Fred Astaire Wowed Both On-Screen & Off

BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940, Fred Astaire, 1940
Everett Collection

Fred Astaire’s birth name of “Frederick Austerlitz” may not have flowed as smoothly off fans’ lips had he kept it when he began wowing audiences with his big-screen singing and dancing, but his legendary moves still would have been as memorable — especially those he displayed with his most famous dance partner, Ginger Rogers, in musicals like Top Hat (1935) and Swing Time (1936).

THE GAY DIVORCEE, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, 1934

Everett Collection

Although the legendary dancers appeared in 10 films together, most often as each other’s dance and romantic partners, the real-life relationship between Astaire and Rogers was far less cordial. Both were tireless perfectionists, and while they battled for control, their relationship was always professional, and nothing more. When once asked about a rumored tension between the duo, Astaire answered, “We worked together. That’s all.”

THE BAND WAGON, from left: Cyd Charisse, Fred Astaire, 1953

Everett Collection

Astaire wowed with other partners as well, including Judy Garland in Easter Parade (1948) and Cyd Charisse in Silk Stockings (1957). The man could also do more than just dance: He appeared in eight nonmusical film roles between 1959 and 1981, earning his only Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actor, for The Towering Inferno (1974). He also branched out doing some voice work roles in the ’70s. You may also recognize his voice for narrating the Animagic Rankin/Bass specials including Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970) and The Easter Bunny Is Comin’ to Town (1977).

Astaire embodied class offscreen as much as on, right up to the end. He passed from pneumonia in 1987, at age 88, and one of his last requests was to thank his fans.

In August Turner Classic Movies’ annual programming favorite, Summer Under the Stars, returns, and has dedicated Saturday, Aug. 19 to Fred Astaire.

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Classic Hollywood Hunks

September 2019

Cary Grant, Sean Connery, Rock Hudson and Paul Newman, smoldered onscreen and, in addition to being smokin’ hot, they were effortlessly cool.

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