Here are several examples of legendary Fred Astaire’s incredible talent.
Fred Astaire (born Frederick Austerlitz; 1899 – 1987) was an American dancer, singer, actor, choreographer, musician, and television presenter.
His stage and subsequent film and television careers spanned a total of 76 years, during which he made 31 musical films and several award-winning television specials and issued numerous recordings. He was named the fifth Greatest Male Star of Old Hollywood by the American Film Institute. As a dancer, he is best remembered for his sense of rhythm, his legendary perfectionism, and as the dancing partner and on-screen romantic interest of Ginger Rogers, with whom he co-starred in a series of ten Hollywood musicals which transformed the genre.
Gene Kelly, another major innovator in filmed dance, said that "the history of dance on film begins with Astaire." Beyond film and television, many noted dancers and choreographers, including Rudolf Nureyev, Sammy Davis, Jr., Michael Jackson, Gregory Hines, Mikhail Baryshnikov, George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, and Madhuri Dixit, also acknowledged his importance and influence. Astaire ranks as the fifth greatest male star of Classic Hollywood cinema in AFI's 100 Years...100 Stars.
During the 1920s, Fred and his sister Adele appeared on Broadway and on the London stage in shows such as Jerome Kern's The Bunch and Judy (1922), 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, as Robert Benchley wrote in 1930, "I don't think that I will plunge the nation into war by stating that Fred is the greatest tap-dancer in the world."
Having already been linked to his sister Adele on stage, Astaire was initially very reluctant to become part of another dance team. However, 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 nine films together, including The Gay Divorcee (1934), Roberta (1935), Top Hat (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936), Swing Time (1936), Shall We Dance (1937), and Carefree (1938). 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; as Katharine Hepburn reportedly said, "He gives her class and she gives him sex appeal."
Astaire's style of dance sequences, which allowed the viewer to follow the dancers and choreography in their entirety, clearly contrasted with the Busby Berkeley musicals, which were known for dance sequences filled with extravagant aerial shots, quick takes, and zooms on certain areas of the body, such as a chorus row of arms or legs. Astaire's second innovation involved the context of the dance; he was adamant that all song and dance routines be seamlessly integrated into the plotlines of the film. Instead of using dance as spectacle as Busby Berkeley did, Astaire used it to move the plot along. Typically, an Astaire picture would include at least three standard dances: a solo performance by Astaire—which he termed his "sock solo", a partnered comedy dance routine, and a partnered romantic dance routine.
Rogers was outstanding among Astaire's partners not because she was superior to others as a dancer, but because, as a skilled, intuitive actress, she was cagey enough to realize that acting did not stop when dancing began ... the reason so many women have fantasized about dancing with Fred Astaire is that Ginger Rogers conveyed the impression that dancing with him is the most thrilling experience imaginable.
His first post-Ginger dance partner was the redoubtable Eleanor Powell—considered the finest female tap-dancer of her generation—in Broadway Melody of 1940 where they performed a celebrated extended dance routine to Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine." In his autobiography Steps in Time, Astaire remarked, "She 'put 'em down like a man,' no ricky-ticky-sissy stuff with Ellie. She really knocked out a tap dance in a class by herself."
Other partners during this period included Paulette Goddard in Second Chorus (1940), in which he dance-conducted the Artie Shaw orchestra.
He made two pictures with Rita Hayworth. The first, You'll Never Get Rich (1941), catapulted Hayworth to stardom and provided Astaire his third on-screen opportunity to integrate Latin American dance idioms into his style (the first being with Ginger Rogers in "The Carioca" number from "Flying Down to Rio" (1933). The second, again with Rogers, was the "Dengozo" dance from "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle" (1939)), 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 (1946), which featured a memorable teaming of Astaire with Gene Kelly to "The Babbit and the Bromide," a Gershwin song Astaire had introduced with his sister Adele back in 1927. While Follies was a hit, Yolanda bombed at the box office and Astaire, ever insecure and believing his career was beginning to falter, surprised his audiences by announcing his retirement during the production of Blue Skies (1946), 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 (1948) opposite Judy Garland, Ann Miller, and Peter Lawford and for a final reunion with Rogers (replacing Judy Garland) in The Barkleys of Broadway (1949). Both of these films revived Astaire's popularity and in 1950 he starred in two musicals - one for M-G-M - Three Little Words with Vera-Ellen and Red Skelton and one on loan-out to Paramount - Let's Dance with Betty Hutton. While Three Little Words did quite well at the box office, Let's Dance was a financial disappointment. Royal Wedding (1951) with Jane Powell proved to be very successful, but The Belle of New York (1952) with Vera-Ellen was a critical and box-office disaster. The Band Wagon (1953), which is considered to be one of the finest musicals ever made, received rave reviews from critics and drew huge crowds. But because of its excessive cost, it failed to make a profit on its first release. Soon after, Astaire, along with all the other remaining stars at M-G-M, was let go from his contract because of the advent of television and the downsizing of film production. In 1954, Astaire was about to start work on a new musical, Daddy Long Legs (1955) with Leslie Caron at 20th Century Fox, when his wife Phyllis became ill and suddenly died of lung cancer. Astaire was so bereaved that he wanted to shut down the picture and offered to pay the production costs out of his own pocket. However, Johnny Mercer (the film's composer) and Fox studio executives convinced him that work would be the best thing for him at that time. When Daddy Long Legs was released in 1955, it did only moderately well at the box office. His next film for Paramount, Funny Face (1957), teamed him with Audrey Hepburn and Kay Thompson and despite the sumptuousness of the production and the songs by the Gershwins, it failed to make back its cost. Similarly, Astaire's next project - his final musical at M-G-M, Silk Stockings (1957), in which he co-starred with Cyd Charisse, also lost money at the box office. As a result, Astaire withdrew from motion pictures for two years.
During 1952, Astaire recorded The Astaire Story, a four-volume album with a quintet led by Oscar Peterson. The album, produced by Norman Granz, provided a musical overview of Astaire's career. 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. 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 retire from dancing completely. He made a series of four highly rated Emmy Award-winning musical specials for television in 1958, 1959, 1960, and 1968, each featuring Barrie Chase, with whom Astaire enjoyed an Indian summer of dance creativity. The first 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 and has recently been restored. Astaire won the Emmy for Best Single Performance by an Actor.
Astaire played Julian Osborne, a non-dancing character, in the 1959 movie On the Beach and was nominated for a Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor award for his performance, losing to Stephen Boyd in Ben Hur. Astaire appeared in non-dancing roles in three other films and several television series from 1957 to 1969.
Astaire's last major musical film was Finian's Rainbow (1968), directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Astaire shed his white tie and tails to play an Irish rogue who believes that if he buries a crock of gold in the shadows of Fort Knox the gold will multiply. Astaire's dance partner was Petula Clark, who played his character's skeptical daughter. He described himself as nervous about singing with her, while she said she was worried about dancing with him. The film was a box-office failure, and has gained a strong reputation over the years.
Astaire continued to act in the 1970s, appearing on television as the father of Robert Wagner's character, Alexander Mundy, in It Takes a Thief and in such films as The Towering Inferno (1974), in which he danced with Jennifer Jones and for which he received his only Academy Award nomination, in the category of Best Supporting Actor. He voiced the mailman narrator in the 1970s animated television specials Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town and The Easter Bunny Is Comin' to Town. Astaire also appeared in the first two That's Entertainment! documentaries, in the mid 1970s. In the second, aged seventy-six, he performed song-and-dance routines with Kelly, his last dance performances in a musical film. In the summer of 1975, he made three albums in London, Attitude Dancing, They Can't Take These Away From Me, and A Couple of Song and Dance Men, the last an album of duets with Bing Crosby. In 1976, Astaire played a supporting role, as a dog owner, in the cult movie The Amazing Dobermans, co-starring Barbara Eden and James Franciscus. Fred Astaire played Dr. Seamus Scully in the French film The Purple Taxi (1977).
In 1978, he co-starred with Helen Hayes in a well received television film, A Family Upside Down, in which they played 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 television series Battlestar Galactica in 1979, as Chameleon, the possible father of Starbuck, in "The Man with Nine Lives," a role written for him by Donald P. Bellisario. Astaire asked his agent to obtain a role for him on Galactica because of his grandchildren's interest in the series. This episode marked the final time that he danced on screen. His final film role was the 1981 adaptation of Peter Straub's novel Ghost Story. This horror film was also the last for two of his most prominent castmates, Melvyn Douglas and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Astaire was a virtuoso dancer, able to convey light-hearted venturesomeness or deep emotion when called for. His technical control and sense of rhythm were astonishing. Long after the photography for the solo dance number "I Want to Be a Dancin' Man" was completed for the 1952 feature The Belle of New York, it was decided that Astaire's humble costume and the threadbare stage set were inadequate and the entire sequence was reshot. The 1994 documentary That's Entertainment! III shows the two performances side-by-side in split screen. Frame for frame, the two performances are absolutely identical, down to the subtlest gesture.
Astaire's execution of a dance routine was prized for its elegance, grace, originality, and precision. He drew from a variety of influences, including tap and other black rhythms, classical dance, and the elevated style of Vernon and Irene Castle to create a uniquely recognizable dance style which greatly influenced the American Smooth style of ballroom dance and set standards against which subsequent film dance musicals would be judged. He termed his eclectic approach his "outlaw style," an unpredictable and instinctive blending of personal artistry. His dances are economical yet endlessly nuanced. As Jerome Robbins stated, "Astaire's dancing looks so simple, so disarming, so easy, yet the understructure, the way he sets the steps on, over or against the music, is so surprising and inventive."
His perfectionism was legendary; however, his relentless insistence on rehearsals and retakes was a burden to some. When time approached for the shooting of a number, Astaire would rehearse for another two weeks and record the singing and music. With all the preparation completed, the actual shooting would go quickly, conserving costs. Astaire agonized during the entire process, frequently asking colleagues for acceptance for his work. As Vincente Minnelli stated, "He lacks confidence to the most enormous degree of all the people in the world. He will not even go to see his rushes... He always thinks he is no good." As Astaire himself observed, "I've never yet got anything 100% right. Still it's never as bad as I think it is."
Although he viewed himself as an entertainer first and foremost, his consummate artistry won him the admiration of such twentieth century dance legends as Gene Kelly, George Balanchine, the Nicholas Brothers, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Margot Fonteyn, Bob Fosse, Gregory Hines, Rudolf Nureyev, Michael Jackson, and Bill Robinson. Balanchine compared him to Bach, describing him as "the most interesting, the most inventive, the most elegant dancer of our times," while for Baryshnikov he was "a genius... a classical dancer like I never saw in my life."
Extremely modest about his singing abilities (he frequently claimed that he could not sing, but the critics rated him as among the finest), Astaire introduced some of the most celebrated songs from the Great American Songbook, in particular, Cole Porter's: "Night and Day" in The Gay Divorcee (1932), Irving Berlin's "Isn't This a Lovely Day?", "Cheek to Cheek" and "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" in Top Hat (1935), "Let's Face the Music and Dance" in Follow the Fleet (1936) and "Change Partners" in Carefree (1938). He first presented Jerome Kern's "The Way You Look Tonight" in Swing Time (1936); the Gershwins' "They Can't Take That Away From Me" in Shall We Dance (1937), "A Foggy Day" and "Nice Work if You Can Get it" in A Damsel in Distress (1937); Johnny Mercer's "One for My Baby" from The Sky's the Limit (1943) and "Something's Gotta Give" from Daddy Long Legs (1955); and Harry Warren and Arthur Freed's "This Heart of Mine" from Ziegfeld Follies (1946).
Astaire also co-introduced a number of song classics via song duets with his partners. For example, with his sister Adele, he co-introduced the Gershwins' "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" from Stop Flirting (1923), "Fascinating Rhythm" in Lady, Be Good (1924), "Funny Face" in Funny Face (1927); and, in duets with Ginger Rogers, he presented Irving Berlin's "I'm Putting all My Eggs in One Basket" in Follow the Fleet (1936), Jerome Kern's "Pick Yourself Up" and "A Fine Romance" in Swing Time (1936), along with The Gershwins' "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off" from Shall We Dance (1937). With Judy Garland, he sang Irving Berlin's "A Couple of Swells" from Easter Parade (1948); and, with Jack Buchanan, Oscar Levant, and Nanette Fabray he delivered Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz's "That's Entertainment" from The Band Wagon (1953).
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, a capacity for synthesis which led Burton Lane to describe him as "the world's greatest musical performer." Irving Berlin considered Astaire the equal of any male interpreter of his songs—"as good as Jolson, Crosby or Sinatra, not necessarily because of his voice, but for his conception of projecting a song." Jerome Kern considered him the supreme male interpreter of his songs and Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer also admired his unique treatment of their work. And while George Gershwin was somewhat critical of Astaire's singing abilities, he wrote many of his most memorable songs for him. In his heyday, Astaire was referenced in lyrics of songwriters Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart and Eric Maschwitz and continues to inspire modern songwriters.
Always immaculately turned out, he and Cary Grant were called "the best dressed actor[s] in American movies". Astaire remained a male fashion icon even into his later years, eschewing his trademark top hat, white tie, and tails (for which he never really cared) in favor of a breezy casual style of tailored sports jackets, colored shirts, cravats, and slacks—the latter usually held up by the idiosyncratic use of an old tie in place of a belt.
His friend, David Niven, described him as "a pixie—timid, always warm-hearted, with a penchant for schoolboy jokes."
Enjoy Fred Astaire’s immortal style!
With Ginger Rogers
Isn't this a lovely day (to be caught in the rain) (from "Top Hat")
from "Swing Time"
Bouncin' the blues (from "The Barkleys of Broadway")
They can!t take that away from me (from "Shall we dance")
With Eleanor Powell
Begin the beguine (from "The Broadway Melody of 1940")
With Leslie Caron
Something's gotta give (from "Daddy Long Legs")
Thinking of you dancing (from "Three Little Words")
With Judy Garland
Easter parade (from "Easter Parade")
With Ann Miller
It only happens when I dance with you (from "Easter Parade")
With Audrey Hepburn
With Paulette Goddard
With Rita Hayworth
I'm old-fashioned (from "You Were Never Lovelier")
With Cyd Charisse
from "The Band Wagon"
Dancing in the dark (from "The Band Wagon")
The Ritz Rock 'n' Roll (from "Silk Stockings")
Steppin' out with my baby (from "Easter Parade")
You're all the world to me (from "Royal Wedding")
from "Royal Wedding"
I wanna be a dancin' man (from "The Belle of New York")
I guess I'll have to change my plan (with Jack Buchanan, from "The Band Wagon")
Fred Astaire on various shows:
Astaire Time (1960), with Count Basie
Hollywood Palace (1966):
Fascinating rhythm / Lady be good
Fascinating rhythm / Lady be good