I love the charm and elegance Astaire brought to the screen. I should watch or rewatch some of these films.
Fred Astaire, born Frederick Austerlitz, in Omaha, Nebraska (1899), made dancing look effortless on screen and stage, and the writer John O’Hara called him the “living symbol of all that is the best of show business.”
He started dancing when he was four, and when he was six he formed an act with his sister, Adele, that became a popular vaudeville attraction on Broadway. When Adele retired in 1932, Astaire made a screen test. The movie executive wrote: “Can’t act, can’t sing. Balding. Can dance a little.” Still, Astaire got a part in Dancing Lady(1933). It starred Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and the Three Stooges.
He’s famous for the movies he made with his dancing partner Ginger Rogers: classics like The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat (1935), and Swing Time (1936). They rubbed off on each another. People said she gave him sex appeal, and he gave her class. Their only on-screen kiss came in the movie Carefree (1938), in a dream sequence.
He was a perfectionist who worked up to 18 hours a day. He said, “The only way I know to get a good show is to practice, sweat, rehearse, and worry.” He demanded the same of his partners. One scene in Swing Time took 47 takes to film, and by the end Ginger’s feet were bleeding. In the film, she says, “I’ve danced with you. I’m never going to dance again.”
In one routine, Astaire had to toss an umbrella across a room, into an umbrella stand. He said: “I did it 45 times, and it always hit the edge. So I said, ‘That’s it! Tomorrow morning, first thing, I’m coming back, and I’m going to get [it].’ […] I came back next morning fresh as a daisy, and that umbrella went into the stand on the first take.”
He kept dancing until late in his life. At age 50, he said: “How do I keep going? What do I do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I don’t eat health foods. I never dance unless I have to. I don’t work out in a gym. Vitamin pills? Never! Who needs ’em?” He said: “Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you’ve got to start young.”
He said: “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.”