Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Favorite Actors, #7: Fred Astaire



First Movie I Saw Him In: Ghost Story (1981; I was a kid and shouldn’t have been watching!)

Three Favorite Movies: Top Hat (1935); Swing Time (1936); The Bandwagon (1953)

Honorable Mention: Shall We Dance (1937)

Favorite [Song and Dance] Performance: “No Strings (I’m Fancy Free)” from Top Hat (1935)

Why I Like Him: His movies with Ginger Rogers are among my all-time favorites. The best of those exist in their own Deco world and is the ultimate 1930s fantasy. He's the most underappreciated actor on my list, given his other tremendous abilities. Astaire excels at snappy dialogue with impeccable comic timing, a lighthearted wit, and gentlemanly charm. That comic ability is often overlooked, even by classic movie buffs. There's also Fred the singer. It was he who introduced more music Standards (Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter) than any other singer. Astaire’s way with a vocal is sublime. Listen to Fred sing “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”, and then you’ll know why. Astaire also sings the definitive version of The Way You Look Tonight (sorry, Frank!). It's also no debate that he's the single most influential dancer of the twentieth century, and, dare I say it, the twenty-first century. Fred Astaire was an entertainment giant who conquered every entertainment medium he was involved with. Did he have a radio show? He’s probably the best radio dancer ever, too. And off-screen, based on most accounts, Astaire was a true gentleman. Oh, and for my money he's the best-dressed man on the planet---even if he apparently didn't like wearing "top hat, white tie, and tails", but photos of him in even the most casual attire saw Astaire impeccably put together.

Random Info: Nothing revelatory, but I love the showbizzy names he has in his RKO musicals: Guy Holden, Jerry Travers, Bake Baker, Lucky Garnett, Pete Peters, etc. When I go into witness protection someday, I want one of those names as my alias.



Not That You Asked: This is Hollywood Dreamland's 100th post.

8 comments:

  1. Fred is one of my all-time favorite actors as well. He could anything, and do it well. Just watch him in "On The Beach" and you'll see what a great dramatic actor he was. He had a lovely singing voice, an absolutely amazing dancer, and everything he did was always top-notch. A truly great performer.

    I like your three favorite movies. Those are my favorites, too! ;)

    Oh, congrats on 100 posts! :)

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  2. C.K., another brilliant choice. Astaire was such a great dancer (the best movie dancer ever, of course) and sang those wonderful standards so beautifully that people tend to forget, as you perceptively point out, what an effective actor he was--a bit flippant and sassy but never showy and too much of a gentleman to try to steal scenes. (Of course, if you can dance like that, you don't need to.) You can really see this in his non-musical performances.

    Everybody thinks of him as partnered with Ginger, but he had some other great partners too. I recently saw him dance with the divine Rita in "You Were Never Lovelier," and what a pair of pros they were! Cyd Charisse was also a fabulous match in "The Band Wagon," especially in the "Dancing in the Dark" and "Girl Hunter" numbers. "Easter Parade" is one of my favorite later Astaire musicals. Just watch how he seemed to relax the high-strung Judy Garland, who wasn't all that bad a dancer herself--watch her pretending to be a klutz in "We're a Couple of Swells." I'm forever singing the praises of "A Damsel in Distress," which he made in the middle of his partnership with Ginger. It doesn't have Ginger, but it does have an amusing screenplay by P.G. Wodehouse, the hilarious Burns and Allen, the fantastic "Fun House" number, and fabulous songs by the Gershwins, including "Nice Work" and "A Foggy Day." If anybody hasn't yet seen it, do so pronto!

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  3. For a definition of sheer bliss, watch "Isn't This A Lovely Day" from "Top Hat." Beautiful.

    I'm glad you mentioned Astaire the singer, because as you said he introduced more popular standards than anyone else. (Frank Sinatra's gift was reviving more standards, then, in most cases, making them his own. Such as "One For My Baby" -- which everyone forgets was introduced by Astaire.) Astaire certainly didn't have Frank's pipes, but he nevertheless knew how to put a song over. No wonder composers adored him. Tony Bennett has always praised Astaire as a vocalist.

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  4. Another excellent choice. No one was as smooth and graceful on the dance. Though I'd be remiss if I did not mention Gene Kelly as a close number 2

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  5. He does do a nice version of The Way You Look Tonight.
    (though Sinatra's version makes my heart skip a beat or ten).

    What a brilliant performer!

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  6. Don't think I would have wanted to know him--his temper was legendary, too, but what a singer. AS a singer, I mean. The instrument didn't compare to some, but he knew and practiced the art of singing. His technique was flawless.

    My favorite Astaire & Rogers film is "Shall We Dance", but "Follow the Fleet" runs a close second.

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  7. Just finished the new biography "Puttin on the Ritz: Fred Astaire and the Lost Art of Panache" by Peter Levinson and it has to be one of the best Hollywood bios I have read. Levinson lays out Astaire's life, faults and all, but not in a tawdry way (like the crappy Cary Grant bio from a few years ago). I think Levinson also interviewed just about everyone still living who worked with or knew Astaire. He captures the stylish, talented, hardworking, but private and prickly man Astaire seem to have been in real life.

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  8. Great comments. I think Astaire could be temperamental, prickly, task-masterish, etc... but he was known for nice guy traits as well. A human, in other words!

    And despite his less conventional attractiveness, I've always been crazy about him:
    http://brattleblog.brattlefilm.org/?p=402

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