefits of a percentage of the film's profits, something extremely rare in actors' contracts at that time; and complete autonomy over how the dances would be presented, allowing him to revolutionize dance on film.[21]

Astaire is credited with two important innovations in early film musicals.[17]:23,26 First, he insisted that the (almost stationary) camera film a dance routine in a single shot, if possible, while holding the dancers in full view at all times. Astaire famously quipped: "Either the camera will dance, or I will."[17]:420 Astaire maintained this policy from The Gay Divorcee (1934) onwards (until overruled by Francis Ford Coppola, who directed Finian's Rainbow (1968), Astaire's last film musical).[22] Astaire's style of dance sequences thus contrasted with the Busby Berkeley musicals, which were known for dance sequences filled with extravagant aerial shots, quick takes, and zooms on certain areas of the body, such as the arms or legs. Second, Astaire was adamant that all song and dance routines be seamlessly integrated into the plotlines of the film. Instead of using dance as spectacle as Busby Berkeley did, Astaire used it to move the plot along. Typically, an Astaire picture would include a solo performance by Astaire — which he termed his "sock solo" — a partnered comedy dance routine, and a partnered romantic dance routine.

An RKO publicity still of Astaire and Rogers dancing to "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" in Roberta (1935)

Dance commentators Arlene Croce,[20]:6 Hannah Hyam[23]:146,147 and John Mueller[17]:8,9 consider Rogers to have been Astaire's greatest dance partner, while recognizing that some of his later partners displayed superior technical dance skills, a view shared[24] by Hermes Pan and Stanley Donen.[25] Film critic Pauline Kael adopts a more neutral stance,[26] while Time magazine film critic Richard Schickel writes "The nostalgia surrounding Rogers-Astaire tends to bleach out other partners."[27]

Mueller sums up Rogers's abilities as follows: "Rogers was outstanding among Astaire's partners not because she was superior to others as a dancer but because, as a skilled, intuitive actress, she was cagey enough to realize that acting did not stop when dancing began ... the reason so many women have fantasized about dancing with Fred Astaire is that Ginger Rogers conveyed the impression that dancing with him is the most thrilling experience imaginable." According to Astaire, "Ginger had never danced with a partner before. She faked it an awful lot. She couldn't tap and she couldn't do this and that ... but Ginger had style and talent and improved as she went along. She got so that after a while everyone else who danced with me looked wrong."[28]

For her part, Rogers described Astaire's uncompromising standards extending to the whole production, "Sometimes he'll think of a new line of dialogue or a new angle for the story...they never know what time of night he'll call up and start ranting enthusiastically about a fresh idea...No loafing on the job on an Astaire picture, and no cutting corners."[17]:16

Astaire was still unwilling to have his career tied exclusively to any partnership, however. He negotiated with RKO to strike out on his own with A Damsel in Distress in 1937, unsuccessfully as it turned out. He returned to make two more films with Rogers, Carefree (1938) and The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939). While both films earned respectable gross incomes, they both lost money due to increased production costs[17]:410 and Astaire left RKO. Rogers remained and went on to become the studio's hottest property in the early forties. They were reunited in 1949 at MGM for their final outing, The Barkleys of Broadway.

1940–47: drifting to an early retirement

Astaire with Eleanor Powell in Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" from Broadway Melody of 1940

In 1939, Astaire left RKO to freelance and pursue new film opportunities, with mixed though generally successful outcomes. Throughout this period, Astaire continued to value the input of choreographic collaborators and, unlike the 1930s when he worked almost exclusively with Hermes Pan, he tapped the talents of other choreographers in an effort to continually innovate. His first post-Ginger dance partner was the redoubtable Eleanor Powell – considered the finest female tap-dancer of her generation – in Broadway Melody of 1940 where they performed a celebrated extended dance routine to Cole Porter's Begin the Beguine. He played alongside Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn (1942) and later Blue Skies (1946) but in spite of the enormous financial success of both, was reportedly dissatisfied with roles where he lost the girl to Crosby. The former film is particularly remembered for his virtuoso solo dance to "Let's Say it with Firecrackers" while the latter film featured an innovative song and dance routine to a song indelibly associated with him: "Puttin' on the Ritz." Other partners during this period included Paulette Goddard in Second Chorus (1940), in which he dance-conducted the Artie Shaw orchestra.

He made two pictures with Rita Hayworth: the first You'll Never Get Rich (1941) catapulted Hayworth to stardom and provided Astaire with his first opportunity to integrate Latin-American dance idioms into his style, taking advantage of Hayworth's professional Latin dance pedigree. His second film with Hayworth, You Were Never Lovelier (1942) was equally successful, and featured a duet to Kern's "I'm Old Fashioned" which became the centerpiece of Jerome Robbins's 1983 New York City Ballet tribute to Astaire. He next appeared opposite the seventeen-year-old Joan Leslie in the wartime drama The Sky's the Limit (1943) where he introduced Arlen and Mercer's "One for My Baby" while dancing on a bar counter in a dark and troubled routine. This film which was choreographed by Astaire alone and achieved modest box office success, represented an important departure for Astaire from his usual charming happy-go-lucky screen persona and confused contemporary critics.

His next partner, Lucille Bremer, was featured in two lavish vehicles, both directed by Vincente Minnelli: the fantasy Yolanda and the Thief which featured an avant-garde surrealistic ballet, and the musical revue Ziegfeld Follies (1946) which featured a memorable teaming of Astaire with Gene Kelly to "The Babbit and the Bromide", a Gershwin song Astaire had introduced with his sister Adele back in 1927. While Follies was a hit, Yolanda bombed at the box office and Astaire, ever insecure and believing his career was beginning to falter surprised his audiences by announcing his retirement during the production of Blue Skies (1946), nominating "Puttin' on the Ritz" as his farewell dance.

After announcing his retirement in 1946, Astaire concentrated on his horse-racing interests and went on to found the Fred Astaire Dance Studios in 1947 — which he subsequently sold in 1966.

1948–57: productive years with MGM and second retirement

However, he soon returned to the big screen to replace the injured Kelly in Easter Parade opposite Judy Garland, Ann Miller and Peter Lawford, and for a final reunion with Rogers in The Barkleys of Broadway (1949). He then went on to make more musicals throughout the 1950s: Let's Dance (1950) with Betty Hutton, Royal Wedding (1951) with Jane Powell, Three Little Words (1950) and The Belle of New York (1952) with Vera-Ellen, The Band Wagon (1953) and Silk Stockings (1957) with Cyd Charisse, Daddy Long Legs (1955) with Leslie Caron, and Funny Face (1957) with Audrey Hepburn.

During 1952 Astaire recorded The Astaire Story, a four volume album with a quintet led by Oscar Peterson. The album provided a musical overview of Astaire's career, and was produced by Norman Granz. The Astaire Story later won the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999, a special Grammy award to honor recordings that are at least twenty-five years old, and that have "qualitative or historical significance."[29]

His legacy at this point was 30 musical films in 25 years. Afterwards, Astaire announced that he was retiring from dancing in film to concentrate on dramatic acting, scoring rave reviews for the nuclear war drama On the Beach (1959).

1958–81: branching out into televised dance and straight acting

Astaire did not retire from dancing completely. He made a series of four highly rated, Emmy-winning musical specials for television in 1958, 1959, 1960, and 1968, each featuring Barrie Chase, with whom Astaire enjoyed an Indian summer of dance creativity. The first of these programs, 1958's An Evening with Fred Astaire, won nine Emmy Awards, including "Best Single Performance by an Actor" and "Most Outstanding Single Program of the Year." It was also noteworthy for being the first major broadcast to be prerecorded on color videotape, and has recently been restored. The show was to earn a further technical Emmy in 1988 for Ed Reitan, Don Kent, and Dan Einstein, who restored the original videotape, transferring its contents to a modern format, and filling in gaps where the tape had deteriorated with kinescope footage.

Astaire's last major musical film was Finian's Rainbow (1968), in which he shed his white tie and tails to play an Irish rogue who believes if he buries a crock of gold in the shadows of Fort Knox it will multiply. His dance partner was Petula Clark, who portrayed his skeptical daughter. He admitted to being as nervous about singing with her as she confessed to being apprehensive about dancing with him. But unfortunately for him, the film, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, was a box-office failure.Although it has gained a strong reputation over the years since its release.

Astaire continued to act into the 1970s, appearing on television as the father of Robert Wagner's character of Alexander Mundy in It Takes a Thief and in films such as The Towering Inferno (1974), in which he danced with Jennifer Jones and for which he received his only Academy Award nomination, in the category of Best Supporting Actor. He voiced the mailman narrator in 1970's classic animated film Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. He appeared in the first two That's Entertainment! documentaries in the mid 1970s. In the second, aged seventy-six, he performed a number of song-and-dance routines with Kelly, his last dance performances in a musical film. In the summer of 1975, he made three albums in London, Attitude Dancing, They Can't Take These Away From Me, and A Couple of Song and Dance Men, the last an album of duets with Bing Crosby. In 1976, he played a supporting role as a dog owner in the cult movie The Amazing Dobermans, co-starring Barbara Eden and James Franciscus. In 1978, Fred Astaire co-starred with Helen Hayes in a well-received television film, A Family Upside Down, in which they play an elderly couple coping with failing health. Astaire won an Emmy Award for his performance. He made a well-publicized guest appearance on the science fiction television series Battlestar Galactica in 1979, as Chameleon, the maybe-father of Starbuck, in "The Man With Nine Lives", a role written for him by Donald P. Bellisario. Astaire asked his agent to obtain a role for him on Galactica because of his grandchildren's interest in the series. His final film role was the 1981 adaptation of Peter Straub's novel Ghost Story. This horror film was also the last for two of his most prominent castmates, Melvyn Douglas and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

Working methods and influence on filmed dance

Astaire was a virtuoso dancer, able to convey light-hearted venturesomeness or deep emotion when called for. His technical control and sense of rhythm were astonishing. Long after the photography for the solo dance number "I Want to Be a Dancin' Man" was completed for the 1952 feature "The Belle of New York", it was decided that Astaire's humble costume and the threadbare stage set were inadequate and the entire sequence was re-shot. The 1994 documentary That's Entertainment! III shows the two performances side-by-side in split screen. Frame for frame, the two performances are absolutely identical, down to the subtlest gesture.

Astaire's execution of a dance routine was prized for its elegance, grace, originality and precision. He drew from a variety of influences, including tap and other black rhythms, classical dance and the elevated style of Vernon and Irene Castle, to create a uniquely recognizable dance style which greatly influenced the American Smooth style of ballroom dance, and set standards against which subsequent film dance musicals would be judged. He termed his eclectic approach his "outlaw style", an unpredictable and instinctive blending of personal artistry. His dances are economical yet endlessly nuanced, as Jerome Robbins stated, "Astaire's dancing looks so simple, so disarming, so easy, yet the understructure, the way he sets the steps on, over or against the music, is so surprising and inventive."[17]:18 Astaire further observes:

Working out the steps is a very complicated process—something like writing music. You have to think of some step that flows into the next one, and the whole dance must have an integrated pattern. If the dance is right, there shouldn't be a single superfluous movement. It should build to a climax and stop!"[17]:15

With very few exceptions, Astaire created his routines in collaboration with other choreographers, primarily Hermes Pan. They would often start with a blank slate:

"For maybe a couple of days we wouldn't get anywhere—just stand in front of the mirror and fool around... Then suddenly I'd get an idea or one of them would get an idea... So then we'd get started... You might get practically the whole idea of the routine done that day, but then you'd work on it, edit it, scramble it, and so forth. It might take sometimes as long as two, three weeks to get something going."[17]:15

Frequently, a dance sequence was built around two or three principal ideas, sometimes inspired by his own steps or by the music itself, suggesting a particular mood or action.[17]:20 Many of his dances were built around a "gimmick", such as dancing on the walls in "Royal Wedding," or dancing with his shadows in Swing Time, that he or his collaborator had thought up earlier and saved for the right situation. They would spend weeks creating all the dance sequences in a secluded rehearsal space before filming would begin, working with a rehearsal pianist (often the composer Hal Borne) who in turn would communicate modifications to the musical orchestrators.

His perfectionism was legendary; however, his relentless insistence on rehearsals and retakes was a burden to some. When time approached for the shooting of a number, Astaire would rehearse for another two weeks, and record the singing and music. With all the preparation completed, the actual shooting would go quickly, conserving costs. Astaire agonized during the entire process, frequently asking colleagues for acceptance for his work, as Vincente Minnelli stated, "He lacks confidence to the most enormous degree of all the people in the world. He will not even go to see his rushes...He always thinks he is no good."[17]:16 As Astaire himself observed, "I've never yet got anything 100% right. Still it's never as bad as I think it is."[17]:16

Although he viewed himself as an entertainer first and foremost, his consummate artistry won him the admiration of such twentieth century dance legends as Kelly, George Balanchine, the Nicholas Brothers, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Margot Fonteyn, Bob Fosse, Gregory Hines, Rudolph Nureyev, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson and Bill Robinson. Balanchine compared him to Bach, describing him as "the most interesting, the most inventive, the most elegant dancer of our times," while for Baryshnikov he was "a genius... a classical dancer like I never saw in my life."

Influence on popular song

Extremely modest about his singing abilities (he frequently claimed that he couldn't sing),[30] Astaire introduced some of the most celebrated songs from the Great American Songbook, in particular, Cole Porter's: "Night and Day" in Gay Divorce (1932); Irving Berlin's "Isn't This a Lovely Day?", "Cheek to Cheek" and "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" in Top Hat (1935), "Let's Face the Music and Dance" in Follow the Fleet (1936) and "Change Partners" in Carefree (1938). He first presented Jerome Kern's "The Way You Look Tonight" in Swing Time (1936); the Gershwins' "They Can't Take That Away From Me" in Shall We Dance (1937), "A Foggy Day" and "Nice Work if You Can Get it" in A Damsel in Distress (1937); Johnny Mercer's "One for My Baby" from The Sky's the Limit (1943) and "Something's Gotta Give" from Daddy Long Legs (1955); and Harry Warren and Arthur Freed's "This Heart of Mine" from Ziegfeld Follies (1946).

Astaire singing in Second Chorus (1940)

Astaire also co-introduced a number of song classics via song duets with his partners. For example, with his sister Adele, he co-introduced the Gershwins' "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" from Stop Flirting (1923), "Fascinating Rhythm" in Lady, Be Good (1924), "Funny Face" in Funny Face (1927); and, in duets with Ginger Rogers, he presented Irving Berlin's "I'm Putting all My Eggs in One Basket" in Follow the Fleet (1936), Jerome Kern's "Pick Yourself Up" and "A Fine Romance" in Swing Time (1936), along with The Gershwins' "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off" from Shall We Dance (1937). With Judy Garland, he sang Irving Berlin's "A Couple of Swells" from Easter Parade (1948); and, with Jack Buchanan, Oscar Levant, and Nanette Fabray he delivered Betty Comden and Adolph Green's "That's Entertainment" from The Band Wagon (1953).

Although he possessed a light voice, he was admired for his lyricism, diction and phrasing[31] – the grace and elegance so prized in his dancing seemed to be reflected in his singing, a capacity for synthesis which led Burton Lane to describe him as "The world's greatest musical performer."[17]:21 Irving Berlin considered Astaire the equal of any male interpreter of his songs – "as good as Jolson, Crosby or Sinatra, not necessarily because of his voice, but for his conception of projecting a song."[32] Jerome Kern considered him the supreme male interpreter of his songs[17]:21 and Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer also admired his unique treatment of their work. And while George Gershwin was somewhat critical of Astaire's singing abilities, he wrote many of his most memorable songs for him.[17]:123,128 In his heyday, Astaire was referenced[32] in lyrics of songwriters Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart and Eric Maschwitz and continues to inspire modern songwriters.[33]

Astaire was a songwriter of note himself, with "I'm Building Up to an Awful Letdown" (written with lyricist Johnny Mercer) reaching number four in the Hit Parade of 1936.[34] He recorded his own "It's Just Like Taking Candy from a Baby" with Benny Goodman in 1941, and nurtured a lifelong ambition to be a successful popular song composer.[35]

Awards, honors and tributes

Astaire's hand and foot prints at Grauman's Chinese Theater
Plaque honoring Astaire in Lismore
  • 1978 – Emmy Award for "Best Actor – Drama or Comedy Special" for A Family Upside Down.
  • 1978 – Honored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
  • 1978 – First recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors.
  • 1978 – National Artist Award from the American National Theatre Association for "contributing immeasurably to the American Theatre".
  • 1981 – The Lifetime Achievement Award from the AFI.
  • 1982 – The Anglo-American Contemporary Dance Foundation announces the Astaire Awards "to honor Fred Astaire and his sister Adele and to reward the achievement of an outstanding dancer or dancers." The awards have since been renamed The Fred and Adele Astaire Awards.
  • 1987 – The Capezio Dance Shoe Award (co-awarded with Rudolph Nureyev).
  • 1989 – Posthumous award of Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • 1991 – Posthumous induction into the Ballroom Dancer's Hall of Fame.
  • 2000 – Ava Astaire McKenzie unveils a plaque in honor of her father, erected by the citizens of Lismore, County Waterford, Ireland.
  • 2008 – Conference to honor the life and work of Fred Astaire at Oriel College, University of Oxford, June 21-24.[37]

Built in 1905, the Gottlieb Storz Mansion in Astaire's hometown of Omaha includes the "Adele and Fred Astaire Ballroom" on the top floor, which is the only memorial to their Omaha roots.[38]

Astaire is referenced in the 2003 animated feature, The Triplets of Belleville, in which he is eaten by his shoes after a fast-paced dance act.

Personal life

Always immaculately turned out, Astaire remained something of a male fashion icon even into his later years, eschewing his trademark top hat, white tie and tails (which he never really cared for)[39] in favor of a breezy casual style of tailored sports jackets, colored shirts, cravats and slacks — the latter usually held up by the idiosyncratic use of an old tie in place of a belt.

Astaire married for the first time in 1933, to the 25-year-old Phyllis Potter (née Phyllis Livingston Baker, 1908–54), a Boston-born New York socialite and former wife of Eliphalet Nott Potter III (1906–81), after pursuing her ardently for roughly two years. Potter's death from lung cancer, at the age of 46, ended 21 years of a blissful marriage and left Astaire devastated.[40] Consumed with grief, Astaire wanted to drop out of the film Daddy Long Legs (1955), his project at the time. He even made an unprecedented offer to the studio to pay all production costs to date out of his own pocket. But he ultimately decided to continue with the picture as a distraction from his grief (and also because Potter had wanted him to make it).[41] Thereafter, he remained as busy as possible.

In addition to Potter's son, Eliphalet IV, known as Peter, the Astaires had two children. Fred, Jr. (born 1936) appeared with his father in the movie Midas Run, but became a charter pilot and rancher instead of an actor. Ava Astaire McKenzie (born 1942) remains actively involved in promoting her late father's heritage. Ava continues to lecture on topics about her father today. She appears in the documentary "A Couple of Song and Dance Men" with film historian Ken Barnes, a supplement on the DVD release of Holiday Inn (1942) starring Astaire and Bing Crosby.[42] She is married to Richard McKenzie and divides her time between London and Ireland.[43]

His friend David Niven described him as "a pixie — timid, always warm-hearted, with a penchant for schoolboy jokes." Astaire was a lifelong golf and Thoroughbred horse racing enthusiast. In 1946 his horse Triplicate won the prestigious Hollywood Gold Cup and San Juan Capistrano Handicap. He remained physically active well into his eighties. At age seventy-eight, he broke his left wrist while riding his grandson's skateboard.[44]

He remarried in 1980, to Robyn Smith, an actress turned jockey almost 45 years his junior. Smith was a jockey for Alfred G. Vanderbilt II.

Astaire died from pneumonia on June 22, 1987, at the age of eighty-eight. He was interred in the Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, California.[45] One last request of his was to thank his fans for their years of support.

Astaire has never been portrayed on film.[46] He always refused permission for such portrayals, saying, "However much they offer me – and offers come in all the time – I shall not sell."[47] Astaire's will included a clause requesting that no such portrayal ever take place; he commented, "It is there because I have no particular desire to have my life misinterpreted, which it would be."[48]

Stage, film and television work


(*) performances with Ginger Rogers



  • Astaire, Fred. Steps in Time, 1959, OCLC 422937
  • Billman, Larry. Fred Astaire — A Bio-bibliography, Greenwood Press 1997, ISBN 0-313-29010-5
  • Boyer, G. Bruce. Fred Astaire Style, Assouline 2005, ISBN 2-84323-677-0
  • Croce, Arlene. The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book, Galahad Books 1974, ISBN 0-88365-099-1
  • Crouse, Jeffrey. "Letting His Wish Provide the Occasion: Fred Astaire in Top Hat", Film International, No. 5, 2003.
  • Freeland, Michael. Fred Astaire An Illustrated Biography, Grosset & Dunlap, 1976. ISBN 0-448-14080-2
  • Garofalo, Alessandra. Austerlitz sounded too much like a battle: The roots of Fred Astaire family in Europe, Editrice UNI Service, 2009. ISBN 978-88-6178-415-4
  • Giles, Sarah. Fred Astaire — His Friends Talk, Bloomsbury, London, 1988, ISBN 0-7475-0322-2
  • Green, Benny. Fred Astaire, Bookthrift Co. 1980, ISBN 0-89673-018-2
  • Green, Stanley, & Burt Goldblatt. Starring Fred Astaire, Dodd 1973, ISBN 0-396-06877-4
  • Hyam, Hannah. Fred and Ginger — The Astaire-Rogers Partnership 1934-1938, Pen Press Publications, Brighton, 2007. ISBN 978-1-905621-96-5
  • Lamparski, Richard. Manhattan Diary. BearManor Media 2006 ISBN 1-59393-054-2
  • Mueller, John. Astaire Dancing — The Musical Films of Fred Astaire, Knopf 1985, ISBN 0-394-51654-0
  • Satchell, Tim. Astaire, The Biography. Hutchinson, London. 1987. ISBN 0-09-173736-2
  • Thomas, Bob. Astaire, the Man, The Dancer. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1985. ISBN 0-297-78402-1
  • The Astaire Family Papers, The Howard Gotleib Archival Research Center, Boston University, MA, U.S.A.


  1. ^ a b c Billman, Larry (1997). Fred Astaire – A Bio-bibliography. Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-29010-5. 
  2. ^ "Fred Astaire (1899-1987) aka Frederick Austerlitz". Hyde Flippo. Retrieved 2008-08-24. 
  3. ^ "The Religious Affiliation of Adele Astaire". Adherents. 2005-09-20. Retrieved 2008-08-24. 
  4. ^ Garofalo, Alessandra (2009). Austerlitz sounded too much like a battle: The roots of Fred Astaire family in Europe. Italy: Editrice UNI Service. ISBN 9788861784154. 
  5. ^ Levinson, Peter (2009). Puttin' On the Ritz: Fred Astaire and the Fine Art of Panache, A Biography. St. Martin's Press. pp. 1–4. ISBN0312353669. 
  6. ^ Satchell, p. 8: "'Fritz' Austerlitz, the twenty-three year-old son of Stephen Austerlitz and his wife Lucy Heller"
  7. ^ The Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.
  8. ^ Thomas p. 17
  9. ^ Bill Adler, Fred Astaire: A Wonderful Life, Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1987, p. 13, ISBN 0-88184-376-8
  10. ^ Astaire, Fred (1959). Steps in Time. London: Heinemann. ISBN 422937. 
  11. ^ Melissa Hauschild-Mork. "Fred Astaire". Retrieved 2008-06-09.  See also Swing Time.
  12. ^ e.g., Croce, 1st edition, 1972, footnote p. 14, removed at Astaire's request in 2nd edition, 1974, – see Giles (p. 24). Satchell pp. 41-43 claims to have detected their presence as extras "Even with the benefit of an editing machine, slow-motion, and stop-frame, the Astaires are almost lost in the mass of bodies"
  13. ^ Astaire p. 42 and Billman p. 4: "They observed the filming as visitors but insisted they did not appear in the film."
  14. ^ "The cast may also have included Fred Astaire, then sixteen, and his sister Adele. There is no proof of this, and they do not surface in surviving reels." — Brownlow, Kevin (1999). Mary Pickford Rediscovered. New York, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.. ISBN 0810943743. 
  15. ^ Astaire p. 65: "We struck up a friendship at once. He was amused by my piano playing and often made me play for him."
  16. ^ Bill Adler, Fred Astaire: A Wonderful Life, Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1987, p. 35, ISBN 0-88184-376-8
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Mueller, John (1986). Astaire Dancing – The Musical Films. London: Hamish Hamilton. ISBN 0-241-11749-6. 
  18. ^ Betsy Baytos. "Footage from the Fred Stone Collection of the Broadway show Gay Divorce (1933)". Fred Astaire: The Conference. The Astaire Conference. Retrieved 2008-05-14. 
  19. ^ Astaire made the comment in a 1980 interview on ABC's 20/20 with Barbara Walters. Astaire was balding at the time he began his movie career and thus wore a toupee in all of his films.
  20. ^ a b Croce, Arlene (1972). The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book. London: W.H. Allen. ISBN 9780810943742. 
  21. ^ The only other entertainer to receive this treatment at the time was Greta Garbo.
  22. ^ Coppola also fired Hermes Pan from the film. cf. Mueller p. 403
  23. ^ Hyam, Hannah (2007). Fred and Ginger – The Astaire-Rogers Partnership 1934-1938. Brighton: Pen Press Publications. ISBN 978-1-905621-96-5. 
  24. ^ Giles, p. 33 Pan: "I do not think Eleanor Powell was Fred's greatest dancing partner. I think Ginger Rogers was. Not that she was the greatest of dancers. Cyd Charisse was a much finer technical dancer"
  25. ^ ibid
  26. ^ Kael: "that's a bit much", in an otherwise laudatory review of Croce's The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book, writing in the The New Yorker, November 25, 1972
  27. ^ Richard Schickel's obituary of Fred Astaire in Time Magazine
  28. ^ Satchell p. 127
  29. ^ Grammy Hall of Fame Database
  30. ^ e.g. Satchell, p. 144
  31. ^ Thomas p. 118
  32. ^ a b q:Fred Astaire#Singers and songwriters on Astaire
  33. ^ e.g. the songs "I Am Fred Astaire" by Taking Back Sunday, "No Myth" by Michael Penn, "Take You on a Cruise" by Interpol, "Fred Astaire" by Lucky Boys Confusion, "Long Tall Glasses" by Leo Sayer, "Just Like Fred Astaire" by James, "After Hours" by "The Bluetones", "Fred Astaire" by Pips, Chips and Videoclips, "Decadence Dance" by Extreme, and appeared on the cover of The BeatlesSgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
  34. ^ Billman, p. 287.
  35. ^ Thomas, p. 135: "I'd love to have been able to do more with my music, but I never had the time. I was always working on dance numbers. Year after year I kept doing that. Somehow or other I always blame myself, because I say, 'Well, I could have found the time; why the hell didn't I do it?'"
  36. ^ Billman, pp. 287-290
  37. ^ Kathleen Riley (2008) (.PDF). Fred Astaire Conference Flyer. The Astaire Conference. Retrieved 2008-05-14. 
  38. ^ Wishart, D.J. (2004) Encyclopedia of the Great Plains University of Nebraska Pres. p 259.
  39. ^ Astaire, Steps in Time, p. 8: "At the risk of disillusionment, I must admit that I don't like top hats, white ties and tails.
  40. ^ Niven, David: Bring on the Empty Horses, G. Putnam 1975, p. 248, 255: "The combination of Fred and Phyllis was a joy to behold...Theirs was the prototype of a gloriously happy marriage."
  41. ^ Billman, p. 22: "Astaire's intense professionalism — and the memory that Phyllis had wanted him to make the film — made him report back for work. The first few weeks were difficult, with most of the time being spent on Leslie's ballets and requiring as little as possible from the grieving man. Caron remembered, "Fred used to sit down during a rehearsal and put his face in his towel and just cry."
  42. ^ Holiday Inn (1942), Special Edition DVD, Universal Studios Home Entertainment #21484
  44. ^ (Thomas p. 301) Astaire was awarded a life membership in the National Skateboard Society (Satchell p. 221). He remarked "Gene Kelly warned me not to be a damned fool, but I'd seen the things those kids got up to on television doing all sorts of tricks. What a routine I could have worked up for a film sequence if they had existed a few years ago. Anyway I was practicing in my driveway." (Satchell p. 221)
  45. ^ Rogers, who died in 1995, is also interred in this cemetery.
  46. ^ In 1986, Federico Fellini released Ginger and Fred, which, although inspired by Astaire and Rogers, portrays an Italian ballroom dancing couple. In 1996, his widow allowed footage of him to be used in a commercial for Dirt Devil vacuum cleaners in which he dances with a vacuum. His daughter stated that she was "saddened that after his wonderful career he was sold to the devil." cf Royal Wedding
  47. ^ Satchell p. 253
  48. ^ Satchell p. 254. Billman (p. 26) believes Astaire couldn't countenance the portrayal of his first wife, who suffered from a speech impediment.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Fred Astaire (18991987) was an American film and stage dancer, actor, singer and choreographer.


Astaire on Astaire

  • I have no desire to prove anything by it. I have never used it as an outlet or a means of expressing myself. I just dance.
    • from Astaire's autobiography Steps in Time, 1959, p325.
  • When working on my choreography I am not always receptive to outside suggestions or opinions. I believe that if you have something in mind in the way of a creation, such as a new dance, a sequence, or an effect, you are certain to come up with inaccurate criticism and damaging results if you go around asking for opinions.
    • op. cit., p6.
  • But I do nothing that I don't like, such as "inventing" up to the arty or "down" to the corny. I happen to relish a certain type of corn. What I think is the really dangerous approach is the "let's be artistic" attitude. I know that artistry just happens.
    • op. cit., p6,7
  • I don't make love by kissing, I make love by dancing.
    • Fred Astaire to Henry Ephron, screenwriter on Daddy Long Legs, as quoted in Ephron, Henry. We Thought We Could Do Anything: The Life of Screenwriters Phoebe and Henry Ephron, New York: Norton, 1977, p.131. (M)
  • Either the camera will dance, or I will.
    • Fred Astaire in Winge, John. "How Astaire Works." Film and Theatre Today, January 1950, pp.7-9. (M)
  • There comes a day when people begin to say, 'Why doesn't that old duffer retire?' I want to get out while they're still saying Astaire is a hell of a dancer.
    • Fred Astaire in Time. "The New Pictures: 'Blue Skies'". October 14, 1946, p. 103. (M)
  • A four wood I hit on the 13th hole at Bel Air Country Club in June of 1945. It landed right on the green and rolled into the cup for a hole in one.
    • Fred Astaire on his proudest achievement in Lewis, Jerry D. "Interview : Fred Astaire." Glendale Federal Magazine, Summer 1982, pp.8-10 (M)
  • What's all this talk about me being teamed with Ginger Rogers? I will not have it Leland--I did not go into pictures to be teamed with her or anyone else, and if that is the program in mind for me I will not stand for it. I don't mind making another picture with her but as for this teams idea, it's out.
    • Fred Astaire in a letter to his agent Leland Hayward dated February 9, 1934. He went on to make a further nine musical films with Rogers. (M)
  • I have had to do most of my choreography. I would say most of it, with help from various choreographers I have worked with.
    • Fred Astaire in "Reminiscences of Fred Astaire", Interview with Ronald L. Davis, Beverly Hills, July 31, 1978, SMU Oral History Project on the Performing Arts (M)
  • Oh, there's no such thing as my favorite performance. I can't sit here today and look back, and say, Top Hat was better than Easter Parade or any of the others. I just don't look back, period. When I finish with a project, I say 'all right, that's that. What's next?
    • Fred Astaire, interviewed by Dan Navarro for American Classic Screen Magazine, September/October 1978

On Astaire's insecurity

  • He lacks confidence to the most enormous degree of all the people in the world. He will not even go to see his rushes. He'll stay out in the alley and pace up and down and worry and collar you when you come out and say 'How good was so and so?'.... It would be much simpler if he would go and look at them himself, you know. But he always thinks he is no good.
    • Vincente Minnelli quoted in Schickel, Richard. The Men Who Made The Movies. New York: Atheneum, 1975. (M)
  • I remember when I was doing a film with Fred Astaire, it was nothing for him to work three or four days on two bars of music. One evening in the dark grey hours of dusk, I was walking across the deserted MGM lot when a small, weary figure with a towel around his neck suddenly appeared out of the giant cube sound stages. It was Fred. He came over to me, threw a heavy arm around my shoulder and said: "Oh Alan, why doesn't someone tell me I cannot dance?" The tormented illogic of his question made any answer insipid, and all I could do was walk with him in silence.
    • Alan Jay Lerner in Lerner, Alan Jay. On the Street Where I Live. New York: Norton, 1978. p.89. (M)

Classical dancers and choreographers on Astaire

  • He is terribly rare. He is like Bach, who in his time had a great concentration of ability, essence, knowledge, a spread of music. Astaire has that same concentration of genius; there is so much of the dance in him that it has been distilled.
    • George Balanchine in Nabokov, Ivan and Carmichael, Elizabeth. "Balanchine, An Interview". Horizon, January 1961, pp. 44-56. (M)
  • He is the most interesting, the most inventive, the most elegant dancer of our times... you see a little bit of Astaire in everybody's dancing--a pause here, a move there. It was all Astaire's originally.
    • George Balanchine, quoted in Thomas, Bob. Astaire, the Man, The Dancer. Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1985. ISBN 0297784021 p.33.
  • What do dancers think of Fred Astaire? It's no secret. We hate him. He gives us a complex because he's too perfect. His perfection is an absurdity. It's too hard to face.
  • He's a genius...a classical dancer like I never saw in my life.
  • When I was in the Soviet Union recently I was being interviewed by a newspaperman and he said, "Which dancers influenced you the most?" and I said, "Oh, well, Fred Astaire." He looked very surprised and shocked and I said, "What's the matter?" He said, "Well, Mr. Balanchine just said the same thing."
    • Jerome Robbins in Heeley, David, producer and director. Fred Astaire: Puttin' on his Top Hat and Fred Astaire: Change Partners and Dance (two television programs written by John L. Miller), PBS, March 1980. (M)
  • The history of dance on film begins with Astaire.
    • Gene Kelly in Heeley, David, producer and director. Fred Astaire: Puttin' on his Top Hat and Fred Astaire: Change Partners and Dance (two television programs written by John L. Miller), PBS, March 1980. (M)
  • Except for times Fred worked with real professional dancers like Cyd Charisse, it was a twenty five year war.
    • Hermes Pan, Astaire's principal choreographic collaborator, quoted in Davidson, Bill. The Real and the Unreal. New York: Harper and Bros., 1961. p. 186. (M)

Singers and songwriters on Astaire

  • There is no setup in Hollywood that compares with an Astaire picture.
    • Irving Berlin to George Gershwin quoted in Jablonski, Edward, and Stewart, Lawrence D. The Gershwin Years. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961, p.250. (M)
  • As a dancer he stands alone, and no singer knows his way around a song like Fred Astaire.
    • Irving Berlin, quoted in Puttin' on the Ritz, BBC Programme Acquisition, 1999.
  • He has a remarkable ear for intonation, a great sense of rhythm and what is most important, he has great style - style in my way of thinking is a matter of delivery, phrasing, pace, emphasis, and most of all presence.
    • Bing Crosby in Crosby, Bing. Liner notes for Attitude Dancing, United Artists Records, UAS29888, 1975. (M)
  • There never was a greater perfectionist, there never was, and never will be, a better dancer, and I never knew anybody more kind, more considerate, or more completely a gentleman...I love Fred, John, and I admire and respect him. I guess it's because he's so many things I'd like to be and I'm not.
    • Bing Crosby in a letter to John O'Hara as quoted in Thomas, Bob. Astaire, the Man, The Dancer. Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1985. ISBN 0297784021 p.242.
  • For a guy who had retired ostensibly, your comeback represents the greatest event since Satchel Paige.
    • Bing Crosby in a letter to Fred Astaire, c.1948, on Astaire's return in Easter Parade, as quoted in Astaire's biography, Steps in Time, United States, 1959. p. 293. ISBN 0815410581
  • When you talk about Fred Astaire, you talk about heaven. What more can I say?
    • Johnny Green to Mike Steen in Steen, Mike. Hollywood Speaks! An Oral History, G.P. Putnam's, New York, 1974.
  • Fred Astaire once worked so hard/ he often lost his breath/ and now he taps all other chaps to death
  • They climb the clouds/ To come through with airmail/ The dancing crowds/ Look up to some rare male/ Like that Astaire male.
    • from Lorenz Hart's title number to On Your Toes.
  • Astaire can't do anything bad.
    • Jerome Kern quoted in Bordman, Gerald. Jerome Kern: His Life and Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. p. 142. (M)
  • Fred Astaire is the best singer of songs the movie world ever knew. His phrasing has individual sophistication that is utterly charming. Presumably the runner-up would be Bing Crosby, a wonderful fellow, though he doesn't have the unstressed elegance of Astaire.
    • Oscar Levant in Levant, Oscar. The Memoirs of an Amnesiac. New York: Putnam, 1965. (M)
  • You're the nimble tread/Of the feet of Fred Astaire
  • Astaire really sweat - he toiled. He was a humorless Teutonic man, the opposite of his debonair image in top hat and tails. I liked him because he was an entertainer and an artist. There's a distinction between them. An artist is concerned only with what is acceptable to himself, where an entertainer strives to please the public. Astaire did both. Louis Armstrong was another one.
    • Artie Shaw on his collaboration with Astaire in Second Chorus (1940) as interviewed in Fantle, Dave and Johnson, Tom. Reel to Real. Badger Books LLC, 2004, p.304. ISBN 1932542043
  • By far the gentlest man I have ever known.
    • Frank Sinatra on Astaire as quoted in Barnes, Clive. "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails - Fred Astaire dead at 88," New York Times, June 23, 1987 as reproduced in Billman, Larry. Fred Astaire - a Bio-Bibliography, Greenwood Press, Connecticut, 1997, p. 300.
  • Q: What great singers of the past do you wish had sung your music?
  • A: Nobody really. Well, actually, Fred Astaire.
    • Stephen Sondheim in an interview with David Patrick Stearns, Classical Music Critic, The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 19, 2009 [1]

Hollywood on Astaire

  • Can't act, slightly bald, also dances.
    • Fred Astaire's version of the lost infamous screen test report in his interview on 20/20 with Barbara Walters, ABC, 1980 and reaffirmed by Astaire in Thomas, Bob. Astaire, the Man, The Dancer. Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1985. ISBN 0297784021 , p.78.
  • You know, you so-and-so, you've a little of the hoodlum in you.
    • Jimmy Cagney to Fred Astaire during rehearsals of "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" from Top Hat as quoted in Astaire's autobiography, Steps in Time, p8.
  • Once after a dinner party, Gregory Peck and I drove Fred Astaire home. Fred lived in a colonial house that had a long porch with many pillars. When we dropped him off, he danced along the whole front porch, then opened the door, tipped his hat to us, and disappeared. Wow! Greg and I couldn't speak for a few minutes. It was a beautiful way to say thank you.
    • Kirk Douglas in Douglas, Kirk. Let's Face It. Wiley, 2007. ISBN 9780470084694, p.26.
  • You can get dancers like this for 75$ a week.
    • Johnny Considine, MGM associate producer, on viewing Astaire's screen test. Source: Burton Lane as quoted in Green, Benny. Fred Astaire. London: Hamlyn, 1979 and reaffirmed by Lane in Lane, Burton. Letter to John Mueller, March 3, 1983. (M)
  • The main point of Flying Down to Rio is the screen promise of Fred Astaire.... He's assuredly a bet after this one, for he's distinctly likeable on the screen, the mike is kind to his voice and as a dancer he remains in a class by himself. The latter observation will be no news to the professsion, which has long admitted that Astaire starts dancing where the others stop hoofing.
    • Variety. Flying Down to Rio, December 26, 1933 (M)
  • Of all the actors and actresses I've ever worked with, the hardest worker is Fred Astaire. He behaved like he was a young man whose whole destiny depended on being successful in his first film. He rehearses between takes, after takes - there's no limit to his professionalism.
    • Rouben Mamoulian in Lecture and discussion at University of Southern California, December 7, 1975. Tape recording, Special Collections, University of Southern California. (M)
  • He is a truly complex fellow, not unlike the Michelangelos and da Vincis of the Renaissance period. He's a supreme artist but he is constantly filled with doubts and self-anger about his work--and that is what makes him so good. He is a perfectionist who is never sure he is attaining perfection.
    • Rouben Mamoulian, quoted in Satchell, Tim. Astaire, The Biography. Hutchinson, London. 1987. ISBN 0091737362. p.200.
  • It was on tiny wheels with a mount for the camera that put the lens about two feet above the ground. On it rode the camera operator and the assistant who changed the focus and that's all. Fred always wanted to keep the camera in as tight as possible, and they used to shoot with a 40 millimetre lens, which doesn't give you too much leeway. So every time Fred and Ginger moved toward us, the camera had to go back, and every time they went back, the camera went in. The head grip who was in charge of pushing this thing was a joy to watch. He would maintain a consistent distance, and when they were in the midst of a hectic dance that's quite a stunt.
    • H.C. Potter describing the "The Astaire dolly", as quoted in Croce, Arlene. The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book, W.H. Allen, London, 1974. p.127. ISBN 0491001592

Writers on Astaire

  • I don't think that I will plunge the nation into war by stating that Fred Astaire is the greatest tap-dancer in the world.
  • Mr. Astaire is the nearest approach we are ever likely to have to a human Mickey Mouse; he might have been drawn by Mr. Walt Disney, with his quick physical wit, his incredible agility. He belongs to a fantasy world almost as free as Mickey's from the law of Gravity.
  • A very distinguished colleague began his criticism of this show by asking what is Mr Astaire's secret. May I suggest that the solution hangs on a little word of three letters? Mr Astaire's secret is that of the late Rudolph Valentino and of Mr Maurice Chevalier — sex, but sex so bejewelled and be-pixied that the weaker vessels who fall for it can pretend that it isn't sex at all but a sublimated projection of the Little Fellow with the Knuckles in His Eyes. You'd have thought by the look of the first night foyer that it was Mothering Thursday, since every woman in the place was urgent to take to her bosom this waif with the sad eyes and the twinkling feet.
    • Theatre critic James Agate in a review of a 1933 London performance of Gay Divorce as quoted in Cooke, Alistair. "Fred Astaire Obituary", Letter From America, BBC World Service, June 28, 1987
  • At its most basic, Mr. Astaire's technique has three elements - tap, ballet and ballroom dancing. The ballet training, by his account, was brief but came at a crucial, early age. He has sometimes been classed as a tap dancer, but he was never the hoofer he has jokingly called himself. Much of the choreographic outline of his dancing with his ladies—be it Miss Rogers or Miss Hayworth—is ballroom. But of course, no ballroom dancer could dance like this.
    • Dance critic Anna Kisselgoff, in Shepard, Richard F. "Fred Astaire, The Ultimate Dancer, Dies," The New York Times, 23 June 1987

Literary references to Astaire

  • But Adrian did not hear him. I have mentioned that during dinner, preoccupied with his thoughts, he had bolted his food. Nature now took its toll. An acute spasm suddenly ran though him, and with a brief 'Ouch!' of pain he doubled up and began to walk round in circles. Sir Jasper clicked his tongue impatiently. "This is no time for doing the Astaire pom-pom dance," he said sharply.
  • "There's nothing to beat these old English country houses." said Charlie, becoming lyrical. "All those parks and gardens and terraces and stuff. Makes you think of bygone ages and knights in armour and all like that. I saw one of these joints in a movie in Cicero once with Fred Astaire in it, and I remember thinking those guys have it pretty soft."
  • Mr. Llewellyn paused. Mr. Trout had begun to float about the room like something out of Swan Lake, and Mr. Llewellyn disapproved of this. He was apt to be a martinet in his dealings with his legal advisers, demanding that lawyers should behave like lawyers and leave eccentric dancing to the professionals. A man, he held, is either Fred Astaire or he is not Fred Astaire, and if he is not Fred Astaire he should not carry on like him.
  • Grayce Llewellyn thought that with appropriate dietary restrictions, she and J Sheringham Adair could have Ivor Llewellyn looking like Fred Astaire.

Dance partners on Astaire

  • I'd never seen him out front before. It was also the first time I realized that Fred had sex appeal. Fred. Wherever did he get it?
    • Adele Astaire on Astaire's performance in Gay Divorce. Source: "He Worries, Poor Boy." Variety, March 18, 1936, p.3. (M)
  • If people would only realize when they ask me why I don't do a picture with him - they ask me that all the time, and were quite keen on it while I was in Hollywood - if they'd only realize that he's gone 'way ahead of me. Why I couldn't begin to keep up with him. I couldn't even reach the steps he throws away.
  • Come on, Fred, I'm not your sister, you know.
    • Claire Luce, (Astaire's first dance partner after his sister Adele retired, urging Astaire to turn on the passion during rehearsals for Gay Divorce) in Telephone interview with John Mueller, June 7, 1981. (M)
  • I once said that fifty years from now, the only one of today's dancers who will be remembered is Fred Astaire.
    • Gene Kelly quoted in Shipman, David. The Great Movie Stars, The Golden Years. Crown Publishers, New York. 1970. pp.25-29 as referenced in Billman, Larry: Fred Astaire - A Bio-bibliography, Greenwood Press, Connecticut, 1997. ISBN 0-313-29010-5 p.351
  • The girls always think we're going to throw them over a table or toss them in the air. Their muscles tense up right away. So Fred and I go and sit in a corner and pretend we're talking business.
    • Gene Kelly on the subject of social dancing, in Lawrenson, Helen. "It's Better to Remember Fred." Esquire, August 1976, pp92-96, 106, 109-110. (M)
  • Just try and keep up with those feet of his sometime! Try and look graceful while thinking where your right hand should be, and how your head should be held, and which foot you end the next eight bars on, and whether you're near enough to the steps to leap up six of them backward without looking. Not to mention those Astaire rhythms. Did you ever count the different tempos he can think up in three minutes?
    • Ginger Rogers in Evans, Harry. "Ginger, Leila, and Fred." Family Circle, May 8, 1936. (M)
  • How do you think those routines were accomplished? With mirrors?... Well, I thought I knew what concentrated work was before I met Fred, but he's the limit. Never satisfied until every detail is right, and he will not compromise. No sir! What's more, if he thinks of something better after you've finished a routine, you do it over.
  • We were only together for a part of my career, and for every film we did, I did another three on my own. The studio was working me too hard. Fred would rush off for a holiday and call me and say: "Hey, ready to do another?" And I didn't have the sense to say that I was too tired. Those times were murder for me. Oh, I adored Mr. A but all the hard work...the 5 a.m. calls, the months of non-stop dancing, singing and acting. We just worked it out and had a lot of fun and got very exhausted. And Mr A was quite divine.
    • Ginger Rogers quoted in Satchell, Tim. Astaire, The Biography. Hutchinson, London. 1987. ISBN 0091737362. p.132.
  • I guess the only jewels of my life were the pictures I made with Fred Astaire.
    • Rita Hayworth in Hallowell, John. "Rita Hayworth: Don't Put the Blame on Me, Boys." New York Times October 25, 1970, sec. 2, pp. 15,38 (M)

Astaire compared to Gene Kelly

  • If I was black and blue, it was Gene. If I didn't have a scratch it was Fred.
    • Cyd Charisse on how her husband would know with whom she had danced, quoted in Aloff, Mindy. Dance Anecdotes: Stories from the Worlds of Ballet, Broadway, the Ballroom, and Modern Dance. Oxford University Press, 2006. p.196 ISBN 0195054113
  • As one of the handful of girls who worked with both of those dance geniuses, I think I can give an honest comparison. In my opinion, Kelly is the more inventive choreographer of the two. Astaire, with Hermes Pan's help, creates fabulous numbers - for himself and his partner. But Kelly can create an entire number for somebody else... I think, however, that Astaire's coordination is better than Kelly's... his sense of rhythm is uncanny. Kelly, on the other hand, is the stronger of the two. When he lifts you, he lifts you!... To sum it up, I'd say they were the two greatest dancing personalities who were ever on screen. But it's like comparing apples and oranges. They're both delicious.
    • Cyd Charisse in Charisse, Cyd; Martin, Tony; Kleiner, Dick. The Two of Us, New York: Mason/Charter, 1976. ISBN 0-884-053636.
  • Me? I play Gene Kelly...It's a guy who produces, directs, sings, and dances. who else could it be but Kelly?
    • Fred Astaire on his role in Silk Stockings in Smith, Cecil. "Astaire prefers the 'Good Old Days' of the present." Los Angeles Times, July 14, 1957, sec. 5, p.3. (M)
  • The fact that Fred and I were in no way similar - nor were we the best male dancers around never occurred to the public or the journalists who wrote about us...Fred and I got the cream of the publicity and naturally we were compared. And while I personally was proud of the comparison, because there was no-one to touch Fred when it came to "popular" dance, we felt that people, especially film critics at the time, should have made an attempt to differentiate between our two styles. Fred and I both got a bit edgy after our names were mentioned in the same breath. I was the Marlon Brando of dancers, and he the Cary Grant. My approach was completely different from his, and we wanted the world to realise this, and not lump us together like peas in a pod. If there was any resentment on our behalf, it certainly wasn't with each other, but with people who talked about two highly individual dancers as if they were one person. For a start, the sort of wardrobe I wore - blue jeans, sweatshirt, sneakers - Fred wouldn't have been caught dead in. Fred always looked immaculate in rehearsals, I was always in an old shirt. Fred's steps were small, neat, graceful and intimate - mine were ballet-oriented and very athletic. The two of us couldn't have been more different, yet the public insisted on thinking of us as rivals...I persuaded him to put on his dancing shoes again, and replace me in Easter Parade after I'd broken my ankle. If we'd been rivals, I certainly wouldn't have encouraged him to make a comeback.
    • Gene Kelly interviewed in Hirschhorn, Clive. Gene Kelly, A Biography. W.H Allen, London, 1984. p.117. ISBN 0491031823
  • Fred taught me a step because I said I can't let this experience be over without my learning something. He taught me the most wonderful Fred Astaire-like step, with an umbrella. It was a complete throwaway; it was almost invisible. It was in the way he walked. As he moved along, he bounced the umbrella on the floor to the beat and then he grabbed it. It was effortless and invisible. As a matter of fact, a few years later I was photographing Gene Kelly and told him that Fred Astaire had taught me this trick with an umbrella. And Kelly said, "Oh I'll teach you one," and he did, and the two tricks with the umbrella in some way define the difference between Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, and, in my view, demonstrate who is the greater of the two artists. With Gene Kelly, he threw the umbrella way up into the air, and then he moved to catch it, very slowly, grabbing it behind his back. It was a big, grandstand play, about nothing.
    • Richard Avedon in Silverman, Stephen M. Dancing on the Ceiling. Knopf, 1996. ISBN 0679414126
  • The major difference between Astaire and Kelly is a difference, not of talent or technique, but of levels of sophistication. On the face of it, Kelly looks the more sophisticated. Where Kelly has ideas, Astaire has dance steps. Where Kelly has smartly tailored, dramatically apt Comden and Green scripts, Astaire in the Thirties made do with formulas derived from nineteenth-century French Farce. But the Kelly film is no longer a dance film. It's a story film with dances, as distinguished from a dance film with a story. When Fred and Ginger go into their dance, you see it as a distinct formal entity, even if it's been elaborately built up to in the script. In a Kelly film, the plot action and the musical set pieces preserve a smooth community of high spirits, so that the pressure in a dance number will often seem too low, the dance itself plebeian or folksy in order to "match up" with the rest of the picture.
    • Arlene Croce, in Croce, Arlene. The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book, W.H. Allen, London, 1974. p.7. ISBN 0491001592
  • I suspect it is this Camelot view that leads Miss Croce to be rather unfair to Gene Kelly...I should say the difference starts with their bodies. If you compare Kelly to Astaire, accepting Astaire's debonair style as perfection then, of course, Kelly looks bad. But in popular dance forms, in which movement is not rigidly codified, as it is in ballet, perfection is a romantic myth or a figure of speech, nothing more. Kelly isn't a winged dancer; he's a hoofer and more earthbound. But he has warmth and range as an actor...Astaire's grasshopper lightness was his limitation as an actor - confining him to perennial gosh-oh-gee adolescence;; he was always and only a light comedian and could function only in fairytale vehicles.
    • Pauline Kael, responding to Croce in her review of Croce's The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book, writing in The New Yorker, November 25, 1972, as reproduced in Kael, Pauline. Reeling: Film Writings 1972-1975, Marion Boyars, London - New York, pp.58-59. ISBN 0-7145-2582-0

The Astaire style

  • I think I can pinpoint the one moment when the American style of dressing first appeared. It was in an appalling 1933 movie called Dancing Lady during an otherwise forgettable dance number. It also just happened to be Fred Astaire's first on-camera dance. But don't look at the steps. Look at the outfit: Astaire is wearing a single-breasted, soft flannel suit with two-tone spectator shoes and a turtleneck. You wish you could look that stylish! Later that year, in Flying Down to Rio, we get the full Astaire impact. The muted plaid suit is not all that striking, but Fred is wearing it with a soft button-down shirt, a pale woven tie, silk pocket square, bright horizontally striped hose and white bucks. Whoa! Now that's different. This melange of the classic and the sporty was an American innovation. As we approach the impeccable Astaire's 100th birthday on May 10, it's worth remembering that he remains the greatest exemplar of that style.
    • G. Bruce Boyer in "Shall We Dress?" Forbes, May 3rd, 1999

Note: The designation (M) after a source denotes that the quotation and its source has been obtained from John Mueller: Astaire Dancing - The Musical Films of Fred Astaire, Knopf 1985, ISBN 0394516540

== Attributed ==.

  • Old is like everything else. To make a success of it, you've got to start young
    • Fred Astaire
  • The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.
    • Fred Astaire
  • No dancer can watch Fred Astaire and not know that we all should have been in another business.
    • Mikhail Baryshnikov
  • I can watch Astaire anytime. I don't think he ever made a wrong move. He was a perfectionist. He would work on a few bars for hours until it was just the way he wanted it. Gene was the same way. They both wanted perfection, even though they were completely different personalities.
    • Cyd Charisse
  • He's the greatest dancer who ever lived--greater than Nijinsky.
  • But when you're in a picture with Astaire, you've got rocks in your head if you do much dancing. He's so quick-footed and so light that it's impossible not to look like a hay-digger compared with him.
    • Bing Crosby
  • He was a dictator who made me work harder and longer than anyone.
  • I work bigger. Fred's style is intimate. I'm very jealous of that when I see him on the small screen. Fred looks so great on TV. I'd love to put on white tie and tails and look as thin as him and glide as smoothly. But I'm built like a blocking tackle.
    • Gene Kelly
  • Just to see him walk down the street ... to me is worth the price of admission.
    • Sammy Davis Junior


  • The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it's considered to be your style

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Fred Astaire
File:Fred Astaire in Royal
Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding (1951).
Born Frederick Austerlitz Jr.
May 10, 1899
Omaha, Nebraska, USA
Died June 22, 1987 (aged 88)
Los Angeles, California, USA
Years active 19331981
Spouse Phyllis Livingston Potter (1933-1954)
Robyn Smith (1980-1987)

Fred Astaire, born Frederick Austerlitz (10 May 1899 – 22 June 1987), was an American dancer, singer and actor. He was the most famous stage, film and television dancer of his day.

Astair started dancing on the stage with his sister Adèle, and when she married he started a film partnership with Ginger Rodgers. After that, he danced with a succession of talented American dancers on film and on television. He appeared in 32 films. His film partners included Eleanor Powell, Ann Miller, Vera-Ellen, Cyd Charisse: all high-class dancers, and on TV with Barrie Chase. Their An evening with Fred Astaire won nine Emmy Awards in 1958.

Many male dancers of the 20th century were influenced by him, and said so. He owed something to the choreography of Hermes Pan, but more to his own perfectionism and relentless practice.

Astair was also an excellent actor, and a successful, though personally modest, singer. He introduced some of the most celebrated songs from the Great American Songbook. He married Phyllis Potter in 1933; they had two children. After her death, he remarried in 1980 to Robyn Smith, a female jockey 45 years his junior.


  • Astaire, Fred. Steps in Time, 1959, OCLC 422937
  • Billman, Larry. Fred Astaire — a bio-bibliography, Greenwood Press 1997, ISBN 0-313-29010-5
  • Freeland, Michael. Fred Astaire: an illustrated biography, Grosset & Dunlap, 1976. ISBN 0-448-14080-2
  • Thomas, Bob. Astaire, the man, the dancer. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1985. ISBN 0-297-78402-1

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