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Fred Astaire

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Fred Astaire, photo courtesy of NYPL About 

Fred Astaire (1899-1987) brought perfectionism to work as a dancer and choreographer on vaudeville and Broadway stages, shaped standards for filming dance as a star of Hollywood musicals, and made notable contributions to television. He began a vaudeville career at six as partner to his sister Adele. The young duo soon earned $150 per week in an era when normal pay was less than ten dollars. A top hat and cane were hallmarks, almost from the beginning. Making a transition from vaudeville, the Astaires appeared in ten Broadway productions between 1917 and 1932, including Lady Be Good (1924), Funny Face (1927), and The Band Wagon (1931). When Adele left the stage to marry, Fred had his first solo success on Broadway in Cole Porter's Gay Divorce (1932). During 1933 he played a small dance role in his movie debut, Dancing Lady with Joan Crawford. Later that year he starred in Flying Down to Rio, which assured his position in Hollywood. Astaire's extraordinary musicality and theatrical imagination gave distinctive shape and emotional resonance to his dancing, expressed in 212 musical numbers on film. His insistence that the camera follow choreographic flow, while sustaining dance continuity, established a model for using the medium in the service of the art.

Pictured left: The picture above of Astaire in action captures his aerial elegance. Work: The Bandwagon (1953). (Photograph from the Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations)


Essay by Imogen Sara Smith -- Selected resources



Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in their first great romantic duet, "Night and Day," from The Gay Divorcee (1934), which demonstrates the emotional and psychological complexity Astaire achieved in his dance partnership with Rogers.