Friday, 30 July 2010

Fred Astaire was Not a Woman

Not that anyone ever thought he was, of course, just that I normally choose to read biographies of women, not men.  

 Fred & Adele, 1921

I made an exception in Fred's case because he was a dancer whose style my Uncle Bernard admired, also because he first attained fame during the inter-war years that fascinate me.  You probably know all about Fred Astaire already, but I learned a lot:

He was born in Omaha, Nebraska, of all places.

His surname was originally Austerlitz; his mother was born to German immigrants and his father came to the US from Austria. 

He began his career dancing with Adele when he was only 7 years old. 

They worked in vaudeville and the theatre in New York and in London for years before she retired and Fred was drawn into making films.

His sister Adele married into British aristocracy, becoming the wife of Lord Charles Arthur Francis Cavendish and going to live at Lismore Castle in Ireland.

Fred was friends with the Queen Mother.

He was keen on horse racing and owned several race horses.

He was more than a little wealthy.

His first wife, Phyllis, died after 21 years of marriage when she was only 46 years old (from lung cancer).

After 26 years of being a widower, he married a woman jockey, Robyn Smith, who was 45 years his junior; they were married for 7 years until his death in 1987.

If you run across a biography of Fred Astaire, you might enjoy reading it.  He was a strangely complicated man, being in show biz, but very shy; having extraordinary talent which he worked hard to polish, but not assuming that others would value his skills; not having a huge amount personal ambition, but clearly enjoying his acquired wealth.

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