Fred Astaire

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Fred Astaire
Frederick Austerlitz
BirthplaceOmaha, Nebraska, U.S.
Actor, dancer, singer, choreographer, percussionist

Astaire, Fred

Astaire, Fred (əstârˈ), 1899–1987, American dancer, actor, and singer, b. Omaha, Nebr., as Frederick Austerlitz. After 1911 he and his sister Adele (1896–1981), b. Adele Marie Austerlitz, formed a successful Broadway vaudeville team. After his sister retired (1931), Astaire became a film actor (1933). He became known as a debonair song-and-dance man, particularly in the films he made with Ginger Rogers, which elevated the tap dance to an elegant, disciplined art. He also danced in movies with Eleanor Powell, Rita Hayworth, and Cyd Charisse, and on television with Barrie Chase. Among his most notable films are The Gay Divorcée (1934), Top Hat (1935), Swing Time (1936), Easter Parade (1948), Funny Face (1956), and Silk Stockings (1957). A number of classical dancers, notably Nureyev and Baryshnikov, have acknowledged an artistic debt to him.


See his autobiography, Steps in Time (1959); biographies by B. Thomas (1985), B. Adler (1987), and J. Epstein (2008); J. Mueller, Astaire Dancing: The Musical Films (1985); A. Croce, The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book (rev. ed. 1987); E. Gallafent, Astaire and Rogers (2002); T. R. Decker, Music Makes Me: Fred Astaire and Jazz (2011); K. Riley, The Astaires: Fred and Adele (2012).

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Astaire, Fred (b. Frederick Austerlitz)

(1899–1987) actor, dancer, choreographer, singer; born in Omaha, Nebr. He began dance lessons at the age of five, and by the time he was seven he was touring the vaudeville circuit with his sister Adele as his dance partner. In 1917 they made their Broadway debut in the musical Over the Top. When Adele married, Fred was on his own, and made his first film appearance with Joan Crawford in Dancing Lady (1933). Then he was paired with Ginger Rogers in Flying Down to Rio (1933), and they went on to make 9 more musical films, revolutionizing the film musical with an assortment of original and innovative routines. After Rogers turned to dramatic roles, Astaire made more dance films with several partners. Although not so widely appreciated as a singer, his breezy renditions of certain period pieces are classics of their kind. The urbane, exuberant, sophisticated dancer turned to drama in 1959, in On the Beach, and continued in serious roles, winning an Emmy for A Family Upside Down (1978). He was the winner of a special Oscar (1949).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.