Astaire, Fred
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Astaire, Fred

ASTAIRE, Fred



Nationality: American. Born: Fred Austerlitz in Omaha, Nebraska, 10 May 1899. Education: Attended Alvienne School of the Dance, New York; Ned Wayburn Studio of Stage Dancing. Family: Married 1) Phyllis Baxter Potter, 1933 (died 1954), children: two sons, one daughter; 2) the jockey Robyn Smith, 1980. Career: 1906—began dancing professionally with sister Adele: worked vaudeville circuits, according to some sources appeared in Mary Pickford's film Fanchon the Cricket, 1915, the Broadway musical Over the Top, 1917, and The Passing Show of 1918, first major success; 1918–31—several successful stage musicals on Broadway and in London; c.1931—partnership with sister ended when she married Lord Charles Cavendish; 1933—film acting debut in Dancing Lady; appeared in Flying Down to Rio, first of ten films with Ginger Rogers as dancing partner; 1948—in Easter Parade, replacing ailing Gene Kelly; 1959—first dramatic film role in Stanley Kramer's On the Beach; 1961–63—host of dramatic anthology TV series Alcoa Premiere; 1967–70—appeared occasionally in TV series It Takes a Thief. Awards: Honorary Academy Award, for "his unique artistry and his contributions to the technique of musical pictures," 1949; Best Supporting Actor, British Academy, for The Towering Inferno, 1974; Life Achievement Award, American Film Institute, 1981. Died: Of pneumonia, in Los Angeles, 22 June 1987.


Films as Actor:

1931

Municipal Bandwagon (short)

1933

Dancing Lady (Leonard) (as himself); Flying Down to Rio (Freeland) (as Fred Ayres)

1934

The Gay Divorcee (Sandrich) (as Guy Holden); Top Hat (Sandrich) (as Jerry Travers)

1935

Roberta (Seiter) (as Huck Haines, + choreographer)

1936

Follow the Fleet (Sandrich) (as Bake Baker); Swing Time (Stevens) (as John "Lucky" Garnett)

1937

Shall We Dance (Sandrich) (as Pete Peters); A Damsel in Distress (Stevens) (as Jerry Halliday)

1938

Carefree (Sandrich) (as Tony Flagg)

1939

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (Potter) (as Vernon Castle)

1940

Broadway Melody of 1940 (Taurog) (as Johnny Brett); Second Chorus (Potter) (as Danny O'Neill)

1941

You'll Never Get Rich (Lanfield) (as Robert Curtis)

1942

Holiday Inn (Sandrich) (as Ted Hanover); You Were Never Lovelier (Seiter) (as Robert Davis, + choreographer)

1943

The Sky's the Limit (Edward H. Griffith) (as Fred Atwell/Fred Burton, + choreographer)

1945

Yolanda and the Thief (Minnelli) (as Johnny Riggs)

1946

Ziegfeld Follies (Minnelli) (as himself/Raffles/Tai Long); Blue Skies (Heisler) (as Jed Potter)

1948

Easter Parade (Walters) (as Don Hewes, + co-choreographer)

1949

The Barkleys of Broadway (Walters) (as Josh Barkley)

1950

Three Little Words (Thorpe) (as Bert Kalmar, + co-choreographer); Let's Dance (McLeod) (as Don Elwood)

1951

Royal Wedding (Wedding Bells) (Donen) (as Tom Bowen)

1952

The Belle of New York (Walters) (as Charles Hall)

1953

The Band Wagon (Minnelli) (as Tony Hunter)

1954

Deep in My Heart (Donen) (as guest)

1955

Daddy Long Legs (Negulesco) (as Jervis Pendleton)

1957

Funny Face (Donen) (as Dick Avery, + co-choreographer); Silk Stockings (Mamoulian) (as Steve Canfield)

1959

On the Beach (Kramer) (as Julian Osborn)

1961

The Pleasure of His Company (Seaton) (as Pogo Poole)

1962

The Notorious Landlady (Quine) (as Franklyn Armbruster)

1964

Paris When It Sizzles (Quine) (as voice)

1968

Finian's Rainbow (Francis Ford Coppola) (as Finian McLonergan)

1969

Midas Run (A Run on Gold) (Kjellin) (as John Pedley)

1970

The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again (McGowan—for TV); Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (for TV, animation) (as voice of mailman)

1973

Imagine

1974

The Towering Inferno (Guillermin and Irwin Allen) (as Charles Claiborne); That's Entertainment! (Haley Jr.—compilation) (as host)

1976

That's Entertainment, Part 2 (Kelly) (as host); The Amazing Dobermans (David and Byron Chudnow) (as Daniel Hughes)

1977

Un Taxi mauve (The Purple Taxi) (Boisset) (as Doctor Scully); The Easter Bunny Is Comin' to Town (for TV, animation) (as voice of mailman)

1978

A Family Upside Down (Rich—for TV); Battleship Gallactica (Colla—for TV)

1979

The Man in the Santa Claus Suit (Corey Allen—for TV)

1981

Ghost Story (Irvin) (as Ricky Hawthorne)

1984

George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey (George Stevens Jr.—doc) (as himself)



Publications


By ASTAIRE: book—


Steps in Time, New York, 1959; rev. ed., 1981.


By ASTAIRE: article—

"The Modest Mr. Astaire Talks with Carol Saltus," in Interview (New York), June 1973.

On ASTAIRE: books—

Springer, John, All Talking, All Singing, All Dancing, New York, 1966.

Hackl, Alfons, Fred Astaire and His Work, Vienna, 1970.

Kobal, John, Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance, New York, 1970.

Thompson, Howard, Fred Astaire: A Pictorial Treasury of His Films, New York, 1970.

Green, Stanley, Ring Bells! Sing Songs!, New Rochelle, New York, 1971.

Croce, Arlene, The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book, New York, 1972.

Thomas, Lawrence B., The MGM Years, New Rochelle, New York, 1972.

Green, Stanley, and Burt Goldblatt, Starring Fred Astaire, New York, 1973.

Harvey, Stephen, Fred Astaire, New York, 1975.

Freedland, Michael, Fred Astaire, London, 1976.

Green, Benny, Fred Astaire, London, 1979.

Delameter, James, Dance in the Hollywood Musical, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1981.

Thomas, Bob, Astaire: The Man, the Dancer, New York, 1984.

Mueller, John, Astaire Dancing: The Musical Films, New York, 1985.

Drouin, Frédérique, Fred Astaire, Paris, 1986.

Adler, Bill, Fred Astaire: A Wonderful Life, New York, 1987.

Mast, Gerald, Can't Help Singin': The American Musical on Stage and Screen, Woodstock, New York, 1987.

Satchell, Tim, Astaire: The Biography, London, 1987.

Giles, Sarah, editor, Fred Astaire: His Friends Talk, New York, 1988.

Altman, Rick, The American Film Musical, London, 1989.

Kaminsky, Stuart M., Dancing in the Dark (fiction), New York, 1996.


On ASTAIRE: articles—

Eustis, M., "Actor-Dancer Attacks His Part: Fred Astaire," in Theater Arts (New York), May 1937.

Pratley, Gerald, "Fred Astaire's Film Career," in Films in Review (New York), January 1957.

O'Hara, John, "There's No One Quite Like Astaire," in Show (New York), October 1962.

Current Biography 1964, New York, 1964.

Benayoun, Robert, "Freddy, Old Boy," in Positif (Paris), April 1970.

Spiegel, Ellen, "Fred and Ginger Meet Van Nest Polglase," in Velvet Light Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), Autumn 1973.

Lydon, Susan, "My Affaire with Fred Astaire," in Rolling Stone (New York), 6 December 1973.

Yorkin, Bud, "Fred Astaire: A Touch of Class," in Close-Up: The Movie Star Book, edited by Danny Peary, New York, 1978.

Mueller, John, "Films: Fred Astaire's 'Dancing in the Dark,"' in Dance Magazine (New York), May 1979.

Wood, Robin, "Never, Never Change, Always Gonna Dance," in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1979.

Telotte, J. P., "Dancing the Depression: Narrative Strategy in the Astaire-Rogers Films," in Journal of Popular Film (Washington, D.C.), Fall 1980.

Harvey, Stephen, "Fred Astaire," in The Movie Star, edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.

Mueller, John, "The Filmed Dances of Fred Astaire," in Quarterly Review of Film Studies (Pleasantville, New York), Spring 1981.

Green, A., "The Magic of Fred Astaire," in American Film (New York), April 1981.

Georgakas, Dan, "The Man behind Fred and Ginger: An Interview with Hermes Pan," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 12, no. 4, 1983.

Mueller, John, "Fred Astaire and the Integrated Musical," in Cinema Journal (Champaign, Illinois), Fall 1984.

Obituary in New York Times, 23 June 1987.

Obituary in Variety (New York), 24 June 1987.

Meyerson, H., "Astaire Way to Heaven," in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1987.

Comuzio, Ermanno, "Fred Astaire: al di la del mito, la tecnica," in Bianco e Nero (Rome), October/December 1987.

Kemp, P., "Degrees of Radiance," in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), March 1988.

Meisel, J., "Some Enchanted Evenings," in American Film (Hollywood), May 1988.

Davis, Francis, "Astaire's Other Talent," in Connoisseur, March 1991.

Restif, Henri, "Fred, Busby, Gene et Arthur," Avant-Scène du

Cinéma (Paris), no. 449, February 1996.


* * *

Fred Astaire is in a class by himself. Of all the movie legends of the golden era in Hollywood, he is perhaps the most universally accepted as unquestionably great. His film career encompassed more than 50 years as a top star, and his theater, recording, and television work have also been recognized as outstanding. The name "Fred Astaire" not only means "dance on film," it also represents quality, longevity, and that most elusive characteristic of an artist—a true personal style.

Astaire is one of a small group of actors who have been able to shape their own movies and make a distinct contribution to film history beyond the level of entertainment or personality. Known to be a perfectionist, his insistence on control of his own dance work expanded his influence on films. Not only did he create his own choreography in most films, he also participated in the decisionmaking process of how his dances would be photographed, scored, and edited; generally the camera frames his entire body, moves only in response to his lead, and keeps running in order to preserve the integrity of the dance. The careful matching of dance, image, and rhythm (both of sound and cutting) seen in his best numbers was a direct result of his desire for the best in every aspect of his work. Astaire pioneered the serious presentation of dance in motion pictures, both by his on-screen influence and his behind-the-scenes collaboration (most importantly with his alter ego at RKO, choreographer Hermes Pan).

Astaire's film debut, after a successful 25-year stage career dancing with his sister Adele, was in a minor role as himself in an MGM Joan Crawford-Clark Gable film, Dancing Lady. His first real success came when he was paired with Ginger Rogers for a series of elegant RKO musicals in the 1930s. Astaire and Rogers were not the leads in their first film, Flying Down to Rio, but their enormous appeal and talent were immediately apparent, and their next eight films solidified their status as one of the cinema's great teams. (The pair was reunited later at MGM for their last film, The Barkleys of Broadway.) The RKO films, with their charmingly complicated plots, excellent music, art deco decor, and remarkable dances, represent the high point of the 1930s musical genre. Although Astaire was paired thereafter with many beautiful women who were also fine dancers—Rita Hayworth, Vera-Ellen, Lucille Bremer, and Cyd Charisse—most critics agree that his most compatible partner in film was Rogers, whose looks and personality made a perfect contrast and complement to his own. Besides their exquisite dancing, they share a wonderful comic rapport; while many of his later co-stars such as Rita Hayworth and Eleanor Powell were possibly more accomplished dancers, none could deflate Astaire's comic vanity with a well-timed wisecrack like Rogers.

During the 1940s and 1950s Astaire appeared in several outstanding musical films produced by the celebrated Freed unit at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, including the highly self-reflexive The Band Wagon (the title of the last show Fred and Adele starred in on Broadway in 1931), constructed as a stirring reassertion of Astaire's value as an entertainer in a world losing its glamour. He continued his career past his dancing years, playing light comedy and dramatic roles in both television and film with equal success, earning an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in The Towering Inferno. He also "co-hosted" the first two That's Entertainment compilations, introducing the Hollywood musical to a younger generation, and providing a strong shot of nostalgia for his original fans.

Although Astaire is associated with a certain European elegance of casual dress, his personality on film is actually that of a brash American who cracks wise and cons his way forward toward his true moment of deep expression: the dance. Astaire's typical film character was saved from banality and the brink of unpleasantness by the joy, the tenderness, and the sexual tension of his dancing. The easy way in which he moved seemed to suggest to viewers that we could all be dancers, that music and dancing could and should be natural parts of self-expression. As critic Gerald Mast noted, for Astaire, singing and dancing are direct extensions of talking and walking; musical performance is a fundamental part of everyday life for Astaire, though perhaps no one ever walked, sat, or smoked on-screen quite as artfully.

Although less obviously skilled as a singer, Astaire was frequently recognized as an ideal interpreter of the songs of America's greatest popular songwriters; Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, and Jerome Kern delighted in providing material for Astaire, and consistently praised his precise phrasing as an exact interpretation of their intentions. Although most of the songs he introduced were subsequently recorded by more powerful or versatile vocalists, his subtle renditions of such classics as Kern and Fields's "A Fine Romance" or the Gershwins' "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" remain the definitive versions.

Astaire's screen work involved all kinds of dancing—tap, ballet, acrobatic, and jazz. Many of his routines were simple and elegant, and the photography was designed to match that quality. In some later films, however, he executed tricky routines that might be called experimental—dancing on the ceiling in Royal Wedding, in slow motion in Easter Parade, dancing on air in The Belle of New York, and with empty shoes in a shoe repair shop in The Barkleys of Broadway. But simple or experimental, Astaire's routines were always perfectly danced and perfectly presented on film. His command of cinema was as great as his command of dance; he has been rightly compared to Buster Keaton, another artist for whom body and cinema act in tandem. As a result, he constitutes a major revolutionary force in the development of musical films. (In the 1930s his only conceptual rival was Busby Berkeley, who brilliantly choreographed large groups of anonymous dancers, whereas Astaire's art always emphasizes the individual or the couple.)

Astaire won a special Academy Award in 1949, and the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award in 1981. His place in film history is not just assured. It is cemented. There is no one to equal him, but his own assessment of his contribution is reflective of his personal modesty, simplicity, and elegance: "I have no desire to prove anything by it," he wrote in his autobiography, Steps in Time. "I just dance."

—Jeanine Basinger, updated by Corey K. Creekmur

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Fred Astaire

Fred Astaire

Fred Astaire (1899-1987) was a preeminent dancer and choreographer who worked in vaudeville, revue, musical comedy, television, radio, and Hollywood musicals. He achieved admiring recognition not only from his peers in the entertainment world, but also from major figures in ballet and modern dance.

Fred Astaire, born Frederick Austerlitz on May 10, 1899, in Omaha, Nebraska, began performing in vaudeville with his sister, Adele, in 1905. The Astaires eventually became featured performers, and in 1917 they moved to the musical stage where they appeared in ten productions, most of them hugely successful, particularly two musical comedies with songs by George and Ira Gershwin (Lady, Be Good in 1924 and Funny Face in 1927) and a revue with songs by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz (The Band Wagon in 1931).

When his sister retired from show business in 1932 to marry, Astaire sought to reshape his career. He settled on the featured role in Gay Divorce, a "musical play" with songs by Cole Porter. This show proved Astaire could flourish without his sister, and it also helped establish the pattern of most of his film musicals: it was a light, perky, unsentimental comedy, largely uncluttered by subplot, built around a love story for Astaire and his partner (Claire Luce) that was airy and amusing, but essentially serious— particularly when the pair danced together.

Astaire Goes to Hollywood

In 1933 Astaire married Phyllis Livingston Potter. Shortly after his marriage Astaire went to Hollywood. At RKO he had a featured part in the exuberant, fluttery Flying Down to Rio (1933). The film was a hit, and it was obvious Astaire's performance and screen appeal were a major factor in that success. The Gay Divorcee (1934), a film version of Gay Divorce, was the first of Astaire's major pictures with Ginger Rogers, and it scored even better at the box office than Flying Down to Rio. With this and seven more films in the 1930s (the most popular of which was Top Hat of 1935), they reached their full development as a team—one of the legendary partnerships in the history of dance, characterized by breathless high spirits, emotional richness, bubbling comedy, and beguiling romantic compatibility.

For these films Astaire created a rich series of romantic and playful duets for the team, as well as an array of dazzling and imaginative solos for himself. Astaire's musicality, together with the opportunity of working on such a classy, highly profitable project, made his films attractive to many of the top popular-song composers of the day: Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, and the Gershwins.

By the end of the 1930s the revenues from the films with Rogers were beginning to decline and, after a disagreement over fees with the studio, Astaire left. The next years were nomadic but successful ones for Astaire. He made nine films at four different studios and continued to fashion splendid dances. He appeared with a variety of partners— tap virtuoso Eleanor Powell, Paulette Goddard, Rita Hayworth, Joan Leslie, and Lucille Bremer—and he also did a pair of films with Bing Crosby. Musically, Astaire continued to attract the best: Porter, Berlin, Kern, Harold Arlen, Harry Warren, and lyricist Johnny Mercer.

Retirement and Creation of Dancing Schools

In 1946 Astaire retired from motion pictures to create a chain of dancing schools, a venture that was eventually proved to be successful. In 1947 he returned to movies to make the highly profitable Easter Parade at MGM, opposite Judy Garland. Nine more musicals followed. His partners in these included Ginger Rogers for one picture, as well as Vera-Ellen, Cyd Charisse, Leslie Caron, Betty Hutton, Jane Powell, and Audrey Hepburn. This period was marked by a great personal tragedy for Astaire—the agonizing death of his beloved wife from cancer in 1954 at the age of 46.

By the mid-1950s the era of the classic Hollywood musical as Astaire had experienced it—indeed, defined it— was coming to an end, and Astaire moved into other fields. On television he produced four multiple award-winning musical specials with Barrie Chase as his partner. He also tried his hand at straight acting roles with considerable success in eight films between 1959 and 1982. Over the years he played a number of characters on television— usually suave ones—in dramatic specials and series. As he entered his 80s, Astaire, a life-long horse racing enthusiast, romanced, and in 1980 married, Robyn Smith, a successful jockey in her mid-30s. He died seven years later.

Ginger Rogers, Astaire's long time dance partner, passed away in April 1995. Rogers is often quoted as having said, "I did everything Fred did, only backwards and in high heels." Their partnership lasted sixteen years, from 1933 to 1949.

Astaire's Legacy

Over the course of his long film career, Fred Astaire appeared in 212 musical numbers, of which 133 contain fully developed dance routines, a high percentage of which are of great artistic value, a contribution unrivaled in films and with few parallels in the history of dance. And, because he worked mainly in film, Astaire is that great rarity: a master choreographer the vast majority of whose works are precisely preserved.

Although the creation of many of Astaire's dances involved a degree of collaboration with others, the guiding creative hand and the final authority was Astaire himself. His choreography is notable for its inventiveness, wit, musicality, and economy. Characteristically, each dance takes two or three central ideas and carefully presents and develops them—ideas that might derive from a step, the music, the lyrics, the qualities of his partner, or the plot situation.

Astaire's dances are stylistically eclectic, an unpredictable blend of tap and ballroom with bits from other dance forms thrown in. What holds everything together is Astaire's distinctive style and sensibility: the casual sophistication, the airy wit, the transparent rhythmic intricacy, and the apparent ease of execution. Astaire also focused his attention on the problems of filming dance and settled on an approach that was to dominate Hollywood musicals for a generation: both camerawork and editing are fashioned to enhance the flow and continuity of the dances, not to undercut or overshadow it.

A perfectionist, Astaire spent weeks working out his choreography. Although his perfectionism, his propensity to worry, his shyness, and his self-doubt could make him difficult, even exasperating, to work with, he was an efficient planner and worker. His courtesy, enormous professionalism, and tireless struggle for improvement earned him the admiration of his co-workers.

Astaire's legacy continues to be revisited, sometimes with controversy. In January 1997, Astaire's image returned to television through special effects editing when Dirt Devil grafted their vacuum cleaners into dance scenes from Astaire's films for three of their commercials. The advertisements were completed and run with Robyn Astaire's blessing. The commercials, which aired during the Super Bowl, were panned by the press, the general feeling being that replacing Ginger Rogers with a vacuum cleaner was in poor taste.

Further Reading

Fred Astaire's autobiography which, shattering Hollywood tradition, he wrote himself (in longhand) is Steps in Time (1959). His work is discussed and analyzed in Arlene Croce, The Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Book (1972) and John Mueller, Astaire Dancing: The Musical Films (1985). Useful interviews with Astaire are included in Morton Eustis, Players at Work (1937) and in Inter/View (June 1973). Astaire can also be found on the World Wide Web. A listing of his movies can be found at http://dolphin.upenn.edu/~amatth13/fred.html. Information on Astaire can also be found at http://www.mrshowbiz.com/scoop/news/archive/1_9_97_8bogart.html

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Astaire, Fred

Fred Astaire

Born: May 10, 1899
Omaha, Nebraska
Died: June 22, 1987
Los Angeles, California

American actor, dancer, and choreographer

Fred Astaire was a famous dancer and choreographer (one who creates and arranges dance performances) who worked in vaudeville (traveling variety entertainment acts), musical comedy, television, radio, and Hollywood musicals.

Early years

Fred Astaire was born Frederick Austerlitz on May 10, 1899, in Omaha, Nebraska. His parents, Frederic E. and Ann Gelius Austerlitz, enrolled him in dancing school at age four to join his older sister Adele. The two Austerlitz children proved extraordinarily talented and the family moved to New York, where the children continued their training in singing, dancing, and acting. In 1905 Fred and Adele began performing in vaudeville. By 1917 they had changed their last name to Astaire and began performing in musicals. They appeared in successful productions on Broadway and in London, England, including the musical comedies Lady, Be Good in 1924, Funny Face in 1927, and a revue titled The Band Wagon in 1931.

When Adele retired from show business in 1932 to marry, Astaire sought to reshape his career. He took the featured role in the musical Gay Divorce. This show proved Astaire could succeed without his sister and helped establish the pattern of most of his film musicals: it was a light comedy, built around a love story for Astaire and his partner that was amusing, but basically seriousand featuring some great dancing, including routines Astaire was beginning to develop himself.

Astaire goes to Hollywood

In 1933 Astaire married Phyllis Livingston Potter and shortly afterward went to Hollywood. He had a featured part in Flying Down to Rio (1933). The film was a hit, and it was obvious that Astaire was a major factor in the success. The Gay Divorcee (1934), a film version of Gay Divorce, was the first of Astaire's major pictures with Ginger Rogers (19111995) and an even bigger hit. With seven more films in the 1930s (the most popular of which was Top Hat in 1935), Astaire and Rogers became one of the legendary partnerships in the history of dance, featuring high spirits, bubbling comedy, and romantic chemistry. By the end of the 1930s the profits from the Astaire-Rogers films were beginning to decline. Over the next few years Astaire made nine films at four different studios and continued to create splendid dances, appearing with a variety of partners.

Other ventures

In 1946 Astaire retired from motion pictures to create a chain of successful dancing schools. In 1947 he returned to movies to make the highly profitable Easter Parade at Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM). Nine more musicals followed. Astaire's success was marred in 1954, however, when his beloved wife died from cancer.

By the mid-1950s the era of the Hollywood musical was coming to an end, and Astaire moved into other fields. On television he produced four award-winning musical specials with Barrie Chase as his partner. He also tried his hand at straight acting roles with considerable success in eight films between 1959 and 1982. Over the years he played a number of characters on television in dramatic specials and series. In 1980, as he entered his eighties, Astaire married Robyn Smith, a successful jockey in her mid-thirties. He died seven years later.

Ginger Rogers, Astaire's longtime dance partner, passed away in 1995. Rogers is often quoted as having said, "I did everything Fred did, only backwards and in high heels." Their partnership lasted sixteen years, from 1933 to 1949.

Looking back

Fred Astaire appeared in 212 musical numbers, of which 133 contain fully developed dance routines, many of which are of great artistic value. And, because he worked mainly in film, the vast majority of Astaire's works are preserved in their original form. Astaire's dances are a blend of tap and ballroom dancing with bits from other dance forms thrown in. What holds everything together is Astaire's class, wit, and apparent ease of execution.

Astaire spent weeks working out his choreography. He also created an approach to filming dance that was often copied in Hollywood musicals: both camerawork and editing are used to support the flow of the dancing, not to overshadow it. Although his shyness and self-doubt could make him difficult to work with, Astaire was an efficient planner and worker. His courtesy, professionalism, and struggle for improvement earned him the admiration of his coworkers.

In January 1997, with Robyn Astaire's blessing, Astaire's image returned to television through special effects editingDirt Devil inserted its vacuum cleaners into dance scenes from Astaire's films for three of its commercials. The press criticized the commercials. The general feeling was that replacing Ginger Rogers with a vacuum cleaner was in poor taste.

For More Information

Adler, Bill. Fred Astaire: A Wonderful Life. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1987.

Gallafent, Edward. Astaire & Rogers. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

Mueller, John. Astaire Dancing: The Musical Films. New York: Knopf, 1985.

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Astaire, Fred

Fred Astaire (əstâr´), 1899–1987, American dancer, actor, and singer, b. Omaha, Nebr., as Frederick Austerlitz. After 1911 he and his sister Adele (1896–1981), b. Adele Marie Austerlitz, formed a successful Broadway vaudeville team. After his sister retired (1931), Astaire became a film actor (1933). He became known as a debonair song-and-dance man, particularly in the films he made with Ginger Rogers, which elevated the tap dance to an elegant, disciplined art. He also danced in movies with Eleanor Powell, Rita Hayworth, and Cyd Charisse, and on television with Barrie Chase. Among his most notable films are The Gay Divorcée (1934), Top Hat (1935), Swing Time (1936), Easter Parade (1948), Funny Face (1956), and Silk Stockings (1957). A number of classical dancers, notably Nureyev and Baryshnikov, have acknowledged an artistic debt to him.

See his autobiography, Steps in Time (1959); biographies by B. Thomas (1985), B. Adler (1987), and J. Epstein (2008); J. Mueller, Astaire Dancing: The Musical Films (1985); A. Croce, The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book (rev. ed. 1987); E. Gallafent, Astaire and Rogers (2002); T. R. Decker, Music Makes Me: Fred Astaire and Jazz (2011); K. Riley, The Astaires: Fred and Adele (2012).

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Astaire, Fred

Astaire, Fred (1899–1987) US dancer, actor, and choreographer. Astaire's sparkling, improvised solo dances redefined the musical. In 1933 cinema's greatest partnership was formed, when he starred opposite Ginger Rogers in Flying Down to Rio. Fred and Ginger made ten films together. Their first major MGM musical was The Gay Divorcee (1934). Classics include Top Hat (1935) and Swing Time (1936). Other dance partners included: Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face (1957), Rita Hayworth in You Were Never Lovelier (1942), and Judy Garland, Easter Parade (1948). In 1949 he received a special Academy Award for his contribution to film.

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