The American Film Institute named Fred Astaire the #5 greatest screen legend of all time. In addition, he is ranked in the top 25 positions for greatest movie star of all time by several other entertainment organizations. Moreover, he is best known for his dance performances in dozens of musical comedy films with partner, Ginger Rogers.
The Barkley’s of Broadway 1949
Bouncin’ The Blues, Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers
Astaire and Rogers appeared in 10 movies together: 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), Carefree (1938), The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939) and The Barkley’s of Broadway (1949).
Fred Astaire Bio (Personal)
Fred Astaire’s father was Frederick Austerlitz, an immigrant from Austria. His mother’s name was Ann Geilus Austerlitz. Moreover, Astaire’s father was a brewery worker but the whole Astaire family were also vaudeville dancers including Fred’s sister, Adele. Astaire entered show the show business at around age five. Also, in 1906, Fred and his sister formed a successful vaudeville show. They both appeared briefly in some early twentieth century films. After performing vaudeville acts the brother sister team moved up to musical stage performances, appearing in 10 musical productions on Broadway and London. Adele retired after she married in 1932. Nonetheless, Fred Astaire continued his dance career and rise to stardom dancing in dozens of classic films. Moreover, he appeared in films with legendary dancers, actors and actresses including famous actor and dancer, Gene Kelly in the Ziegfeld Follies in 1945.
Gene Kelly & Fred Astaire, Ziegfeld Follies, 1945
Fred Astaire Biography (Professional)
Fred Astaire, born Frederick Austerlitz, was born May 10, 1899 in Omaha, Nebraska. He was an American dancer, choreographer, film star and singer who starred in a number of successful films with dance partner Ginger Rogers and other famous dancers. In addition, he was a singer and also performed some dramatic roles on film and television. He had a unique look as a thin man of 5’9″ inches with sandy blonde hair often wearing a top hat and tails in shows. Moreover, he continued a rigorous dance rehearsal and practice regime until well into his seventies. Later, deciding he didn’t want to be an old man still dancing he retired from dancing but continued as an actor in films.
Astaire pioneered contemporary methods of dance in film that still exist today. For instance, he insisted the camera follow the dancers routine focusing on the two dancers. Prior to this time, it was common to have huge dance productions which were less personal. He is still considered one of the greatest dancers on film of all time.
(Fred Astaire & Cyd Charisse, Dancing in the Dark Photo)
Astaire’s Dance Career
During his long career, he went from vaudeville to Broadway to Hollywood and finally television. Generally, his dance style is considered to be a combination of ballet, tap and ballroom dancing. He starred in over 30 films from 1938 to 1968. Also, he danced with many well known dancers like Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Cyd Charisse and Rita Hayworth. Moreover, they performed to music composed by the best music artists in the world. For example, they performed to music by George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin and other greats in the music world.
Astaire’s unique dance acts included dancing on top of a cake with Rita Hayworth, on roller skates, hitting balls off a tee and up and down walls and down glittering stairs and across glamorous ballrooms. However, his best known dance scenes were probably with Ginger Rogers. Moreover, the dancing duo often incorporated elements of tap and the smooth ballroom dance styles. Their styles complimented each other to create one of the greatest motion picture dance partnerships in history. Astaire’s other dance partners include Eleanor Powell, Rita Hayworth and Lucille Bremer.
Movies & Film Career
Early in his career, Fred Astaire did an unimpressive screen test. Nonetheless, he was cast in Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s “Dancing Lady” in 1933 along with Joan Crawford and Clark Gable.
Dancing Lady, 1933
Starring Fred Astaire, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable
In 1933, Astaire and Ginger Rogers were considered a sensation in RKO Radio Pictures, “Flying Down to Rio.” Subsequently, this launched a successful series of films for the pair including: The Gay Divorcee, Top Hat, Swing Time and Carefree.
Swing Time Film
Waltz/Tap, Fred & Ginger Rogers, 1936
In the 1940’s, he appeared in the film’s Easter Parade (1948) with Judy Garland, and The Barkley’s of Broadway (1949) with some of his best dance routines. He briefly retired from motion pictures and opened Fred Astaire Dance Studios but soon returned to star in more films.
In the 1950’s, Astaire created some of his well known dance routines in the films Royal Wedding (1951), The Belle of New York (1952) and The Band Wagon (1953). In addition, one of Astaire’s most memorable dance duets was with partner, Cyd Charisse to “Dancing in the Dark.”
Dancing in the Dark
Fred Astaire & Cyd Charisse
Later, in the late 50’s & 60’s, Astaire appeared in Silk Stockings (1957), Finian’s Rainbow (1968) and a few television specials.
Fred Astaire in Television
In the fifties, the classic Hollywood musicals were on the decline. Subsequently, Astaire took his multiple talents and skills to television, even in dramatic non-dancing roles.
Besides his immeasurable contribution in the art of dance, Astaire is also known for his singing. He recorded several albums with his unique singing style.
Irving Berlin’s song Puttin’ On The Ritz
Fred Astaire (singer)
Fred Astaire died on June 22, 1987 in Los Angeles, California, USA of pneumonia at 88 years old. What he is best know for is his dance scenes in motion picture musical comedies. Moreover, Astaire contributed his talent and skill in dance for six decades including appearing in 30 films from 1933 and 1968. In addition, he has been described as a visual poet. Also, his autobiography is titled, Steps In Time published in 1959. Finally, Astaire once said, “I am just a hoofer with a spare set of tails.” For his lifetime of achievement, Fred Astaire received many awards.
(Fred Astaire & Gene Kelly, Ziegfeld Follies photo)
List of Awards:
- Honorary Academy Award 1950
- Nominated for Academy Award for The Towering Inferno
- Kennedy Center Honorees 1978
- Life Achievement Award (American Film Institute) 1981
- Entertainment Weekly Voted the 19th Greatest Move Star of all time
- Premiere Magazine Voted 23rd Greatest Movie Star of All Time
- American Film Institute #5 Greatest Screen Legends
- International Tap Dance Hall of Fame 2002
- Turner Classic Movies Star of the Month (December 2013)
- Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (1960)
(Fred & Ginger in film “Roberta,” 1935, photo from YouTube)
More Fred Astaire Film Clips
You Were Never Lovelier
Fred Astaire & Rita Hayworth, 1942
Fred & Eleanor Powell
- Britannica.com, Fred Astaire American Dancers And Singer
- IMDb, Fred Astaire Biography
- The New York Times, Fred Astaire, The Ultimate Dancer, Dies
- Biography.com, Fred Astaire Biography
- American National Biography online, Fred Astaire bio
(Fred Astaire & Rita Hayworth, You Were Never Lovelier, 1942)
More Dance Movie & Film Clips
DanceTime’s Dance Talk blog features additional dance movie and film clips: Greatest Dance Films of All Time and Tango Dancing in Famous Hollywood Movies. Also, three video blogs for the Step Up Film Series including Step Up Movie Dance Scenes I, Step Up Dance Scenes II and Step Up Revolution Scenes!