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Who is Fred Astaire?

Fred Astaire was a visionary in the world of dance and film, whose grace and innovation on the silver screen set the standard for generations of performers. With a career spanning over 76 years, he became synonymous with elegance and charm. Discover how Astaire's legacy continues to influence the arts and why his work remains a touchstone for excellence. What will you uncover about his timeless impact?
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Fred Astaire (1899-1987) was a dancer and performer, best remembered for his musical performances with Ginger Rogers during the 1930s. However, he was in a dazzling amount of films and plays, contributing a huge body of work to cinema history. Astaire was a superb dancer and choreographer, as well as a perfectionist, constantly questing for improved dance moves and films with a focus on beautiful, showy performance. He also appeared in numerous television specials in his later years and was honored by the Academy in 1950 for his significant contribution to Hollywood history.

Fred Astaire was the son of Austrian immigrants to New York City, and he spent his childhood going to dancing school with his older sister Adele, who was a talented dancer herself. The two performed on various stages in childhood, adopting the name Astaire during the First World War and making it a household word along the Eastern Seaboard. The Astaires danced in numerous Broadway productions together until 1932, when Adele retired.

Fred Astaire was an American film and Broadway dancer, choreographer, singer, musician and actor.
Fred Astaire was an American film and Broadway dancer, choreographer, singer, musician and actor.

His strong grounding in Broadway productions gave Fred Astaire an excellent sense of staging, timing, and dance moves, which translated well to film when he struck out for Hollywood in 1932. Astaire felt that he had been locked out of romantic roles on Broadway because of his frequent performances with his sister, and he was interested in expanding his career. He signed a contract with Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO) pictures. In 1933, he was cast with Ginger Rogers in Flying Down to Rio, the first film in a partnership that would total ten high grossing and famous musical films.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers had a magic that worked well on screen, and the two captivated American audiences during the Depression years of the 1930s. Astaire's tap and ballroom acts with Rogers represented hours of painstaking work, as he developed routines to showcase their abilities and was very demanding on set, often requesting multiple retakes of a scene until he was satisfied. In 1939, the pair felt that the market for their films was exhausted and went their separate ways.

Fred Astaire continued to dance on film until 1970, when he felt that he was no longer physically capable of performing difficult dance moves. He also played a number of straight roles, including Biddeford Poole in The Pleasure of His Company (1961). In addition, he opened a chain of Dance Studios across the United States, many of which are still in existence today teaching his dancing techniques.

During his lifetime, Fred Astaire had two wives. He was married to Phyllis Potter from 1933 until 1955, when she died of cancer, and to well known former jockey Robyn Smith from 1980 until his death. Astaire had two children with Phyllis, Fred Junior and Ava. He is remembered as a kind family man, who adored his children and loathed his trademark top hat and tails, vastly preferring casual dress. Fred Astaire was a vital force in American musicals, and his influence continues to be felt today in the field of musical choreography.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Fred Astaire and why is he significant in the history of dance and film?

Fred Astaire was an American dancer, singer, actor, choreographer, and television presenter, renowned for his influence on the world of dance, particularly in film. Born on May 10, 1899, Astaire's career spanned 76 years, during which he starred in more than 30 films. He is significant for his elegant and innovative dance style, which combined ballet, tap, and ballroom. His partnership with Ginger Rogers is legendary, producing classic films like "Top Hat" and "Swing Time." According to the American Film Institute, Astaire is one of the greatest male stars of Classic Hollywood cinema.

What were some of Fred Astaire's most memorable performances?

Fred Astaire's most memorable performances include his dances in "Top Hat" (1935), where he performed the iconic "Cheek to Cheek" with Ginger Rogers, and "Swing Time" (1936), featuring the Academy Award-winning song "The Way You Look Tonight." His solo performance to "Puttin' on the Ritz" in "Blue Skies" (1946) is also highly acclaimed. Additionally, his role in "The Band Wagon" (1953), where he danced to "Dancing in the Dark" and the show-stopping "That's Entertainment," remains a highlight of his career.

How did Fred Astaire's style influence modern dance and entertainment?

Fred Astaire's style had a profound influence on modern dance and entertainment. His seamless integration of dance into narrative film set a new standard for musicals. His innovative choreography, often involving complex props and sets, pushed the boundaries of what was possible in dance routines. Astaire's insistence on filming dance sequences in a single shot influenced future directors and choreographers to prioritize the integrity of dance on film. His influence is seen in the works of Gene Kelly, Michael Jackson, and many others who cite him as an inspiration.

Did Fred Astaire receive any awards or honors for his work?

Yes, Fred Astaire received numerous awards and honors throughout his career. He was awarded an Honorary Academy Award in 1950 "for his unique artistry and his contributions to the technique of musical pictures." He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1981. Additionally, Astaire was recognized with Emmy Awards for his work in television, and he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987.

What impact did Fred Astaire have on the fashion industry?

Fred Astaire had a significant impact on the fashion industry, particularly men's fashion. His on-screen attire, characterized by tailored suits, top hats, and well-polished shoes, became synonymous with grace and sophistication. His style influenced the way men dressed both on and off-screen during the mid-20th century. Astaire's preference for a more casual and comfortable style in his personal life also contributed to a shift in men's fashion towards a less formal and more practical aesthetic.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

cmsmith10

I find it amazing that Fred Astaire never got any more awards than what he did. According to the IMDB, the only Academy Award he ever received was just an honorary. It was given “For his unique artistry and his contributions to the technique of musical pictures.”

Fred Astaire also played the accordion. At the AFI Life Achievement Award Ceremony in 1981, it was said of Fred: “Dancers hate Fred Astaire. He gives us complexes because he is too perfect.” That statement was made by Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Fred stated that after his first screen test, this was said of him: “Can’t act. Slightly bald. Also dances.”

BoatHugger

A few years ago, I found a book while pilfering through a thrift store. It was a Fred Astaire bio. It had a lot of great information that I had never heard before.

Fred Astaire was actually born as “Frederick Austerlitz II”. He was born on May 10, 1899 in Omaha, Nebraska. He started his professional dancing career in 1905 dancing with his sister in Vaudeville. He had originally taken dance lessons at the same time as his sister to save the price of a babysitter.

Fred appeared at least twice in the “Zippy” comic strip. He was a horse racing enthusiast. Perhaps that is what attracted him to his second wife, Robyn Smith. Robyn was a former jockey.

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    • Fred Astaire was an American film and Broadway dancer, choreographer, singer, musician and actor.
      By: Perseomedusa
      Fred Astaire was an American film and Broadway dancer, choreographer, singer, musician and actor.