Fred Astaire

The late great American film and Broadway stage dancer, choreographer, singer and actor Fred Astaire was born 10th May 1899. His stage and subsequent film career spanned a total of 76 years, during which he made 31 musical films and was named the fifth Greatest Star of All Time bythe American Film Institute, and is particularly associated with Ginger Rogers, with whom he made ten films and Gene Kelly, He inspired many dancers and choreaphers including Ruolf Nureyev, Sammy Davis, Jr., Michael Jackson, Gregory Hines, Mikhail Baryshnikov, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins have acknowledged his importance and infuence.

Astaire was born in Omaha, Nebraska. He and sister Adele were both instinctive dancers and Singers, and formed a “brother-ad-sister act,” Later 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. They were taught dance, speaking, and singing in preparation for developing their first act. for which Fred wore a top hat and tails in the first half and a lobster outfit in the second. ” The local paper wrote, “the Astaires are the greatest child act in vaudeville.” Fred and Adele rapidly landed a major contract and played the famed Orpheum Circuit after which The family took a two-year break from show business. 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.From vaudeville dancer Aurelio Coccia, they learned the tango, waltz and other ballroom dances popularized by Vernon and Irene Castle.

Fred Astaire then met George Gershwin, who was working as a song plugger in Jerome H. Remick’s, in 1916.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,. The Astaires performed for U.S. and Allied troops at this time too. They followed up with several more shows, ” 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 appeaed 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.

Fred and Adele split in 1932 and 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 beenwritten for Gay Divorce.Hollywood BreakAstaire got his Hollywood Break after David O. Selznick (Who was also born on 10th May), had signed Astaire to RKO Pictures. He had a bit of a dodgy start 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, he got fifth billing after fourth billed Ginger Rogers in the 1933 Dolores del Río vehicle Flying Down to Rio, and the success of the film was attributed to Astaire’s charm & charismatic screen presence.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.”

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, Roberta, Top Hat, Follow the Fleet, Swing Time, Shall We Dance, and Carefree. Six out of the nine Astaire-Rogers musicals 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.Astaire is credited with two important innovations in early film musicals. 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. Second, Astaire was adamant that all song and dance routines be seamlessly integrated into the plotlines of the film and used it to move the plot along. Typically, an Astaire picture would include a solo performance by Astaire, a partnered comedy dance routine and a partnered romantic dance routine.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.

He played alongside Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn and Blue Skies, featuring his solo dance to “Let’s Say it with Firecrackers” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. Other partners during this period included Paulette Goddard in Second Chorus, in which he dance-conducted the Artie Shaw orchestra.He made two pictures with Rita Hayworth, the daughter of his former vaudeville dance idols, the Cansinos: the first You’ll Never Get Rich 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.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 which featured a memorable teaming of Astaire with Gene Kelly to “The Babbit and the Bromide”, a Gershwin song Astaire had introduced back in 1927.

Sadly Yolande was not a success and Astaire believing his career was beginning to falter surprised his audiences by announcing his retirement during the production of Blue Skies, nominating “Puttin’ on the Ritz” as his farewell dance.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. He then went on to make more musicals throughout the 1950s: Let’s Dance with Betty Hutton, Royal Wedding with Jane Powell, Three Little Words (1950) and The Belle of New York with Vera-Ellen, The Band Wagon and Silk Stockings with Cyd Charisse, Daddy Long Legs with Leslie Caron, and Funny Face 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.” His legacy at this point was 30 musical films in 25 years.

During his career Astaire recieved many honours and Awards including an Emmy Award for “Best Single Performance by an Actor” for An Evening with Fred Astaire in 1958 and in 1960 he was Nominated for Emmy Award for “Program Achievement” for Another Evening with Fred Astaire as well as a Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award for “Lifetime Achievement in Motion Pictures”. In he won another Emmy Award for “Program Achievement” in 1961 for Astaire Time, and was also Voted Champion of Champions — Best Television performer in the annual television critics and columnists poll conducted by Television Today and Motion Picture Daily. In 1965 he won The George Eastman Award for “outstanding contributions to motion pictures” Then In 1968 he was nominated for another Emmy Award by the Musical Variety Program for The Fred Astaire Show and in 1972 he was Named Musical Comedy Star of the Century by Liberty, “The Nostalgia Magazine”.

In 1973 a Gala was held in his honour by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and in 1975 he recieved Academy Award nomination for The Towering Inferno and won a Golden Globe for “Best Supporting Actor”, BAFTA and David di Donatello awards for the film. In 1978 he was honoured by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and became the First recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors. he also won the National Artist Award from the American National Theatre Association for “contributing immeasurably to the American Theatre” and won The Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1981. In 1987 he was Inducted into the National Museum of Dance C.V. Whitney Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York. Astaire has also recieved many Posthumous awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, an induction into the Television Hall of Fame, an induction into the Ballroom Dancer’s Hall of Fame, and a Posthumous Grammy Hall of Fame Award for 1952 The Astaire Story album.

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