Legendary actor, Fred Astaire, was born Frederic Austerlitz Jr. on May 10, 1899 in Omaha, NE. Astaire appeared in over 45 film and TV roles. His best known films include Holiday Inn, Easter Parade, Royal Wedding, The Band Wagon, Funny Face and his ten musicals with Ginger Rogers: Flying Down to Rio, The Gay Divorcee, Roberta, Top Hat, Follow the Fleet, Swing Time, Shall We Dance, Carefree, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle and The Barkleys of Broadway. Astaire died at the age of 88 on Jun 22, 1987 in Los Angeles, CA and was laid to rest in Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, CA.
Remembered for top hat, white tie, tails, and ease on the dance floor, Fred Astaire is widely considered the greatest dancer to ever grace the silver screen. His kinesthetic grace and seemingly effortless dance style would go on to revolutionize the movie musical and influence the next generation of dancers. Born on May 10th, 1899 to a fairly affluent family in Omaha Nebraska, Astaire's career as a dancer began in his childhood. After his sister, Adele, proved to be a naturally talented singer and dancer, the younger Astaire was enrolled in dance, piano, and clarinet classes, while his mother prepared the siblings for a brother-sister vaudeville act. Upon moving to New York City, the two began training at the prestigious Alviene Master School of the Theatre and Academy for Cultural Arts and made their debut in Keyport, New Jersey. They began organically growing into their roles; with Fred taking control of the musical responsibilities and Adele, ironically being the more naturally gifted dancer, becoming the star attraction. By the time the 1920's rolled around, the Astaires were the toast of the town, playing shows in both New York and London. The two appeared in shows such as Lady Be Good, Funny Face, and The Band Wagon. In 1932, Adele married a European Duke, and for the first time in his career, Fred Astaire was solo. After appearing in both the New York and London stage production of The Gay Divorce, Astaire went west to Hollywood.
ÂCan't act; slightly bald; can dance a little,Â was the initial impression Astaire's first screen test had given RKO studios. His first role was a cameo in the Joan Crawford/Clark Gable film, Dancing Lady in 1933. Later that year he was cast as the comic relief, supporting character in the elaborate RKO musical Flying Down to Rio which marked his first collaboration with Ginger Rogers. Although billed forth and fifth, Fred and Ginger garnered most of the film's attention with their pitch perfect comedic banter and sexy on screen chemistry in the dance number, The Carioca. Audiences demanded another film and in 1934, despite Astaire's initial hesitation to be part of a duo again, the two starred in The Gay Divorcee. The film was a tremendous hit and solidified the star power of the Astaire and Rogers pairing. Along with choreographer Hermes Pan, the duo would revolutionize the movie musical by emphasizing the importance of dance as a form of storytelling. They would go to star in 8 more RKO films together, including Roberta, Top Hat, Follow The Fleet, Swing Time, Shall we Dance and Carefree (*see list below). Their films were some of RKO's biggest moneymakers with the two becoming international superstars. Although the two enjoyed their professional relationship, the two yearned for solo recognition and after 1939's The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, the two went their separate professional ways.
Uncommon for it's time, Astaire was given complete control over the presentation of his dance numbers and is credited with two early innovations in the world of the movie musical. The first was his insistence that his chorography numbers be shot in one-take using a wide-angle lens. This ensured the dancer would be on camera, uninterrupted, at all times, ensuring the audience sees the talent of its stars and not the cutting power of its editors. The second, mentioned earlier, was the seamless weaving of song and dance numbers into the plot. This progressed the art of filmic dance from mere spectacle to powerful story telling device and had a long lasting effect on the movie musical.
In 1940, Fred Astaire let his contract with RKO and began to freelance. He began working with other choreographers, continually innovating his skills and dance numbers. In 1940, he teamed with Eleanor Powell, widely considered to be the top female dancer at the time, for Broadway Melody of 1940. In 1942, he teamed for the first time with Bing Crosby for Holiday Inn, and famously incorporated firecrackers into one of his routines. His next dance partner would be Rita Hayworth for 1941's You'll Never Get Rich and 1942's You Were Never Lovelier. In the Sky's the Limit, Astaire introduced the now standard One for My Baby, solemnly dancing in bar, a departure from the usually jubilant, easygoing Astaire persona. In 1946 he starred in Vincent Minnelli's Yolanda and the Thief and then the musical revue Ziegfeld Follies, featuring his only silver screen dance collaboration with fellow hoofer, Gene Kelly in The Babbit and the Bromide. After 1946's Blue Skies, Astaire announced his retirement from the film industry.
Two years later, he was coaxed out of retirement by The Freed Unit to replace an injured Gene Kelly in Easter Parade, opposite Judy Garland. The next year, 1949, he would reunite one last time with Gingers Rogers, starring in The Barkleys of Broadway. In 1951, he starred in Royal Wedding opposite Jane Powell. The film features one of Astaire's most memorable and technically innovative dances, ÂYou're All the World to Me,Â in which he famously dances on the hotel room ceiling. In 1953, he starred opposite Cyd Charisse in Vincent Minnelli's The Band Wagon and again in 1957's Silk Stockings, a musical remake of the Garbo classic, Ninotchka. In 1957, he starred opposite Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, another adaption of a role he portrayed on Broadway. By now he had starred in over 25 musicals in 25 years, and announced his retirement from the world of film dancing to concentrate on dramatic acting.
In 1959, co-starred in the ensemble post-apocalyptic nuclear war Drama On The Beach. In the film, Astaire played Scientist Julian Osborn, who, like the rest of those living in the world of radioactive waste, commits suicide. The role received wide acclaim, demonstrating Astaire's talents outside of dancing. At age 69, Francis Ford Coppola convinced Astaire to put on his tap shoes one more time for Finnegan's Rainbow. Although the film received mixed reviews, at 70 years of age Astaire proved he was still as agile as ever. In 1974, he starred in the disaster ensemble The Towering Inferno. For his efforts, Astaire received his first and only Oscar nomination, for best Supporting Actor. In 1978, Astaire was among the first group of Kennedy Center Honor recipients. In 1979, he made a very-publicized guest appearance in the science fiction classic, Battlestar Galactica. When asked why he chose the role, he responded by stating it was because of his grand-children, who were huge fans of the series. His final role was in the horror film Ghost Story (1981), opposite fellow screen legends Melvyn Douglas and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. That year he also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute. One June 24th, 1980, Astaire passed away from pneumonia in his Los Angeles. He was 88 years old.(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).
Astaire's autobiography Steps in Time: An Autobiography was first published in 1959.
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers starred in ten musicals together: Flying Down to Rio (1933), The Gay Divorcee (1934), Roberta (1935), Top Hat (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936), Swing Time (1936), Shall We Dance (1937), Carefree (1938), The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939) and The Barkleys of Broadway (1949).
HONORS and AWARDS:.
Although Astaire was nominated for one Oscar, he never won a competitive Academy Award. However he won one Honorary Oscar Award in 1949 for his unique artistry and his contributions to the technique of musical pictures .
|1974||Best Supporting Actor||The Towering Inferno (1974)||Harlee Claiborne||Nominated|
Academy Awards (Honorary Oscars)
|1949||Special Award||for his unique artistry and his contributions to the technique of musical pictures|
He was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures. Fred Astaire's handprints and footprints were 'set in stone' at Grauman's Chinese Theater during imprint ceremony #42 on Feb 4, 1938. In addition, Astaire was inducted into the TV Hall of Fame . He appears on the cover of The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
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Huckleberry Haines: And a pearl so I'm told, is the result of a chronic irritation on an oyster.
Julian Osborne: Who would ever have believed that human beings would be stupid enough to blow themselves off the face of the Earth?
Tom Bowen: I wonder what the groom is doing today.
Ellen Bowen: Why don't you call him up and ask him?
Tom Bowen: Very funny.
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