Fred Astaire


Actor, Dancer
Fred Astaire

About

Also Known As
Frederick Austerlitz
Birth Place
Omaha, Nebraska, USA
Born
May 10, 1899
Died
June 22, 1987
Cause of Death
Pneumonia

Biography

With his older sister and dance partner Adele, vaudeville performer Fred Astaire became the toast of Broadway during the Jazz Age while partnering with composers George and Ira Gershwin to redefine American musical theatre. After Adele’s retirement in 1931, Astaire tried his luck in Hollywood, pairing with Ginger Rogers at RKO for a total of 10 films, including "Top Hat" (1935), "Follow ...

Photos & Videos

Royal Wedding - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Finian's Rainbow - Movie Posters
You Were Never Lovelier - Publicity Stills

Family & Companions

Ginger Rogers
Companion
Dancer. Dated briefly in 1930.
Phyllis Astaire
Wife
Married from 1932 until her 1955 death from cancer.
Donna McKechnie
Companion
Dancer, singer, actor. "dated" a couple of times in the mid-1970s while McKechnie was appearing in the L.A. production of "A Chorus Line".
Robyn Smith
Wife
Former jockey. Married in 1980; survived him.

Bibliography

"Turn Left at the Black Cow : One Family's Journey from Beverly Hills to Ireland"
Richard McKenzie and Ava Astaire McKenzie, Roberts Rinehart (1998)
"Fred Astaire: A Bio-Bibliography"
Larry Billman, Greenwood Press (1997)
"Fred Astaire: His Friends Talk"
Sarah Giles, Doubleday (1988)
"Fred Astaire: A Wonderful Life"
Bill Adler, Carroll & Graf (1987)

Notes

Nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor in "The Towering Inferno" (1974).

Katharine Hepburn's sardonic explanation of the magic of the Astaire-Rogers partnership: "She gives him sex and he gives her class."

Biography

With his older sister and dance partner Adele, vaudeville performer Fred Astaire became the toast of Broadway during the Jazz Age while partnering with composers George and Ira Gershwin to redefine American musical theatre. After Adele’s retirement in 1931, Astaire tried his luck in Hollywood, pairing with Ginger Rogers at RKO for a total of 10 films, including "Top Hat" (1935), "Follow the Fleet" (1936) and "Shall We Dance?" (1937). A self-punishing perfectionist, Astaire hid his torturous process behind a mask of suave self-composure, playing the sardonic American graced with a distinctly European sensuality. The Astaire-Rogers films proved a tonic for an anxious nation during the Great Depression. In later years, Astaire would take to the dance floor with a number of new partners, among them Eleanor Powell and Rita Hayworth, while also playing second banana to crooner Bing Crosby in the musical comedies "Holiday Inn" (1942) and "Blue Skies" (1946). Coaxed out of retirement for MGM’s "Easter Parade" (1948), Astaire went on to headline "Royal Wedding" (1951), in which he danced seemingly weightless on walls and ceilings, and "The Band Wagon" (1953) with Cyd Charisse. Nominated for Academy Awards for his dramatic work in Stanley Kramer’s "On the Beach" (1959) and Irwin Allen’s "The Towering Inferno" (1974), an aging Astaire rode out the final third of his brilliant career as the elder statesman of American song and dance, who British writer Graham Greene called "the nearest approach we are ever likely to have to a human Mickey Mouse."

Fred Astaire was born Frederick Austerlitz on May 10, 1899 in Omaha, NE. The son of Austrian immigrant Frederic "Fritz" Austerlitz and his second generation Prussian-American wife Johanna "Ann" Geilus, Astaire developed into a frail and deeply serious boy, whom his mother urged into dancing classes at the local Chambers Dance Academy with the hope that he might build a more athletic physique. Initially, young Fred resisted the discipline of dance instruction to which his older sister Adele had taken more naturally. In time, the distinct and complimentary natures of the Astaire children would make them ideal dance partners, with Adele emerging as the carefree, improvisatory partner and Fred the perfectionist and innovator. When the school’s owner informed the Austerlitzes that their children were true dance prodigies, Johanna was permitted to bring them to live in New York City, where top-flight instruction might lead to a professional career. The family set off by rail for the East Coast in January 1905. Adele Astaire was eight years old and Fred only five.

Local appearances over the next several years led the Astaire children to a contract with the Orpheum Circuit, for whom they toured the country as they honed their Vaudeville act. During this time, Astaire made the acquaintance of Spanish dancers Eduardo and Elisa Cansino, destined to be the father and aunt of future Hollywood star Rita Hayworth (with whom Fred would partner in two films). From black entertainer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Astaire learned tap dancing, which would have a transformative effect on his career. Even more providentially, the Astaire siblings befriended brothers George and Ira Gershwin and their partnership with the composers would help the Broadway musical evolve from its roots in operetta to a more contemporary and distinctly metropolitan art form. In 1917, the Astaires made their Broadway debut in the revue "Over the Top" at Lew Fields’ 44th Street Roof Garden. Over the next five years, they would rack up half a dozen more Broadway turns, culminating in the Gershwins’ "Lady, Be Good" in 1924. By this time, the Astaire siblings were also popular in London, where they helped solidify the international dominance of the Broadway musical.

After their success in the 1931 Broadway revue "The Band Wagon," Adele retired to marry British aristocrat Charles Arthur Francis Cavendish. Though a screen test at Paramount had been a failure, Astaire impressed RKO Radio Pictures studio head David O. Selznick, who saw promise in the slight, slightly balding performer with limited acting ability. On loan to MGM, he was a featured dancer in the Joan Crawford-Clark Gable vehicle "Dancing Lady" (1933), introduced as "Freddie Astaire." This led to a character role in the RKO musical "Flying Down to Rio" (1933), in which Astaire provided comic relief in partnership with a plucky young actress-dancer named Ginger Rogers, whom he had met on Broadway in 1930. The duo’s chemistry on and off the dance floor led to star status for both in "The Gay Divorcée" (1934). An adaptation of Astaire’s 1932 Broadway triumph, "The Gay Divorcée" marked the first of eight star partnerships for Astaire and Rogers, whose energy, enthusiasm, and peerless artistry provided much needed diversion for moviegoers during the Great Depression.

Given a taste of creative autonomy on their last film, Astaire insisted on total control over his choreography at RKO. In a departure from the style popularized by Busby Berkeley at Warner Brothers, where dancers were abstracted and depersonalized in the service of sheer spectacle, Astaire’s footwork retained the human touch, as an expression of personality and individuality over authorial genius. From his sister, he retained an aura of implacable joie de vivre that masked the punishing perfectionism he applied to his art (and expected of his collaborators). While Berkeley envisioned dance as complex and overwhelming, Astaire made it look easy and all in one long shot. Dancing for the first time with a regular partner to whom he was not related, Astaire’s movements communicated a sinewy sensuality, though critics of the day saw sex appeal as being Rogers’ contribution to the association. In such films as "Top Hat" (1935), "Follow the Fleet" (1936), "Swing Time" (1936) and "Shall We Dance?" (1937), Astaire’s onscreen persona varied only slightly from that a brash American with European suavity.

Despite having attained the zenith of his personal ambition on stage and screen and been paid handsomely in the bargain, Astaire also nurtured long-standing aspirations to be a popular songwriter. With Johnny Mercer, he penned the rueful "I’m Building Up to an Awful Letdown," which he sang in the film "Follow the Fleet." With lyricist-composer Gladys Shelley, Astaire wrote "Just Like Taking Candy from a Baby," recorded in 1940. Unfulfilled ambitions notwithstanding, Astaire enjoyed a lucrative sideline as a recording artist, whose No. 1 hits included "Cheek to Cheek," "The Way You Look Tonight," "A Fine Romance" and "They Can’t Take That Away from Me." The composers who queued up to have him sing their songs included Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields, and his friends George and Ira Gershwin. The Astaire-Rogers films benefited immeasurably from the inclusion of great American songwriting, most (if not all) of which was inspired by Astaire’s inimitable professional presence. British novelist and critic Graham Greene saw Astaire in a somewhat different light, likening him to a human Mickey Mouse.

By 1939, the popularity of Astaire and Rogers was beginning to wane. They were paired one final time in the biographical "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle" (1939), based on the brother and sister act who had been an inspiration for the young Fred and Adele Astaire. On his own, Astaire churned out nine more films from four different studios in the years leading up to and beyond the Second World War. Astaire danced winningly with tap-dance master Eleanor Powell in "Broadway Melody of 1940" (1940), with Paulette Goddard in "Second Chorus" (1940), and most memorably with Rita Hayworth in "You’ll Never Get Rich" (1941) and "You Were Never Lovelier" (1942). He would later name Hayworth as his favorite partner, despite the Ginger Rogers mythology. He partnered profitably with crooner Bing Crosby in "Holiday Inn" (1942) and "Blue Skies" (1946), both of which boasted the inimitable compositions of Irving Berlin. In 1947, Astaire announced his professional retirement. Having married in 1933, fathered two children and adopted a third, the 47-year-old entertainer was looking forward to a quieter life, breeding racehorses and running his own franchise of dance schools.

Thankfully, Astaire was coaxed out of retirement as early as 1948, when a broken ankle forced Gene Kelly from the lead in MGM’s Technicolor musical "Easter Parade" (1948). After obtaining Kelly’s blessing, Astaire joined co-star Judy Garland for what would prove to be one of MGM’s only successful films that year. The production marked Astaire’s sixth collaboration with Irving Berlin, whose upbeat tempos showed that the 48-year-old dancer had lost none of his flexibility or focus in the passage to middle age. The film’s showstopping number, "Stepping Out With My Baby," made use of a clever process shot in which Astaire’s movements were presented in slow motion while the background dancers continued at normal speed. Astaire reteamed with Ginger Rogers for their only color film, "The Barkleys of Broadway" (1949), produced in part as a bid to lure Americans away from their new television sets. Though strung through with unexceptional songs, Astaire and Rogers were inspired in their reunion and the film turned another tidy profit for the increasingly cash-strapped MGM.

Recipient of a new MGM contract, and an honorary Academy Award for artistic achievement, Astaire high-stepped through a string of Technicolor extravaganzas. He won a Golden Globe for playing a Tin Pan Alley composer in Richard Thorpe’s "Three Little Words" (1950) opposite Red Skelton, danced inside a rotating gimble to achieve the illusion of weightlessness in Stanley Donen’s "Royal Wedding" (1951), and cadged the title of his final Broadway hit with sister Adele for Vincente Minnelli’s "The Band Wagon" (1953), in which he partnered memorably with Cyd Charisse. Though Astaire clashed with Minnelli, another obsessive perfectionist who failed to take notice when his attention-starved star stormed off the set in a fit of pique, "The Band Wagon" was another hit. Breaking box office records at Radio City Musical Hall, where it opened in July 1953, the film was stamped by notoriously prickly New York Times critic Bosley Crowther as one of the best musical films ever made. Despite the impressive numbers and critical hosannas, MGM opted not to renew Astaire’s contract. Professional disappointment turned to personal tragedy when his wife, Phyllis Potter, succumbed to lung cancer in 1954.

Though a grief-stricken Astaire had attempted to drop out of Jean Negulesco’s "Daddy Longlegs" (1955) at Fox, he was persuaded to go on with the show. The Cinemascope production was his first to acknowledge his advanced age, offering the 55-year-old as an American millionaire who tiptoes around a budding May-December romance with French orphan Leslie Caron. Astaire next starred with Audrey Hepburn in Stanley Donen’s "Funny Face" (1957), Paramount’s free adaptation of Fred and Adele’s 1927 Broadway hit, and reteamed with Cyd Charisse for Rouben Mamoulian’s "Silk Stockings" (1958), MGM’s musical remake of the Greta Garbo hit "Ninotchka" (1939). Once again, Astaire announced his retirement from dancing – though he would continue to trip the light fantastic in a series of award-winning TV specials – preferring the less rigorous attractions of straight acting. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in Stanley Kramer’s end-of-the-world drama "On the Beach" (1959), opposite Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Anthony Perkins.

In the autumn of his career, Astaire was the recipient of several prestigious awards, including Emmys for his TV work and a citation from the George Eastman House for his contributions to motion pictures. On television, he enjoyed semi-regular status on "Dr. Kildare" (NBC, 1961-66) and "It Takes a Thief" (ABC, 1968-1970), played an aging gunfighter in the amusing ABC telefilm "The Over the Hill Gang Rides Again" (1970), and provided voice work for the Rankin-Bass animatronic classic "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" (1970). On the big screen, he made his musical swan song in Francis Ford Coppola’s "Finian’s Rainbow" (1968) and played a veteran secret service agent who schemes to swipe a shipment of gold bullion in "The Midas Touch" (1969). His charming turn as an aged confidence man in Irwin Allen’s disaster extravaganza "The Towering Inferno" (1974) earned him an Oscar nomination and he joined his dancing peer Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and other former MGM stars as a host and narrator of Jack Haley, Jr.’s nostalgic "That’s Entertainment!" (1974) and its sequel "That’s Entertainment, Part II" (1976).

In 1978, Astaire became the first recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors. He won his second Emmy as a senior citizen coping with age and infirmity in the NBC telefilm "A Family Upside Down" (1978), co-starring Helen Hayes. He played no fewer than eight roles in the holiday special "The Man in the Santa Claus Suit" (1979) and, as a concession to his grandchildren, he contributed a special guest star appearance to a 1979 episode of "Battlestar Galactica" (ABC, 1978-1979). In 1980, after nearly 30 years of widowhood, Astaire married Robyn Smith, a former female jockey 43 years his junior. In January 1981, sister Adele Astaire died of complications from a stroke at her home in Arizona. That same year, Astaire was honored by the American Film Institute and made his final film appearance, in John Irvin’s "Ghost Story" (1981). The adaptation of the horror novel by Peter Straub put Astaire on the screen with such Hollywood pensioners as Melvyn Douglas, John Houseman and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and cast him in the role of an unlikely octogenarian hero.

Only one month after his favorite dance partner Rita Hayworth died of Alzheimer’s disease, Fred Astaire died of pneumonia on June 22, 1987 in Los Angeles. He was 88 years old. In death, he proved as popular a performer and as crucial a cultural touchstone as he had been in life. His image and voice would turn up in such far-flung projects as Barry Levinson’s "Rain Man" (1988), Anthony Minghella’s "The English Patient" (1996), Frank Darabont’s "The Green Mile" (1999), Stephen Daldry’s "Billy Elliot" (2000), Steven Spielberg’s "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" (2001) and Bernardo Bertolucci’s "The Dreamers" (2003), as well as in "That’s Entertainment Part III" (1994). In 1989, the Astaire estate was presented with a posthumous Grammy award for his lifetime achievement as a recording artist.

by Richard Harland Smith

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

That's Entertainment! III (1994)
Going Hollywood: The War Years (1988)
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Vocals
Ghost Story (1981)
The Man in the Santa Claus Suit (1979)
A Family Upside Down (1978)
Un Taxi mauve (1977)
Dr Scully
The Amazing Dobermans (1976)
That's Entertainment! II (1976)
The Towering Inferno (1974)
That's Entertainment! (1974)
Narrator
The Over-the-hill Gang Rides Again (1970)
Baltimore Kid
Midas Run (1969)
Co-pilot
Finian's Rainbow (1968)
Finian McLonergan
Paris When It Sizzles (1964)
The Notorious Landlady (1962)
Franklyn Ambruster
The Pleasure of His Company (1961)
Biddeford "Pogo" Poole
On the Beach (1959)
Julian Osborn
Funny Face (1957)
Dick Avery
Silk Stockings (1957)
Steve Canfield
Daddy Long Legs (1955)
Jervis Pendleton III
The Band Wagon (1953)
Tony Hunter
The Belle of New York (1952)
Charlie Hill
Royal Wedding (1951)
Tom Bowen
Let's Dance (1950)
Donald Elwood
Three Little Words (1950)
Bert Kalmar [also known as Kendall the Great]
The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)
Josh Barkley
Easter Parade (1948)
Don Hewes
Blue Skies (1946)
Jed Potter
Ziegfeld Follies (1946)
Himself in "The Babbitt and the Bromide"/The Imposter in "This Heart of Mine"/Tai Long in "Limehouse Blues"
Yolanda and the Thief (1945)
Johnny Parkson [Riggs, also known as Mr. Brown]
The Sky's the Limit (1943)
Fred Atwell
Holiday Inn (1942)
Ted Hanover
You Were Never Lovelier (1942)
Robert Davis
You'll Never Get Rich (1941)
Robert Curtis
Second Chorus (1940)
Danny O'Neill
Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940)
Johnny Brett
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939)
Vernon Castle
Carefree (1938)
[Dr.] Tony Flagg
A Damsel in Distress (1937)
Jerry [Halliday]
Shall We Dance (1937)
Petrov [also known as Pete P. Peters]
Follow the Fleet (1936)
"Bake" Baker
Swing Time (1936)
John "Lucky" Garnett
Roberta (1935)
Huck [Haines]
Top Hat (1935)
Jerry Travers
The Gay Divorcee (1934)
Guy Holden
Dancing Lady (1933)
Himself
Flying Down to Rio (1933)
Fred Ayers

Producer (Feature Film)

Second Chorus (1940)
Associate Producer

Music (Feature Film)

Joker (2019)
Song Performer
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Song Performer
She's Funny That Way (2015)
Song Performer
Cake (2014)
Song Performer
Step Up 3-D (2010)
Song Performer
Me and Orson Welles (2009)
Song Performer
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Song Performer
The Next Best Thing (2000)
Song Performer
The Green Mile (1999)
Song Performer
The English Patient (1996)
Song Performer ("Check To Check")
Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993)
Song Performer ("Top Hat, White Tie And Tails")
The Fred Astaire Songbook (1991)
Song Performer
The Fred Astaire Songbook (1991)
Music
Loverboy (1989)
Song Performer
Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie (1988)
Song Performer
Can She Bake A Cherry Pie? (1983)
Song Performer ("The Way You Look Tonight")
Pennies From Heaven (1981)
Song Performer ("Let'S Face The Music And Dance")
Imposters (1979)
Song Performer
The Man in the Santa Claus Suit (1979)
Song Performer

Dance (Feature Film)

The Pleasure of His Company (1961)
Choreography
Funny Face (1957)
Choreography
Daddy Long Legs (1955)
Dances staged by
The Sky's the Limit (1943)
Dances created and staged by
Roberta (1935)
Dance Arrangements

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Better Late Than Never (1979)
Other

Cast (Special)

George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey (1984)
Himself
The American Film Institute Salute to Fred Astaire (1981)
Performer
Merry Christmas From the Crosbys (1975)
Frank Sinatra: Ol' Blue Eyes is Back (1973)
Himself
Make Mine Red, White, and Blue (1972)
Host
Jack Lemmon in 'S Wonderful, 'S Marvelous, 'S Gershwin (1972)
The Fred Astaire Show (1968)
Think Pretty (1964)
Fred Adams
Seven Against the Sea (1962)
Host
The Fred Astaire Special (1960)
Host
Astaire Time (1960)
Another Evening With Fred Astaire (1959)
An Evening With Fred Astaire (1958)

Producer (Special)

The Fred Astaire Show (1968)
Producer
Astaire Time (1960)
Producer
Another Evening With Fred Astaire (1959)
Executive Producer

Music (Special)

Irving Berlin: An American Song (1999)
Song Performer
Great Performances' 20th Anniversary Special (1992)
Song Performer
Great Performances' 20th Anniversary Special (1992)
Music

Misc. Crew (Special)

George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey (1984)
Other

Cast (Short)

The Lion Roars Again (1975)
Himself
Just One More Time (1974)
Himself
That's Entertainment! (Gala Premiere) (1974)
Himself

Misc. Crew (Short)

Fred Astaire (1962)
Archival Footage

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

The Easter Bunny Is Comin' to Town (1977)
Narrator

Life Events

1905

Began performing in vaudeville, paired with sister Adele; first act had them portray a miniature bride and groom

1917

Broadway debut with Adele in "Over the Top"

1922

Appeared in the Broadway musical "For Goodness' Sake" with a score that included songs by George Gershwin

1923

London stage debut, "Stop Flirting", the retitled version of "For Goodness' Sake"

1924

First formal collaboration with George and Ira Gershwin, "Lady, Be Good"; reprised roles in London

1927

Acted opposite sister Adele in "Funny Face"; score by George and Ira Gershwin

1930

Assisted in choreographing numbers for the Gershwin show "Girl Crazy", starring Ethel Merman and Ginger Rogers

1931

Last stage show in which he co-starred with his sister Adele, "The Band Wagon"

1932

Last Broadway and London stage show before venturing to Hollywood, "Gay Divorce" (later adapted to film as "The Gay Divorcee"), with Claire Luce as his leading lady and dance partner

1933

First sizable film role and first on screen partnering with Ginger Rogers in RKO's "Flying Down to Rio"; introduced the "Carioca" dance

1933

Film debut, a small guest star part as Joan Crawford's partner in climactic production numbers of "Dancing Lady"

1934

First starring role, opposite Rogers, in "The Gay Divorcee"; introduced the Oscar-winning song "The Continental"

1935

Team of Astaire and Rogers listed in annual motion picture exhibitors poll of top ten box office stars three years in a row; placed fourth, third and seventh

1938

After box office failure of first starring film without Rogers, "A Damsel in Distress", voted "box office poison" by motion picture exhibitors along with Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, Edward Arnold and others

1939

Left RKO after last 1930s film with Rogers, "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle"

1940

First film at MGM, "Broadway Melody of 1940", opposite Eleanor Powell

1944

Signed by MGM; worked on first film there, the all-star revue, "Ziegfeld Follies", which featured "The Babbitt and the Bromide", a comic dance number which paired him with Gene Kelly; Astaire had introduced the number on Broadway with his sister Adele in "Smiles"

1946

Announced retirement after box-office failure of "Yolanda and the Thief" (1945) and subsidiary role in "Blue Skies" (1946)

1947

Opened chain of Fred Astaire Dance Studios (date approximate)

1948

Returned to films to replace an injured Gene Kelly opposite Judy Garland in "Easter Parade"

1949

Reteamed with Ginger Rogers after an ailing Judy Garland withdrew from "The Barkleys of Broadway"

1953

Appeared in one of his best films, the semi-autobiographical "The Band Wagon", loosely based on the stage musical

1957

Made his last regular song-and-dance films, "Funny Face" and "Silk Stockings"

1958

Appeared in "An Evening with Fred Astaire" (NBC), the first of four highly acclaimed, Emmy-winning TV specials over the span of a decade, partnering him with dancer Barrie Chase; won Emmy

1959

Starred in the NBC variety special "Another Evening with Fred Astaire"; received Emmy nomination

1959

First dramatic role, "On the Beach"

1960

Won Emmy Award for the NBC variety special "Astaire Time"

1961

Acted in "The Pleasure of His Company"

1968

Starred in the NBC variety special "The Fred Astaire Show"; also produced

1968

One-shot return to musical films, "Finian's Rainbow"

1970

Starred in the ABC movie sequel "The Over-the-Hill Gang Ride Again"

1970

Narrated the animated children's holiday special "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"

1972

Appeared in the award-winning NBC variety special "Jack Lemmon in 'S Wonderful, 'S Marvelous, 'S Gershwin"

1974

Was one of the narrators for the compilation film "That's Entertainment!", a collection of MGM's great movie musical scenes

1974

Paired on screen with Jennifer Jones in the all-star "disaster" flick "The Towering Inferno"; receieved a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination

1976

Narrated the children's animated holiday special "The Easter Bunny Is Comin' to Town" (ABC)

1977

Had featured role in "Un Taxi Mauve/The Purple Taxi"

1978

Received Emmy for dramatic performance as elderly house painter whose heart attack makes him dependent on his family in the NBC movie "A Family Upside Down"; starred opposite Helen Hayes

1979

Played eight roles in the NBC holiday movie "The Man in the Santa Claus Suit"

1980

Last acting role in a feature film, "Ghost Story"

1985

Appeared as himself in the documentary feature, "George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey"

Photo Collections

Royal Wedding - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are several photos taken during the production of Royal Wedding (1951), starring Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, and Peter Lawford.
Finian's Rainbow - Movie Posters
Finian's Rainbow - Movie Posters
You Were Never Lovelier - Publicity Stills
You Were Never Lovelier - Publicity Stills
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle - Movie Posters
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle - Movie Posters
The Gay Divorcee - Herald
Here is the herald for RKO's The Gay Divorcee (1934), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Heralds were advertising handouts that studios provided to theater owners for distribution around their town.
A Damsel in Distress - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are several photos taken during production of RKO's A Damsel in Distress (1937), directed by George Stevens and starring Fred Astaire, Joan Fontaine, and George Burns & Gracie Allen.
Dancing Lady - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Dancing Lady (1933), starring Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and Fred Astaire.
The Notorious Landlady - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for The Notorious Landlady (1962), starring Jack Lemmon, Kim Novak, and Fred Astaire. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
You'll Never Get Rich - Movie Poster
Here is an original release movie poster from Columbia's You'll Never Get Rich (1941), starring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth. This is an Insert poster, measuring 14 x 36 inches.
Follow the Fleet - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Follow the Fleet (1936), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Top Hat - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of RKO's Top Hat (1935), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and directed by Mark Sandrich.
Second Chorus - Lobby Card
Here is a Lobby Card from Paramount Pictures' Second Chorus (1941), starring Fred Astaire and Paulette Goddard. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
The Band Wagon - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's The Band Wagon (1953), directed by Vincente Minnelli, and starring Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, and Nanette Fabray.
Easter Parade - Irving Berlin Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Easter Parade (1948), featuring songwriter Irving Berlin and the film's cast and crew.
Roberta - Lobby Card
Here is a Lobby Card from RKO's Roberta (1935), starring Fred Astaire. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Three Little Words - Dancing Publicity Stills
Here are a number of photos taken to help publicize the dance sequences of MGM's Three Little Words (1950), starring Fred Astaire and Vera-Ellen. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Flying Down to Rio - Scene Stills
Here are a few scene stills from RKO's Flying Down to Rio (1933), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Broadway Melody of 1940 - Fred Astaire & Eleanor Powell Publicity Stills
Here are several dancing stills of Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell, taken for Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940). Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Shall We Dance - Behind-the-Scenes Pan Photo
Here is a photo taken behind-the-scenes during production of RKO's Shall We Dance (1937). The photo is a unique panoramic shot of the soundstage with cast and crew (so use the ZOOM function for a closer look).
Swing Time - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of RKO's Swing Time (1936), directed by George Stevens and starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Carefree - Lobby Cards
Here are several Lobby Cards from Carefree (1938). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Yolanda and the Thief - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from Yolanda and the Thief (1945), starring Fred Astaire and directed by Vincente Minnelli. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Broadway Melody of 1940 - Behind-the-Scenes Stills
Here are a number of photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Broadway Melody of 1940, starring Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell, and George Murphy and directed by Norman Taurog.
Shall We Dance - Behind-the-Scenes Stills
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of RKO's Shall We Dance (1937), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and directed by Mark Sandrich.
Funny Face - Movie Poster
Here is the American One-Sheet Movie Poster for Funny Face (1957). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Royal Wedding - Movie Poster
Here is the One-Sheet movie poster for Royal Wedding (1951) staring Fred Astaire and Jane Powell.
Holiday Inn - Lobby Cards
Here are some Lobby Cards from Holiday Inn (1942). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
The Sky's the Limit - Publicity Stills
Here are a few stills taken to help publicize RKO's The Sky's the Limit (1943), starring Fred Astaire and Joan Leslie. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Follow the Fleet - Publicity Stills
Here are some Publicity Stills from RKO's Follow the Fleet (1936), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.

Videos

Movie Clip

Flying Down To Rio (1933) - Title Song Banned from performing "in" town, Fred (Fred Astaire) does the groundwork for the stage show on airplanes, Honey (Ginger Rogers) out front, song credited to Vincent Youmans, Gus Kahn and Edward Eliscu, in RKO's Flying Down To Rio, 1933.
Flying Down To Rio (1933) - Carioca New in town and preparing for a big-band competition, Fred (Fred Astaire) and Honey (Ginger Rogers) decide to take a turn with the local dance, in Flying Down To Rio, 1933.
Funny Face (1957) - I Rather Feel Like Expressing Myself (Basal Metabolism) Continuing their philosophical dispute, now in a Paris cafe, Fred Astaire as fashion photographer Dick and Audrey Hepburn as bookish recruited model Jo introduce her solo dance, with contributions from Astaire, director Stanley Donen and choreographer Eugene Loring, in Funny Face, 1957.
Funny Face (1957) - Let's Kiss And Make Up After a minor dispute, in Paris, between Fred Astaire as photographer Dick and Audrey Hepburn as reluctant model Jo, director Stanley Donen finishes the song by George & Ira Gershwin and Fred solos, in Paramount’s Funny Face, 1957.
Funny Face (1957) - You're Anna Karenina Photographer Dick (Fred Astaire) has finally got his model (Audrey Hepburn as literature-oriented Jo) to Paris and begins coaching her, director Stanley Donen shooting on location at Gare du Nord, Opera Garnier, the Seine and Latona Fountain, Versailles, in Funny Face, 1957.
Sky's The Limit, The (1943) - One For My Baby Bummed out pilot Fred Astaire introduces the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer original that became a Frank Sinatra standard, with lots of real broken glass, which caused some fuss at the time due to wartime shortages, and medics were standing by off camera, in The Sky’s The Limit, 1943.
Royal Wedding (1951) - You're All The World To Me As entertainer "Tom Bowen," Fred Astaire is all over the walls and ceilings over his English girlfriend (played by Winston Churchill's daughter Sarah) in the famous trick sequence, directed by Stanley Donen, from MGM's Royal Wedding, 1951.
That's Dancing! (1985) - That's Where Style Comes In Gene Kelly’s narration from the beginning through Busby Berkeley, now introducing and turning over the MC duties to Sammy Davis Jr., who takes us along to Fred Astaire, in Roberta, 1935, in the MGM documentary That’s Dancing!, 1985.
That's Dancing! (1985) - The Public Doesn't Suspect Mikhail Baryshnikov, just introduced by Sammy Davis Jr. in an original performance for the MGM documentarty, brings in the ballet tradition, with reference to Loie Fuller and Isadora Duncan, in That’s Dancing!, 1985, from directed by Jack Haley Jr., from executive producer Gene Kelly.
Swing Time (1936) - A Fine Romance Dance partners Penny (Ginger Rogers) and Lucky (Fred Astaire) are constrained from confessing their love for each other, Pop (Victor Moore) enlisted as his backstop, lyrics by Dorothy Fields written to Jerome Kern's tune to support the plot point, Ginger's vocal first, George Stevens directing, in Swing Time, 1936.
You'll Never Get Rich (1941) - Boogie Barcarolle Dance director Robert (Fred Astaire) takes a call from frisky financier Cortland (Robert Benchley), then rehearses with not-intimidated Sheila (Rita Hayworth), their first on-screen dance together and a Cole Porter tune, early in You'll Never Get Rich, 1941.
You'll Never Get Rich (1941) - Since I Kissed My Baby Goodbye Rita Hayworth and her presumptive mother-in-law arriving at the base, then a special treatment of Cole Porter's Oscar-nominated original, Lucius "Dusty" Brooks' vocal, Fred Astaire's unorthodox tap solo, Robert Alton choreography, in Columbia's You'll Never Get Rich, 1941.

Trailer

Easter Parade (1948) -- (Re-issue Trailer) When his partner leaves him, a vaudeville star trains an untried performer to take her place in Easter Parade (1948) starring Judy Garland & Fred Astaire.
Flying Down to Rio - (Original Trailer) A dance-band leader finds love and success in Brazil. The first Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie.
Daddy Long Legs - (Original Trailer) A tycoon (Fred Astaire) anonymously sponsors a college education for a French girl (Leslie Caron) in the musical Daddy Long Legs (1955).
Yolanda and the Thief - (Original Trailer) A con man poses as a Latin American heiress's guardian angel in Yolanda and the Thief (1945) starring Fred Astaire.
That's Entertainment! - (Original Trailer) An all-star cast, including Frank Sinatra and Fred Astaire, introduce clips from MGM's greatest musicals in That's Entertainment! (1974).
Sky's The Limit, The - (Original Trailer) A pilot on leave (Fred Astaire) falls for a pretty news photographer in the musical The Sky's The Limit (1943).
Ziegfeld Follies - (Original Trailer) Legendary showman Flo Ziegfeld imagines the kind of Follies he could produce with MGM's musical stars in Ziegfeld Follies (1946) starring Judy Garland.
Band Wagon, The - (Original Trailer) A Broadway artiste turns a faded film star's comeback vehicle into an artsy flop in The Band Wagon (1953), starring Fred Astaire.
Holiday Inn - (Re-issue Trailer) "White Christmas" was written for this movie where Bing Crosby sings and Fred Astaire dances at the Holiday Inn (1942).
Notorious Landlady, The - (Original Trailer) Jack Lemmon, Kim Novak and Fred Astaire star in The Notorious Landlady (1962) about a diplomat who falls for a murder suspect.
On The Beach - (Original Trailer) After a nuclear war, U.S. sailors stationed in Australia deal with the death of humanity in Stanley Kramer's On The Beach (1959).
Royal Wedding - (Original Trailer) A brother and sister dance act from New York perform for the aristocracy in London in Royal Wedding (1951).

Hosted Intro

Promo

Family

Frederic E Austerlitz
Father
Brewery businessman. Austrian immigrant.
Ann Geilus
Mother
Adele Astaire
Sister
Dancer, actor. Older sibling born September 1896; Astaire's partner onstage in vaudeville, Broadway and London theatre during the 1910s and 20s; retired from the Broadway stage to marry titled Englishman, Lord Charles Cavendish, in 1932; later married financier Kingman Douglass after Cavendish's death; died in 1981.
Peter Potter
Step-Son
Mother, Phyllis Livingston Potter.
Frederic Astaire
Son
Born on January 21, 1936; mother, Phyllis Livingston Potter.
Ava MacKenzie
Daughter
Born March 28, 1942; mother, Phyllis Livingston Potter.

Companions

Ginger Rogers
Companion
Dancer. Dated briefly in 1930.
Phyllis Astaire
Wife
Married from 1932 until her 1955 death from cancer.
Donna McKechnie
Companion
Dancer, singer, actor. "dated" a couple of times in the mid-1970s while McKechnie was appearing in the L.A. production of "A Chorus Line".
Robyn Smith
Wife
Former jockey. Married in 1980; survived him.

Bibliography

"Turn Left at the Black Cow : One Family's Journey from Beverly Hills to Ireland"
Richard McKenzie and Ava Astaire McKenzie, Roberts Rinehart (1998)
"Fred Astaire: A Bio-Bibliography"
Larry Billman, Greenwood Press (1997)
"Fred Astaire: His Friends Talk"
Sarah Giles, Doubleday (1988)
"Fred Astaire: A Wonderful Life"
Bill Adler, Carroll & Graf (1987)
"Steps in Time"
Fred Astaire
"Fred Astaire"
Stephen Harvey, Pyramid Books
"Astaire Dancing: The Musical Films"
John E Mueller
"The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book"
Arlene Croce
"Astaire: The Man, the Dancer: The Life of Fred Astaire"
Bob Thomas
"Fred Astaire: An Illustrated Biography"
Michael Freedland
"Fred Astaire"
Roy Pickard
"Astaire, the Biography"
Tim Satchell
"Dance in the Hollywood Musical"
Jerome Delamater

Notes

Nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor in "The Towering Inferno" (1974).

Katharine Hepburn's sardonic explanation of the magic of the Astaire-Rogers partnership: "She gives him sex and he gives her class."

"If I'm the Marlon Brando of dance, he's Cary Grant". --Gene Kelly

"He can give people pleasure just by walking across the floor." --Gene Kelly