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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
His unparalleled skill as a dancer leads many critics to cite him as the best dancer ever to come out of Hollywood.
Fred Astaire (May 10, 1899 — June 22, 1987), born Frederick Austerlitz in Omaha, Nebraska, was an American film and Broadway stage dancer, choreographer, singer and actor. He is particularly associated with Ginger Rogers, with whom he made ten films.
Early life and career
His father was an Austrian immigrant and a Catholic, though the family originally has Jewish roots; his mother was born in the U.S. to Lutheran German parents; Astaire became an Episcopalian during his youth. "Astaire" was a name taken by him and his sister Adele for their vaudeville act when they were about 5 years old. It is said to have come from an uncle surnamed "L'Astaire". Many sources state that the Astaires appeared in a 1915 film entitled Fanchon, the Cricket starring Mary Pickford, but this is a myth (although it is believed that they were present to watch the filming).
During the 1920s, Fred and Adele appeared on Broadway and on the London stage in shows such as Lady Be Good, Funny Face and The Band Wagon, winning popular acclaim with the theater crowd on both sides of the Atlantic. They split in 1932 when she married her first husband, Lord Charles Cavendish, a son of the Duke of Devonshire. Fred went on to achieve success on his own on Broadway and in London with The Gay Divorce, while considering offers from Hollywood.
Famously, a Paramount Pictures screen test report on Astaire read simply: "Can't sing. Can't act. Slightly balding. Also dances." He eventually ended up at RKO Studios, where he made the top musicals of that era, with Rogers as his costar.
Dancing and singing prowess
See also: Fred Astaire's Solo and Partnered Dances
He was a virtuoso dancer, able to convey lighthearted adventuresomeness or deep emotion when called for. His technical control and sense of rhythm were astonishing; according to one anecdote, he was able, when called back to the studio to redo a dance number he had filmed several weeks earlier for a special effects number, to reproduce the routine with pinpoint accuracy, down to the last gesture. He drew from a variety of influences, including tap and other African-American styles, classical dance and the elevated style of Vernon and Irene Castle. He choreographed all his own routines, often with the assistance of other choreographers, primarily Hermes Pan.
His perfectionism was legendary as was his modesty and consideration towards his fellow artists, however his relentless insistence on rehearsals and retakes was a burden to some. Although he viewed himself as an entertainer first and foremost, his consummate artistry won him the adulation of such 20th century dance legends as George Balanchine, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Margot Fonteyn, Rudolph Nureyev, and Bill Robinson.
Always modest about his singing abilities, he is considered by some to have introduced more standards from the Great American Songbook than any other singer, and composers such as Cole Porter wrote a number of songs especially for him, and quite a few are among evergreen ballroom foxtrots: "Night and Day", "Cheek to Cheek", "The Way You Look Tonight", "A Fine Romance", "They Can't Take that Away from Me", and "Change Partners". Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, and the Gershwins contributed classic songs for his musicals, in large part because of his sincere, unmannered delivery of their songs.
His second film, Flying Down to Rio, paired him with Ginger Rogers for the first time. That partnership, and the choreography of Astaire and Hermes Pan, helped make dancing an important element of the Hollywood film musical. His films with Rogers included The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat (1935) and Carefree (1938). Their partnership elevated them both to stardom: as Katharine Hepburn reportedly said, "He gives her class and she gives him sex appeal."
Astaire is credited with two important innovations in early film musicals. First, his insistence 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. He famously quipped: "Either the camera dances or I do". Second, he was adamant that all song and dance routines be seamlessly integrated into the plotlines of the film. Typically, an Astaire picture would include a solo performance by Astaire — which he termed his "sock solo", a partnered comedy dance routine and a partnered romantic dance routine.
He also teamed up with other stars, notably with Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn (1942) and Blue Skies (1946). He was also nearly outdanced in Broadway Melody of 1940 by one of his first post-Rogers dance partners, Eleanor Powell. Other partners during this period included Rita Hayworth and Joan Leslie.
After announcing his retirement in 1946, he soon returned to the screen to replace the injured Gene Kelly in Easter Parade (1948) opposite Judy Garland and for The Band Wagon (1953) with Cyd Charisse. Astaire went on to make several more musicals in the 1950s, including Funny Face (1957) with Audrey Hepburn and Silk Stockings (1958) with Charisse. He made two musicals with Vera-Ellen : Three Little Words (1950) and The Belle of New York (1952). His legacy at this point was thirty musicals in a twenty-five year period. Afterwards, Astaire announced that he was retiring from dancing in film to concentrate on dramatic acting, scoring rave reviews for the nuclear war drama On the Beach (1959).
Astaire did not give up dancing completely, and made a series of highly-rated specials for television into the early 1960s, each featuring Barrie Chase with whom Astaire enjoyed an Indian summer of dance creativity. One of these programs, 1958's An Evening with Fred Astaire, won nine Emmy Awards, including "Best Single Performance by an Actor" and "Most Outstanding Single Program of the Year." It was also noteworthy for being the first major broadcast to be prerecorded on color videotape.
Astaire's final musical film was Finian's Rainbow (1968), in which he shed his white tie and tails to play an Irish rogue who believes if he buries a crock of gold in the shadows of Fort Knox it will multiply. His last on-screen dance partner was Petula Clark, who portrayed his skeptical daughter. He admitted to being as nervous about singing with her as she confessed to being apprehensive about dancing with him.
Astaire continued to act into the 1970s, appearing in films such as The Towering Inferno (1974) for which he received his only Academy Award nomination in the category of Best Supporting Actor. He appeared in the first two That's Entertainment! documentaries in the mid-1970s, in the second performing a song-and-dance routine with Gene Kelly.
In 1976, he recorded a disco-styled rendition of Carly Simon's "Attitude Dancing". In 1978, Fred Astaire co-starred with Helen Hayes in a well-received television film, A Family Upside Down, in which they play an elderly couple coping with failing health. Astaire won an Emmy Award for his performance. He made a well-publicized guest appearance on the science fiction TV series Battlestar Galactica in 1979. His final film was the 1981 adaptation of Peter Straub's Ghost Story.
He received an honorary Academy Award in 1950 "for his unique artistry and his contributions to the technique of musical pictures." He also won Emmys in 1961 and 1978.
He received Kennedy Center Honors in 1978, the first year they were awarded. The American Film Institute awarded him their "Lifetime Achievement Award" for 1981.
Always immaculately turned out, he remained something of a male fashion icon even in his later years, eschewing his trademark top hat, white tie and tails (which he always despised) in favour of a breezy casual style of tailored sports jackets, coloured shirts, cravates and slacks — the latter usually held up by the idiosyncratic use of an old tie in place of a belt.
Astaire married for the first time in 1933, to Phyllis Potter (nйe Phyllis Livingston Baker, 1908-1954), a Boston-born New York socialite and former wife of Eliphalet Nott Potter III (1906-1981). In addition to Phyllis's son, Eliphalet IV, known as Peter, the Astaires had two children, Fred Jr. (born 1936, he appeared with his father in the movie Midas Run but became a charter pilot and rancher instead of an actor), and Ava, Mrs. Richard McKenzie (born 1942).
Astaire, a lifelong horse-racing enthusiast, married again in 1980, to Robyn Smith, an actress turned champion jockey. She was nearly 50 years his junior. It is uncertain whether the second Mrs. Astaire was born Robin Miller in 1944 or Melody Palm in 1942.
Fred Astaire died in 1987 from pneumonia at the age of 88, and was interred in the Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, California.
Fred Astaire has the record number 1 at the Internet Movie Database.
Dancing Lady (1933)
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) (*)
A Damsel in Distress (1937)
Carefree (1938) (*)
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939) (*)
Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940)
Second Chorus (1940)
You'll Never Get Rich (1941)
Holiday Inn (1942)
You Were Never Lovelier (1942)
The Sky's the Limit (1943)
Yolanda and the Thief (1945)
Ziegfeld Follies (1946)
Blue Skies (1946)
Easter Parade (1948)
The Barkleys of Broadway (1949) (*)
Three Little Words (1950)
Let's Dance (1950)
Royal Wedding (1951)
The Belle of New York (1952)
The Band Wagon (1953)
Daddy Long Legs (1955)
Funny Face (1957)
Silk Stockings (1957)
On the Beach (1959)
The Pleasure of His Company (1961)
The Notorious Landlady (1962)
Paris — When it Sizzles (1964)
Finian's Rainbow (1968)
Midas Run (1969)
Imagine (1973) (documentary)
Just One More Time (1974) (short subject)
That's Entertainment! (1974)
The Towering Inferno (1974)
The Lion Roars Again (1975) (short subject)
That's Entertainment, Part II (1976)
The Amazing Dobermans (1976)
The Purple Taxi (1977)
Ghost Story (1981)
George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey (1985) (documentary)
Forty-seven films in total
(*) w/ Ginger Rogers
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