“One does not grab an intricate and complicated dance number out of thin air. It sometimes takes months of work, practicing and planning. I must first have the music to be used. When you hear an Irving Berlin song, you know that the words could not conceivably fit any other music. My dances must be that way, dance steps and music wedded so that no other dance could possibly fit that music. Sometimes I spend weeks just conceiving a number. I get ideas, try them and discard them until I have the inspiration I want.” – Fred Astaire
Photographer: Edward Steichen (1935)
Fred Astaire and his first dance partner, Adele, his sister.
The Astaires were quite popular in New York and Europe. They had performed together 15 years, longer if you count the training years as children. However, very early in their professional careers, a manager once said, “The girl seems to have talent, but the boy can do nothing.”
Not that Fred didn’t get mostly rave reviews from nearly everyone else. One critic wrote:
“One of the prettiest features of the show is the dancing of the two Astaires. The girl, a light, spritelike little creature, has really an exquisite floating style in her caperings, while the young man combines eccentric ability with humor.”
The rest, as we know, is history. Adele retired in 1932 and Fred went to Hollywood.
“In vaudeville, Adele and I were often fired and once we were replaced by a dog act.” — Fred Astaire
Photo: With his sister Adele.
The Gay Divorcee (1934). With Ginger Rogers.
A caricature from the Ambassador Hotel’s Field and Turf Club, circa mid-1930s.
“Lots of fans have written to ask if we were going to be teamed, and no doubt the question has been put to Astaire. He is, of course, the greatest dancer of them all. But I don’t think we would be a good team. Our style of dancing is totally different. Fred is very aerial and covers a lot of space, while I dance close to the ground. I don’t doubt he could do both, if only because of his ballet training. And he might like me to do machine gun taps – if he liked me at all. But there is a wide difference between us….Anyway, he doesn’t know me at all. Bert Lahr introduced us one night in New York four years ago when I was doing a tap in front of the curtain during the run of ‘Hot-cha,’ but he probably doesn’t remember me. I’m dying to meet him now, not in the Brown Derby, but in a rehearsal hall. I have a funny idea that if we meet that way we’d get along swell, because we’re both nuts about dancing. If he only said, ‘I think you’re good, but not so hot,’ I’d love it. I want even that much admiration from him.” — Eleanor Powell in 1936.
Eleanor Powell and Fred Astaire did finally end up working together in The Broadway Melody of 1940, but the dream team was short-lived. Astaire later said, “Eleanor Powell, one of our greatest talents, is a bit too powerful for me. I love Eleanor Powell, but she dances like a man. She’s a remarkable dancer, but she has a very mannish style, and she’s a little big for me.”
Astaire‘s quote can be found here: http://
Powell‘s quote comes from an interview with Charles Darnton in 1936.
“You know, that Kelly, he’s just terrific. That’s all there is to it. He dances like crazy, he directs like crazy. I adore this guy. I really am crazy about his work.” — Fred Astaire
“I work bigger. Fred‘s style is more intimate. I’m very jealous of that when I see him on the small screen. Fred looks so great on TV. I’d love to put on a white tie and tails and look as thin as him and glide as smoothly. But I’m built like a blocking tackle.” — Gene Kelly
“After you worked with Fred, you just didn’t want to work with anyone else.” — Jane Powell
Source: Nick Thomas (2014)
Photo: Royal Wedding (1951)
Astaire‘s hairpiece for Silk Stockings (1957).
“It’s a strange phenomenon; I’m getting mash notes from 12-and 14-year-olds.” – Gene Kelly in 1976.
“The kids get a crush on you, and they don’t accept that you’re old enough to be their grandfather, or older. They see you in your numbers and think you haven’t gotten any older.” – Fred Astaire in 1976.