Friday, November 5, 2010

Fred Astaire (1899-1987)

The American born actor with his gift for dance started out his long career at the age of five in vaudeville and on Broadway with his older sister Adele. The talented duo traveled throughout the United States and an extended tour in London performing and honing their skills as child then teen performers. It was when Adele retired to marry in 1932 that Fred found his way to Hollywood and danced his way into our hearts. Before starting his first film he married socialite Phyllis Livingston Potter.

with sister Adele Astaire and below dancing on stage

Upon arriving in Hollywood he was signed by RKO then loaned out to MGM to appear in "Dancing Lady" 1933 opposite Joan Crawford and Clark Gable then returning to RKO that same year to star in "Flying Down to Rio" opposite the beautiful Dolores Del Rio. Due to Astaire's on screen appeal the movie was a huge hit and his career was off to a great start. Not a bad start for a tall, slender guy from Omaha. 

with co-star Joan Crawford "Dancing Lady" 1933

After his great reviews during the early 1930's Fred was paired with Ginger Rogers in "The Gay Divorcee" 1934 then again in "Top Hat" 1935, the beginning of the most famous and charismatic dance pairing in Hollywood history. They appeared together in seven films during the 1930's but by their last picture together at RKO during the decade Astaire and Roger's movie revenue's started to wane at the cost of such lavish dance numbers so Fred found himself looking for new roles and movie projects at the beginning of 1940.  They both desired solo roles and projects that weren't focused on just their familiar chemistry surrounded by dance numbers. He was also appearing in a Radio Show at this time that drew over a million viewers regularly.

with Ginger Rogers

with his talented co-star Ginger Rogers Dancing Cheek to Cheek in "Top Hat" 1933

After a pay dispute with RKO Fred left in the early 1940's and found himself a free agent appearing in nine films at four different studios during the 1940's appearing with Hollywood's biggest stars Joan Fontaine, Eleanor Powell, Paulette Goddard, Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland and Betty Hutton along with a couple of musicals with crooner Bing Crosby "Holiday Inn" 1942 and "Blue Skies" 1946 . My favorite Fred Astaire films are "You'll Never Get Rich" 1941 with Rita Hayworth and of course "Top Hat" 1934 with Ginger.

with Rita Hayworth publicity still

Fred and Rita candid during rehearsals

still from "You'll Never Get Rich" 1941 with Rita Hayworth

Fred took a temporary retirement in the early 1940's to open the Fred Astaire Dance Studios and to spend time with his wife Phyllis and their two young children. He had also developed a love for buying and breeding racehorses and looked forward to putting in more time to it. By this time he had been working steadily for over 40 years so who can blame him for taking a well deserved break.  

click on his autograph from my collection for a larger view

During 1947 his good friend Gene Kelly broke his ankle prior to production of  "Easter Parade" 1947 co-starring Judy Garland so Fred stepped in as his replacement for the film.  He accepted a contract from MGM and continued on to star in several pictures throughout the 1950's. Two of his best performances during this period were "Daddy Long Legs" 1953 co-starring Leslie Caron and in "Funny Face" 1957 starring Audrey Hepburn. He had long since retired his dancing shoes and settled down to light comedies.  

with Cyd Charisse in "Band Wagon" 1953

Fred turned to television appearances during the 1960's and he continued to stay busy recording albums featuring some of the great songs from his hit musicals. At the age of 70 by 1970 he continued working. His first wife Phylis passed away from cancer in 1954 leaving him with their two adult children. Fred remarried in 1980 to jockey Robyn Smith who was 45 years his junior. They remained married until his death in 1987 from pneumonia. He is buried at Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery, Chatsworth CA. His famous dance partner Ginger Rogers is buried at the same cemetery.

a relaxing night at home dancing with his son Fred Astaire Jr.

Interesting Fred Astaire Facts:

He has never been portrayed on film. He always refused such performances and a biopic on himself.

He was born of Austrian immigrants and his sister Adele married a Count.

He became lifelong friends with composer/writer Irving Berlin after meeting him on the set of "Top Hat"

He hid his very large hands by curling his middle two fingers under while dancing and in close up shots.

He appears on the cover of the Beatles Sgt Pepper and the Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

He made a cameo appearance in John Lennon and Yoko Ono's film "Imagine".

His legs were insured for one million dollars.

When Leslie Caron told Fred that she wanted to create her own costume for the movie they did together he said "Okay but no feathers please".  He had experienced an incident during filming of a movie with Ginger Rogers where one of her feathers broke free and floated around his face.

He was an avid golfer and owned thoroughbred farms late into his life with wife Robyn who was a retired jockey.

He was given an honorary Oscar for his on screen artristry in 1950 that was presented to him by Ginger Rogers.

He remained active well into his eighties and broke his wrist while riding his grandson's skateboard at the age of 78.

He was always immaculately well dressed and remained a fashion icon well into his 80's.

His perfectionism was well known in Hollywood and somewhat of a burden to those who he co-starred with. Unlike other dance scenes where there were cutaways and facial close ups then splicing, Fred demanded head to toe shots during his dance scenes that were fluid and one long take. 

Until next time thanks for Puttin On The Ritz with me,


  1. Favorite Dancer Ever...always think Derek Hough is channeling him when he is dancing!!

  2. Elegant,nice,clever,extremely talentuous,the best.

  3. My Mom was a Ballroom Dancer she said of Fred Astaires 1950's attended I joke all the time about being the son of Fred Astaires Ballroom Dancers she had doris Day Records an some Italian Singer. One of my cousin's just died LEFTURN Jason Leffler NASCAR, Indy 500, Orlando Walt Disney Racing sent me a postcard in 2000. My Dad Ralph didn't want British Gold from Grandfathers Harry marriage Daughter Marie just died 92 to V.P. Donald Elliot of John Deere Moline IL my Uncle Donald I didn't get no British Gold or Dancing or Achknowledgements Show Professionals I just live on the street corner today son of a Ballroom Dancer an WW II Tattoo Sailor War Memorial in SLO,CA not allowed on campuses Cal-Poly or University of Illinois got my first name John David Leffler at their Mittag-Leffler Institute an not a University Student at UIS either just work odd jobs Vic's Pizza they stole the cash register in 1996 wanted Opal Cute blonde working 2nd Window Drive thru, got John Juggling @ Slo Mission on youtube now in 2014 only 22 hits, Rick Ferguson comedian got 160,000 hits Bubble Gum alley most famous site in this town, I do canning recycling an old bikey my knee left one is bad maybe cripple for life keep knee brace but no running today or dancing. I once took Solo Pilot at Elliot's Moline IL but never pursued that also, being the son of Dancer for Fred Astaires pretty cool juggling on street corners in dirty old clothes grungy style, people laugh never had a 100 bill people laugh not a real juggler, working on 4 clubs duct tape masking wooden dowels an half tennis ball's shaped an tennis balls for juggling 4 balls, doing poi spinning also an staff Poi got a couple lights on it.