He swept across the dance floor with partners like Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth, and Audrey Hepburn and straight into the dreams of generations of moviegoers. (He even left the dance floor to dance on walls and ceilings, thanks to Hollywood magic). He introduced songs by the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, and Cole Porter whose melodies still linger on. And he made putting on impeccably tailored white tie and tails the essential uniform for any gentleman who’s serious about putting on the Ritz.
We may think we know all about Fred Astaire. His exceptionally productive career spanned the vaudeville stages of the pre-World War I era to 1920s Broadway to a guest appearance on Battlestar Gallactica in the late 1970s—with that memorable detour to Hollywood along the way, of course.
Christine Bamberger uses film clip montages, rare photographs, and original recordings to create a fuller portrait of Astaire that challenges the clichés that have grown up around him: among them, that he was a ballroom dancer and that his career began in Hollywood. Bamberger explores Astaire’s other dimensions and achievements—as a subtle actor of wide range and as a vocalist who introduced more popular standards than any other singer. She also illustrates how Astaire revolutionized dance on film and how his art and legacy influenced dancers and dance-makers from the Nicholas Brothers and Bob Fosse to Balanchine and Baryshnikov.
Bamberger is a film scholar and writer who wrote the foreword to the 25th anniversary edition of Astaire Dancing (2010), John Mueller’s classic look at Astaire’s film musicals.
Fred Astaire’s film duets often introduced dances—the Continental (from The Gay Divorcee), Carioca (Flying Down to Rio), and Yam (Carefree) among them. In 1941’s You Were Never Lovelier, his second teaming with Rita Hayworth, it was the Shorty George, which they and bandleader Xavier Cugat turned into an explosion of swing-era joy. Though no one likely ever danced the Yam in real life, the Shorty George (named in honor of influential Savoy Ballroom dancer "Shorty" George Snowden) remains in the repertoire of today’s Lindy Hop aficionados. Take a look at Fred and Rita in their swinging rendition.