Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Fred Astaire (May 10, 1899 – June 22, 1987), born Frederick Austerlitz in Omaha, Nebraska, was an American film and Broadway ballroom dancer and actor. He is particularly associated with Ginger Rogers, with whom he made ten films.
"Astaire" was a name taken by him and his sister Adele for their vaudeville act when they were about 5 years old. It is said to have come from an uncle surnamed "L'Astaire". Many sources erroneously state that the Astaires appeared in a 1915 film entitled Fanchon, the Cricket starring Mary Pickford, but this is a myth (although it is believed that they were present to watch the filming).
During the 1920s, Fred and Adele appeared on Broadway in shows such as Lady Be Good, Funny Face, The Band Wagon, and The Gay Divorce, winning popular acclaim with the theater crowd. They split in 1932 when she married her first husband, Lord Charles Cavendish, a son of the duke of Devonshire.
Famously, a Paramount Pictures screen test report on Astaire read simply: "Can't sing. Can't act. Slightly balding. Can dance a little." In the opinion of millions of fans of his popular films, Astaire could actually dance quite a bit.
His singing voice was weak, yet composers such as Cole Porter wrote a number of songs especially for him, and quite a few are among evergreen ballroom foxtrots: "Night and Day", "Cheek to Cheek", "The Way You Look Tonight", "A Fine Romance", "They Can't Take that Away from Me", and "Change Partners".
His second film, Flying Down to Rio , paired him with Ginger Rogers for the first time. That partnership, and the choreography of Hermes Pan , helped make dancing an important element of the Hollywood film musical. His films with Rogers included The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat (1935) and Carefree (1938). He also teamed up with other stars, notably with Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn (1942) and Blue Skies (1946). He was also nearly outdanced in Broadway Melody of 1940 by one of his first post-Rogers dance partners, Eleanor Powell. After announcing his retirement in 1946, he soon returned to the screen to replace the injured Gene Kelly in Easter Parade (1948) (opposite Judy Garland) and for The Band Wagon (1953) with Cyd Charisse. Astaire went on to make several more musicals in the 1950s, including Funny Face (1953) with Audrey Hepburn and Silk Stockings (1958) with Charisse. Afterwards, Astaire announced that he was retiring from dancing in film to concentrate on dramatic acting, scoring rave reviews for the nuclear war drama On the Beach (1959).
Astaire didn't give up dancing completely, and made a series of high-rated specials for television into the early 1960s. One of these programs, 1958's An Evening with Fred Astaire , won nine Emmy Awards including "Best Single Performance by an Actor" and "Most Outstanding Single Program of the Year." It was also noteworthy for being the first major broadcast to be prerecorded on color videotape.
Astaire's final musical film was Finian's Rainbow (1968), in which he shed his white tie and tails to play an Irish rogue who believes if he buries a crock of gold in the shadows of Fort Knox it will multiply. His last on-screen dance partner was Petula Clark, who portrayed his skeptical daughter. He admitted to being as nervous about singing with her as she confessed to being apprehensive about dancing with him.
Astaire continued to act into the 1980s, appearing in films such as The Towering Inferno (1974) for which he received his only Academy Award nomination in the category of Best Supporting Actor. He appeared in the first two That's Entertainment! documentaries in the mid-1970s, in the second performing a song-and-dance routine with Gene Kelly. In 1976, he recorded a disco-styled rendition of Carly Simon's "Attitude Dancing". In 1978, Fred Astaire co-starred with Helen Hayes in a well-received television film, A Family Upside Down, in which they play an elderly couple coping with failing health. Astaire won an Emmy Award for his performance. He made a well-publicized guest appearance on the science fiction TV series Battlestar Galactica in 1979. His final film was the 1981 adaptation of Peter Straub's Ghost Story .
Astaire married, as his first wife, in 1933, Phyllis Potter (née Phyllis Livingston Baker, 1908-1954), a Boston-born New York socialite and former wife of Eliphalet Nott Potter 3rd (1906-1981). In addition to Phyllis's son Eliphalet 4th, known as Peter, the Astaires had two children, Fred, Jr. (born 1936, he appeared with his father in the movie Midas Run but became a charter pilot and rancher instead of an actor), and Ava (born 1942).
Astaire married, as his second wife, in 1980, Robyn Smith, an actress turned jockey. She was nearly 50 years his junior. It is uncertain whether the second Mrs. Astaire was born Robin Miller in 1944 or Melody Palm in 1942.
- 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)
- The Pleasure of His Company (1961)
- The Notorious Landlady (1962)
- Paris - When it Sizzles (1964)
- Finian's Rainbow (1968)
- Midas Run (1969)
- Imagine (1973) (documentary)
- Just One More Time (1974) (short subject)
- That's Entertainment! (1974)
- The Towering Inferno (1974)
- The Lion Roars Again (1975) (short subject)
- That's Entertainment, Part II (1976)
- The Amazing Dobermans (1976)
- The Purple Taxi (1977)
- Ghost Story (1981)
- (1985) (documentary)
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