(May 10, 1899 — June 22, 1987) was a film and stage actor, choreographer, singer, musician, and the original dancing machine. He made 31 musical films, and was named the fifth greatest male star of all time by the American Film Institute.
His influence on Hollywood, music, and popular culture cannot be overestimated. A ton of classical dancers and choreographers, including Rudolf Nureyev, Sammy Davis Jr
, Michael Jackson
, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Jerome Robbins have acknowledged Astaire's legacy and influence in their work. Gene Kelly
, another titan of American musical films, was a good friend and the two collaborated several times. Astaire even came out of retirement to replace Kelly in Easter Parade
Also an originator of the Gravity Screw
, capable of tap-dancing across the ceiling in a signature scene from Royal Wedding
(1951) (as seen here
). The rotating room/fixed camera trick has since been borrowed by everyone from Superman
to Christopher Nolan
Eventually, he retired from dancing on film and started a chain of dancing schools, then he returned to dancing musicals and kept going until Finian's Rainbow
in 1968. After that, the rest of his career was in straight acting with a light comedic tone, often as an amiable con artist type in works as varied as The Towering Inferno
and the Battlestar Galactica
episode, "The Man With Nine Lives," as Chameleon.
article (yes, he's number 1
) can be found here.
- 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)
- Finian's Rainbow (1968)
- It Takes a Thief (Played the Recurring Character of Alistair Mundy in several third season episodes of this TV series)
- Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (1970)
- The Towering Inferno (1974) He doesn't dance, he has a small roll as a con man who tries to swindle widows but isn't very good at it.
- That's Entertainment, Part II (1976) (narrator and performer)
- Academy Award: He received an honorary award in 1949/1950 for "for his unique artistry and his contributions to the technique of musical pictures" which was presented to him by Ginger Rogers.
- Beam Me Up, Scotty! & It Will Never Catch On: A comment about an early Screen Test about Astaire supposedly said, "Can't sing. Can't act. Balding. Can dance a little." Astaire's producer of his films with Rogers claims that the note was pure invention while Astaire claimed the note said, "Can't act. Slightly bald. Also dances." Regardless, it's generally agreed that the test did not go well.
- The Cast Showoff: Fortunately, musicals allow opportune moments for people to get behind the piano (from Roberta).
- Dancing With Myself: In Royal Wedding, his dance partner is a piece of furniture, a coat rack. And he's so good he even makes his inanimate partner look good!
- The Oner: His dance routines were often these, especially the solos. Example.
- The Perfectionist: His flawless technique came at a cost. He often failed to meet his own expectations, and constantly questioned whether or not he was a good dancer.
- Sharp-Dressed Man: Astaire was a huge influence on 20th Century fashion. The style of clothes he wore in his films (such as "Isn't It A Lovely Day?" in Top Hat) would become extremely popular. He chose and provided his own outfits for the entirity of Top Hat.
- He had his suits made at Saville Row's Anderson & Sheppard because their house style fit him perfectly while allowing him complete freedom of movement. The tailors still tell stories of how he would jump up on their tables and dance to prove it.
- Stage Names: He was born as Frederick Austerlitz, to Catholic parents of German-Jewish descent.
- Those Two Actors: Himself and Ginger Rogers.
- Time Master: Yep. Fred Astaire's dancing can bend time.
- Tom Hanks Syndrome: Didn't often stray from his prescribed 'type', but when he did, the result was some genuinely boffo acting. Fred Astaire's dramatic roles include Easter Parade—if one could even call it 'dramatic'— in which he plays an imperious dance instructor, and the post-apocalyptic film On the Beach (in which Astaire doesn't dance at all).
- Values Dissonance: Performing "Bojangles of Harlem" in Swing Time...in blackface. Whoops. He also did a less-known yellowface number in a tribute to... Florenz Ziegfeld?? *
- Interestingly, people tend to forgive this because of his tribute to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, in which his admiration for a fellow dancer shines through. Contrast with Al Jolson, who will never live down "Mammy".