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Creator / Fred Astaire

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"When Ginger Rogers danced with Astaire, it was the only time in the movies when you looked at the man, not the woman."

Frederick Austerlitz, better known as Fred Astaire (May 10, 1899 - June 22, 1987), was an American 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.

Astaire's 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, Bob Fosse, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Jerome Robbins have acknowledged his legacy and influence in their work. Gene Kelly, another titan of American musical films, was a good friend of his, and the two collaborated a couple of times. Astaire even came out of retirement to replace Kelly in Easter Parade (1948).

He is said to have introduced more classic songs from the Great American Songbook than any other performer. He further worked with most of the great songwriters of his day, including George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, and Harold Arlen.

He also created one of the most popular images associated with the Gravity Screw trope note  by way of the Signature Scene from Royal Wedding (1951), where he tap-dances on the walls and ceiling of a room (as seen here). The rotating room/fixed camera trick used to pull off the effect 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 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," where he played Chameleon.note 

Astaire eventually passed away in 1987, at the age of 88, from a bout of pneumonia. On his deathbed, he extended a heartfelt thanks to his fans for all their years of support.



  • Academy Award: He received an honorary award in 1949/1950 "for his unique artistry and his contributions to the technique of musical pictures" which was presented to him by Ginger Rogers.
  • Age-Gap Romance: He played romantic leads until he was close to sixty, often opposite women thirty or so years younger. In his later films, he's often the "sophisticated older man" type.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty!: A famous 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.
  • Breakup Breakout: In the first 25 years of his career, when he was teamed with his sister Adele, she was the bigger attraction and got the bulk of critics' praise. Shortly after she left the stage to get married, Fred went into movies. He was initially reluctant to be teamed with Ginger Rogers because he had only just begun to be accepted by the critics as a solo performer, having done only one stage show (The Gay Divorce) on his own.
  • The Cast Showoff: Fortunately, musicals allow opportune moments for people to get behind the piano (from Roberta).
  • Cool Old Guy: He took up skateboarding in his seventies and was awarded a life membership in the National Skateboard Society. At the age of 78, he broke his wrist while practicing in his driveway. His comment: "Gene Kelly warned me not to be a damned fool, but I'd seen the things those kids got up to on television doing all sorts of tricks. What a routine I could have worked up for a film sequence if they had existed a few years ago."
  • Dancing Is Serious Business: Astaire made his dancing look far easier than it actually is. His routines, as Roger Ebert said in his Great Movies review of Swing Time, "required unimaginable hours of rehearsal".
    "I suppose I made it look easy, but gee whiz, did I work and worry."
  • 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!
  • Gravity Screw: His dance on the ceiling in Royal Wedding.
  • It Will Never Catch On: The notes on his first ever screen test famously read: "Can't act. Can't sing. Slightly balding. Can dance a little".
  • The Musical: Astaire is one of the actors who popularized the Hollywood musical in the 1930s.
  • The Oner: Astaire firmly believed in filming dance routines with a minimal number of cuts and simple camera movement. 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. Bear in mind that this is the man that virtually every person who goes into any kind of professional dancing is looking up to.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: A perennial Blue Oni.
    • Offstage, he was the Blue Oni to his sister Adele's Red (see Sibling Yin-Yang below). Because he came across as more mature, people frequently assumed he was her older brother, although in fact he was a couple of years younger.
    • This relationship sometimes carried over into their onstage characters as well.
    • He's also the Blue Oni in the inevitable comparisons with Gene Kelly, the other major male dance star of the same era.
  • Scully Box: He was around 5'7 and so had to wear shoes with two inch heels to avoid being dwarfed by his leading ladies.
  • 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 entirety of Top Hat, as well as many of his other movies.
    • He had his suits made at Savile 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.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Although Fred and Adele got along very well, they were opposites in many ways. Adele, once said to have "put all the flap in flapperdom," loved parties, liked to shock people, and hated to rehearse. Fred was much calmer and more reserved (to the point of being shy in his later years), and he could happily spend a couple of days perfecting a few seconds of dancing. Adele's nickname for Fred was "Moaning Minnie" due to his tendency to worry about his performances; in return, he called her "Goodtime Charlie." Their relationship, including Adele's eventual marriage to an English nobleman, is loosely dramatized in Royal Wedding.
  • Small Reference Pools: He is still the name to drop whenever people talk about perfect dancers, especially in the field of tap dancing.
  • So My Kids Can Watch: Fred Astaire approached the producers to see if he could appear in a small cameo role on the Battlestar Galactica (1978) series so he could please his grandchildren, who were big fans. The producers were so delighted at this veteran star's interest that they wrote a whole episode featuring his character.
  • Stage Names: He was born as Frederick Austerlitz, to a Catholic father of Austrian-Jewish descent and a Lutheran mother whose parents emigrated from Germany.
  • Those Two Actors: Himself and Ginger Rogers. Rita Hayworth and Cyd Charisse counted too, on a slightly lesser extent.
  • 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:invoked Performing "Bojangles of Harlem" in Swing 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 never lived down "Mammy".
  • Weak, but Skilled: As a singer, he had a light (some would say reedy) voice with a limited range. He made up for his lack of rich tone with razor-sharp diction, nuanced phrasing, and impeccable rhythm. Songwriters generally liked the direct and unembellished way he performed their songs, and many songs that are now standards were written specifically for him.