It was on this day, June 22, 1987, American film and Broadway stage dancer, choreographer, singer and actor, Fred Astaire dies. He was 88.
Born Frederick Austerlitz May 10, 1899, his stage and subsequent film career spanned a total of 76 years during which he made 31 musical films. He was particularly associated with Ginger Rogers, with whom he made ten films. She could do anything he could do except “she did it backwards–and in high heels.”
The son of an Austrian immigrant, Astaire entered show business at age 5. Successful both in vaudeville and on Broadway in partnership with his sister, Adele Astaire, after Adele retired to marry in 1932, Astaire headed to Hollywood. Signed to RKO, he was loaned to MGM to appear in Dancing Lady (1933) before starting work on RKO’s Flying Down to Rio (1933). In the latter film, he began his highly successful partnership with Ginger Rogers, with whom he danced in 9 RKO pictures. During these years, he was also active in recording and radio.
On film, Astaire later appeared opposite a number of partners through various studios. After a temporary retirement in 1945-7, during which he opened Fred Astaire Dance Studios, Astaire returned to film to star in more musicals through 1957. He subsequently performed a number of straight dramatic roles in film and TV.
Gene Kelly, another major innovator in filmed dance, said that “the history of dance on film begins with Astaire”. Although he viewed himself as an entertainer first and foremost, his consummate artistry won him the admiration of such twentieth century dance legends as Gene Kelly, George Balanchine, the Nicholas Brothers, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Margot Fonteyn, Bob Fosse, Gregory Hines, Rudolf Nureyev, Michael Jackson and Bill Robinson.
Balanchine compared him to Bach, describing him as “the most interesting, the most inventive, the most elegant dancer of our times”, while for Baryshnikov he was “a genius … a classical dancer like I never saw in my life”.
Extremely modest about his singing abilities (he frequently claimed that he could not sing, but the critics rated him as among the finest), Astaire introduced some of the most celebrated songs from the Great American Songbook, in particular, Cole Porter’s: “Night and Day” in Gay Divorce (1932); Irving Berlin’s “Isn’t This a Lovely Day?”, “Cheek to Cheek” and “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” in Top Hat (1935), “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” in Follow the Fleet (1936) and “Change Partners” in Carefree (1938). He first presented Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight” in Swing Time (1936); the Gershwins’ “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” in Shall We Dance (1937), “A Foggy Day” and “Nice Work if You Can Get it” in A Damsel in Distress (1937); Johnny Mercer’s “One for My Baby” from The Sky’s the Limit (1943) and “Something’s Gotta Give” from Daddy Long Legs (1955); and Harry Warren and Arthur Freed’s “This Heart of Mine” from Ziegfeld Follies (1946).
Astaire died from pneumonia on June 22, 1987. He was 88 years old. He was interred in the Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, California. One last request of his was to thank his fans for their years of support.
Astaire’s life has never been portrayed on film. He always refused permission for such portrayals, saying, “However much they offer me—and offers come in all the time—I shall not sell.” Astaire’s will included a clause requesting that no such portrayal ever take place; he commented, “It is there because I have no particular desire to have my life misinterpreted, which it would be.”
He was named the fifth Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute.
On this day, June 22, Judy Garland (1969) and George Carlin (2008) also died.
1906 – Billy (Samuel) Wilder (Academy Award-winning director: The Apartment , The Lost Weekend ; Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, Witness for the Prosecution, The Seven Year Itch, Some Like it Hot, Sabrina, Irma La Douce, The Front Page, Buddy, Buddy; died Mar 27, 2002)
1909 – Michael Todd (Avrom Hirsch Goldbogen) (producer: Oklahoma!, Around the World in 80 Days; developed [w/American Optical Company] Todd-AO system using 65mm cine cameras at 30 fps and wide angle photgraphy [approx 150 degrees]; husband of Elizabeth Taylor; killed in plane crash Mar 22, 1958)
1928 – Ralph Waite (actor: The Waltons, Roots, Cliffhanger, The Bodyguard, Cool Hand Luke, Five Easy Pieces)
1941 – Michael Lerner (actor: Radioland Murders, Omen 4: The Awakening, Barton Fink, Eight Men Out, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Candidate)
1943 – Klaus Maria Brandauer (actor: The Russia House, Quo Vadis, Out of Africa, Kindergarten, Never Say Never Again, The Salzburg Connection)
1949 – Meryl (Mary Louise) Streep (Academy Award-winning actress: Sophie’s Choice , [supporting actress] Kramer vs. Kramer ; Silkwood, Postcards from the Edge, Death Becomes Her, Bridges of Madison County, The River Wild, Music of the Heart)
1949 – Lindsay Wagner (actress: The Bionic Woman, The Paper Chase, Fire in the Dark, Nurses on the Line, The Second Wind)
1953 – Cyndi Lauper (Cynthia Ann Stephanie Lauper) (Grammy Award-winning singer : Girls Just Want to Have Fun; Time After Time, True Colors; actress: Mad About You, Life with Mikey)
1958 – Bruce Campbell (actor: The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Tornado!, The Hudsucker Proxy, Army of Darkness, Sundown, Maniac Cop series, Evil Dead series)
1960 – Tracy (Jo) Pollan (actress: Family Ties, A Stranger Among Us; married to actor Michael J. Fox)
1964 – Amy Brenneman (actress: Judging Amy, N.Y.P.D. Blue, Middle Ages, Fear, Heat, Casper, Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her)