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Fred Astaire was one of the greatest, most versatile dancers of all time. As Mikhail Baryshnikov observed, “No dancer can watch Fred Astaire and not know that we all should have been in another business.”
Born in 1899, Fred Astaire began show business at the age of 5, performing on Broadway. He began his career in vaudeville in 1905 with his sister Adele. Between 1912 and 1933 they starred in twelve musicals together.
Later, Fred journeyed to Hollywood, and, in a career that spanned from 1933 to 1976, he made thirty-three musical films. Although famous for his magical partnership with Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire also danced with the leading ladies of his time, including Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland, Rita Hayworth, Joan Crawford, Cyd Charisse, Debbie Reynolds, Ann Miller, and Eleanor Powell. He also co-starred with the biggest male names of the times including Bing Crosby, Red Skelton and the great Gene Kelly.
“For ballroom dancing, remember that your partners have their own distinctive styles also. Cultivate flexibility. Be able to adapt your style to that of your partner. In doing so, you are not surrendering your individuality, but blending it with that of your partner.” —Fred Astaire
Fred Astaire was not only a great dancer—changing the face of the American movie musical with his style and grace—but he was also an actor in many different dramatic and comedic roles in both movies and TV specials. He won multiple Emmys for his work in television. The Towering Inferno (1974) earned him an Oscar nomination. He received an honorary Academy Award in 1950 for his “unique artistry and his contributions to the technique of musical pictures.”
Fred Astaire starred in 31 musical films, including: Top Hat, Swing Time, Royal Wedding, Silk Stockings, Holiday Inn, The Barkleys of Broadway, Easter Parade, The Gay Divorcee, and The Band Wagon.
“The history of dance on film begins with Astaire.” —Gene Kelly
In addition to his incredible dancing prowess, Fred Astaire was also rated among the finest singers by critics. Although he frequently claimed that he could not sing, he introduced some of the most celebrated American songs, in particular, Cole Porter’s: “Night and Day” in The Gay Divorce, “Cheek to Cheek” in Top Hat, Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight” in Swing Time, the Gershwins’ “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” in Shall We Dance, and “Nice Work If You Can Get It” in A Damsel in Distress.
Astaire was also famous for his duets. With his sister Adele, he co-introduced the Gershwins’ “Fascinating Rhythm” in Lady, Be Good, and “Funny Face” in Funny Face. In duets with Ginger Rogers, he presented “A Fine Romance” in Swing Time, as well as “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” from Shall We Dance.
Although he possessed a light voice, he was admired for his lyricism, diction and phrasing—the grace and elegance so prized in his dancing seemed to be reflected in his singing. Astaire was a songwriter himself, and he continues to inspire modern composers.
“As a dancer he stands alone, and no singer knows his way around a song like Fred Astaire.” —Irving Berlin