Fred Astaire

(1899—1987) American dancer, singer, and actor

Quick Reference


US dancer and film star, described by both George Balanchine and Rudolph Nureyev as the world's greatest dancer.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, he and his sister Adele began to dance in the music halls at an early age. What became a seasoned vaudeville act broke up, however, when Adele married and retired from the theatre in 1932. The thirty-three-year-old Astaire, now on his own, was attracted to Hollywood, where he submitted himself for the customary screen test. The verdict ‘Can't act. Slightly bald. Can dance a little…’ is now part of film history. Nonetheless he was given a small part in Dancing Lady (1933) with Joan Crawford. This moderate success was followed by a series of musicals made with the unknown singer and dancer Ginger Rogers, which established Astaire as an international star. Flying Down to Rio (1933), The Gay Divorcée (1934), Roberta (1935), Top Hat (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936), Swing Time (1936), Shall We Dance? (1937), and The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939) capitalized upon Astaire's wit, elegance, and virtuoso dancing, supported by the rags-to-riches success story and the unobtrusive dancing of Rogers as Astaire's foil. After this partnership came to an end in 1939, Astaire made many more successful musical films with other partners, including Easter Parade (1948) with Judy Garland, Daddy Long Legs (1955) with Leslie Caron (1931– ), Funny Face (1957) with Audrey Hepburn, and Silk Stockings (1957) with Cyd Charisse (1921–2008). He also played several dramatic roles, including a part in the apocalyptic saga On the Beach (1959). As an octogenarian Astaire continued to play small straight parts, but he is best remembered for his inventive choreography and his incomparable grace and skill as a dancer.

Subjects: Music — Dance.

Reference entries

See all related reference entries in Oxford Index »