Fred Astaire: An unforgettable talent

” I have never had anything that I can remember in the business-and that includes all the movies and the stage shows and everything-that I didn’t enjoy. I didn’t like some of the small time vaudeville, because we weren’t going on and getting better. Aside from that, I didn’t dislike anything”- Fred Astaire ( May 10th, 1899- June 22nd,1987)

Today, I would like to pay tribute to not only an extraordinarily gifted dancer, singer and immensely talented actor, but also a charismatic, compassionate, humble, empathetic and deeply respected and admired individual who brought so much passion, love and grace through his consummate artistry and exceptional skills in the world of tap dancing. He also had the almost unpredictable knack of producing a wonderfully melodious voice (in my opinion) that captured the hearts of countless fans around the world who continue to watch his films on TCM, especially when he serenades to such legendary stars as Ginger Rogers, Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland and Leslie Caron (though some would not agree with me about his voice), I have always been a huge admirer of Fred Astaire as well as the impressive incomparable abilities of his tap dancing and the passion that emanated from his voice through his singing. It is my honor and deepest appreciation to acknowledge and dedicate this post in recognition of the 112th anniversary of Frederick Austerlitz’s birth and the profound influential impact that he resonated with many classical dancers and choreographers such as Gene Kelly, Rudlof Nureyev, Sammy Davis, Jr, Michael Jackson, Gregory Hines, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Jerome Robbins. His stage and subsequent film career spanned a total of 76 years (with his last film being Ghost Story in 1981) during which he made 31 musical films.

He was named the 5th Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute, surpassed only by Humphrey Bogart (#1), Cary Grant (#2), James Stewart (#3), and Marlon Brando (#4). Of the top 5 men on the list, all of the featured actors were nominated for an Academy Award for their
performances, including Astaire for his supporting role as Harilee Claiborne in Irwin Allen’s The Towering Inferno (1974). But only 3 won the Academy Award for their performances: Humphrey Bogart for The African Queen (1951), Marlon Brando for both On the Waterfront and The Godfather (1954 & 1972), and Jimmy Stewart for The Philadelphia Story in 1940 (Fred Astaire lost to Robert DeNiro for The Godfather Part II and Cary Grant lost to both Gary Cooper for Sergeant York in 1941 and Bing Crosby for Going My Way in 1944, but both later on recieving the Lifetime Acheivement Award for their recognition and performances in their film careers).

He started his career when he was younger with his sister Adele as his dancing partner and progressed later on in his film career, most notably with Ginger Rogers with whom he made 10 films including 1949’s The Barkleys of Broadway (the film was not only their last feature film as Astaire and Rogers, but it was the only film that was shot in Technicolor). He received the Lifetime Acheivement Award from the American Film Institute in 1981 as well as countless Grammy and Emmy awards and other special achievements. He was married twice in his life, first to Phyllis Potter in 1933 who passed away from lung cancer in 1954 ending 21 years of a blissful marriage and leaving Astaire devastated, and then to Robyn Smith in 1980 a jockey almost 45 years his junior. His only daughter Ava Astaire McKenzie (born 1942) from his marriage to Phyllis remains actively involved in promoting her late father’s heritage. On June 22nd, 1987, Fred Astaire passed away from pneumonia at the age of 88, in Los Angeles California, and was interred in the Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetary in Chatsworth California.

One last request of his was to thank his fans for their years of support. Before his death in 1987, Astaire was a lifelong golfer and Thoroughbred horse racing enthusiast. He remained physically active well into his eighties; at the age of seventy eight, he broke his left wrist while riding his grandson’s skateboard. Always immaculately turned out, with Cary Grant he was called ” the best dressed actor in American movies”. Astaire remained a male fashion icon even in his later years, eschewing his trademark top hat, white tie and tails (which he never really cared for) in favor of a breezy casual style of tailored sport jackets, colored shirts. cravats and slacks. Gene Kelly once said of him that the ” history of dance on film begins with Astaire on film”. And you know what ? He was absolutely right about Fred Astaire, for when he danced his way into his films, he also danced his way into the hearts of classic movie lovers everywhere. I would like to use a simple phrase from one of my favorite shows, Bat Masterson, to describe Fred Astaire: Fred Astaire- the man who became a legend in his own time!!

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