Frederick Austerlitz, better known as Fred Astaire (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, Bob Fosse, 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 a couple of times. Astaire even came out of retirement to replace Kelly in Easter Parade (1948).
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.
He is said to have introduced more classic songs from the Great American Songbook than any other performer. He worked with most of the great songwriters of his day, including George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, and Harold Arlen.
Eventually, he retired from dancing on film and started a chain of dancing schools, then he returned to dancing musicals and kept going until Finians 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.
- 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.
- 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! and It Will Never Catch On: 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).
- Dancing Is Serious Business: Astaire made his dancing look far easier than it actually is.
- 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 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.
- The Musical: Astaire is one of the actors who popularized the Hollywood musical in the 1930s.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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???
- 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.