FRED ASTAIRE BIOGRAPHY & FILMOGRAPHY:
Fred Astaire was born on May 10th, 1899 in Omaha, Nebraska with the birth name Frederic Austerlitz Jr. to parents, Frederic 'Fritz' Austerlitz who was an Austrian immigrant and his mother, Johanna 'Ann' née Geilus.
Astaire's mother always had dreams of leaving Omaha, Nebraska and when it was revealed that her daughter possessed a talent for singing and dancing she put together a brother sister act for her children. So, at the young age of five Astaire, was already involved in the life of show business. They got involved in Vaudeville and Astaire took up lessons on the clarinet and accordion.
When Astaire's father lost his job, the family picked up and relocated to New York City to focus on their children's show business careers. The children took on the name for their act as 'A Staire' in 1905. Their first act was called, Juvenile Artists Presenting an Electric Musical Toe-Dancing Novelty which first debuted in Keyport, New Jersey in a trial theater. The local paper published that the, "Astaire's are the greatest child act in vaudeville".
The children soon got a contract and played the Orpheum circuit throughout the United States. Sadly, Astaire's sister, Adele soon began to grow much taller then her brother and the brother sister pair seamed to not look so good together anymore. The family decided to take a two year rest from show business also due to avoiding any trouble with the Gerry Society in regards to child labor laws during 1912.
When Adele and Astaire got back together and began performing again, it was noticeable that Astaire's dancing skills were beginning to surpass his sister. Astaire soon met George Gershwin in 1916 and he helped their act break into Broadway in 1917 with, "Over the Top". Their career success continued into the early 20's with more Broadway appearances as well as performances on London's stage in such productions as, "Lady Be Good" (1924) and "Funny Face" (1927).
Soon they decided to take a chance at the film industry and did a screen test for paramount, however, the duo was not considered film material. In 1932, they decided it was time to go their separate ways as Adele chose to get married. Astaire was devastated at first to stop working with his sister but he continued to pursue a career in the industry. He found a new partner, Claire Luce and they created a romantic dance known as, "Night and Day".
In 1933 Astaire was signed with RKO despite rumors of him not having a very good screen test. He was loaned out to MGM on occasion. His Hollywood debut was with MGM dancing with Joan Crawford in, "Dancing Lady" (1933). Then despite RKO's slight lack of confidence in Astaire, he got fifth billing with Ginger Rogers in, "Flying Down to Rio" (1933). He was convinced to pair up with Rogers and together they made a total of ten films together, some of which were, "The Gay Divorcee" (1934), "Roberta" (1935), "Top Hat" (1935), "Follow the Fleet" (1936), "Swing Time" (1936), "Shall We Dance" (1937), and "Carefree" (1938). They were so well accepted and six of their films became the biggest money makers for RKO. Astaire was even entitled to a percentage of profits from the films which in that era was normally very unlikely.
Astaire chose in 1939 to go his own way and leave RKO to freelance. He found a new partner after Ginger, Eleanor Powell and together they performed a dance routine to Cole Porter's, "Begin the Beguine". He worked on two films with Bing Crosby, "Holiday Inn" (1942) and "Blue Skies" (1946). Astaire had numerous dance partners later on in his career. He worked with Paulette Goddard in, "Second Chorus" (1940) and also worked with Rita Hayworth on, "You'll Never Get Rich" (1941) which took Hayworth's popularity to a whole new level. The duo did another film together, "You Were Never Lovelier" (1942) which was also highly successful. In 1943 he choreographed the dancing in the film, "One for My Baby" and was surprisingly, not so well recevied by film critics. However, Astaire continued to work on films and choreogrpah such as on the film, "Yolanda and the Thief" (1946) followed by "Ziegfeld Follies" (also 1946). Follies was well received by critics but "Yolanda and the Thief" was not a box office hit. It was during the production of, "Blue Skies" (1946) that Astaire announced he was planning to retire.
Astaire went on to found the Fred Astaire Dance Studio's in 1947 and later sold in 1966. He did return back to the screen again even after he said he was going to retire to work on the film, "Easter Parade" (1949) and again on, "The Barkleys of Broadway" (1949).
As he entered the 1950's he returned back to film completely as though he had never even left appearing in a variety of musicals such as, "Three Little Words" (1950), "The Belle of New York" (1952), "The Band Wagon" (1953), "Silk Stockings" (1957) and "Funny Face" (also 1957).
Astaire did not retire from dancing completely either. In 1958, 1959, 1960 and 1968 he made four more musicals. The first one, "An Evening With Fred Astaire" won a total of nine Emmy's. His last major role in a film musical was in 1968 on, "Finian's Rainbow".
Astaire still did not retire, instead he decided to do some television work. In 1970, he worked on, "It Takes a Thief" and he appeared on, "That's Entertainment" documentaries. He continued to work in the entertainment industry but was also active in his love of horses. He owned Blue Valley Ranch which was a horse breeding farm in the San Fernando Valley for racing horses.
Fred Astaire was married twice throughout his lifetime. First to Phyllis Livingston Potter on July 12th, 1933 to September 13th, 1954 and together they had two children, Fred Astaire jr. born January 21st, 1936 and daughter, Ava Astaire-McKenzie born March 28th, 1942. He remained married to his first wife until she passed away at the age of forty six after battling lung cancer. His second marriage was to Robyn Smith from June 27th, 1980 until June 22nd, 1987 when Astaire passed away.
Fred Astaire was also responsible for introducing some of the more well known songs such as, Night and Day, Cheek to Cheek, The Way You Look Tonight, One for my Baby and Nice Work if You Can Get it amongst many others. He was a very successful song composer and also was responsible for introducing a number of song classics via song diets with various partners.
Fred Astaire passed away on June 22nd, 1987 in Los Angeles, California from Pneumonia. He was interred in Oakwood Memorial Park, Chatsworth, California, USA.
Fred Astaire was honored in numerous ways throughout his lifetime for his contributions to the entertainment industry. In 1960, he received a Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award for " Lifetime Achievement in Motion Pictures. In 1978 he was the first recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors followed by the Lifetime Achievement Award from the AFI in 1981. He was voted the 19th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment weekly and voted the 23rd Greatest Movie Star of all time by Premiere Magazine. Astaire was named the #5 Greatest actor on the 50 Greatest Screen Legends by the American Film Institute.
Even after his passing, Astaire continues to be honored and remembered. In 1987 he was inducted into the National Museum of Dance C.V. Whitney Hall of Fame followed by in 2002 being inducted into the International Tap Dance Hall of Fame. At Oriel College at the University of Oxford they held a Conference in 2008 to honor the life and work of Fred Astaire.
His career spanned over a total of seventy six years in which he was in a total of thirty one musical films. Even though he had many dance partners throughout his career, he will always be best known for his partnership with Rogers as the two possessed a charisma and beauty together when they danced. Ginger Rogers always managed to convey to viewers that when dancing with Fred Astaire, she was having the most amazing time of her life.
1981 Ghost Story
1979 The Man in the Santa Claus Suit
1979 Battlestar Galactica
1978 A Family Upside Down
1977 The Purple Taxi
1977 The Easter Bunny Is Comin' to Town
1976 The Amazing Dobermans
1974 The Towering Inferno
1970 Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town
1970 The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again
1969-1970 It Takes a Thief
1969 Midas Run
1968 Finian's Rainbow
1965 Dr. Kildare
1964 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre
1962 Alcoa Premiere
1962 The Notorious Landlady
1961 The Pleasure of His Company
1959 On the Beach
1957-1959 G.E. True Theater
1957 Silk Stockings
1957 Funny Face
1955 Daddy Long Legs
1953 The Band Wagon
1952 The Belle of New York
1951 Royal Wedding
1950 Let's Dance
1950 Three Little Words
1949 The Barkleys of Broadway
1948 Easter Parade
1946 Blue Skies
1945 Yolanda and the Thief
1943 The Sky's the Limit
1942 You Were Never Lovelier
1942 Holiday Inn
1941 You'll Never Get Rich
1940 Second Chorus
1940 Broadway Melody of 1940
1939 The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle
1937 A Damsel in Distress
1937 Shall We Dance
1936 Swing Time
1936 Follow the Fleet
1935 Top Hat
1934 The Gay Divorcee
1933 Flying Down to Rio