A Brief Tribute to a Dancin' Man


The first time I met Fred Astaire, I hated him. Except I didn't know him as Fred Astaire, I knew him as Ted Hanover, the conceited hoofer who kept stealing the girlfriends of the man who was supposedly his best friend, Jim Hardy. My poor, six-year-old heart felt so sad for Jim every time trouble-making Ted appeared -- and yet I still found the man compelling. After all, while Jim could do beautiful things with his voice, he didn't do anything like what Ted did with his feet.

As I grew up and revisited the classics like Holiday Inn that I had watched as a kid, I finally separated Fred from his character and it was like meeting him all over again. To say I was enchanted would be an understatement. Six-year-old Michaela would've felt so betrayed.


I can't remember much else about my reintroduction to Fred. I don't know what my next films of his were, or even what my first Astaire & Rogers collaboration was. That initial rush of classic film discovery is a haze to me now because I just devoured everything I could. But I do know that my newfound love for Fred never wavered, and because it felt like I was alone in my classic Hollywood dreamland, Fred was all mine. He was my touchstone, the man who had been with me ever since I laid eyes on a film. It says a lot about Fred that I met him as his most unlikable character and I still felt drawn to him. He is a magnetic force, the living definition of untouchable charisma, a magical being whose stunning creativity and cultural influence is still felt and emulated.

And somehow, with every new piece I learn about him, he manages to become more lovable. He had an amazingly dapper fashion sense and always wore a scarf instead of a belt. (For more on this, check out my post about his and Ginger Rogers's style here.) He would publicly say that Gene Kelly was his favorite dance partner so as not to hurt any of his leading ladies' feelings. When Marilyn Monroe joined a conversation he was having at a party and misconstrued what the topic was, while the other participants felt uneasy about her mistake, he simply went with her incorrect topic and continued the discussion without making her feel foolish. He comforted Debbie Reynolds in the sweetest way possible when he found her crying and overwhelmed by the dancing she had to learn for Singin' in the Rain. He never developed an egotistical attitude and was immensely modest about his work. His sister and former dance partner Adele nicknamed him "Moaning Minnie" since he was such a perfectionist. Ann Miller and others said that when he walked through the MGM lot, everyone stopped and stared because
he was so stylish and captivating. People who idolized him growing up, like Stanley Donen, Charles Walters, and Audrey Hepburn, couldn't believe it when they were able to collaborate with him and become his friend.

Fred Astaire was not only one of Hollywood's biggest sweethearts, he was one of its most talented. He also wasn't a conventional leading man. "What do they want that face for in Hollywood?" he repeatedly said to friends as he left the Broadway stage for the silver screen. He didn't look like a Cary Grant or a Gary Cooper, and he didn't project the kind of virile masculinity that Clark Gable or Humphrey Bogart did. But Fred had a brashness and a wit that, when combined with his obvious gracefulness and nobility, proved irresistible. His gloriously offbeat singing voice with its terrific vibrato and his perfect comedic timing make him even more spellbinding.

But nothing, nothing, is as heartstoppingly gorgeous as Fred's movement. Every motion is electric, even just a simple hand wave. From tremendous joy to crushing sorrow to cheeky insolence, Fred could convey anything with only a few taps, sweeping you away to a universe that is both addictively romantic and impossibly elegant.

What is frustrating is that none of what I have written comes close to describing how much I adore this man. Nothing sounds monumental enough. Along with my beloved Judy Garland and Bing Crosby, he changed my life. All I have to do is hear his name and my whole day is brightened. He mesmerizes me and comforts me and encourages me to be kinder and braver. I could never imagine a world without him in it and thankfully I've never had to.

 



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This is my second contribution to my and Crystal's Second Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Blogathon. Check out the other entries here!

Comments

  1. What a gorgeous tribute! It's made me love Fred Astaire a bit more than I did before.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! You're much too kind. I must admit I'm not too thrilled with how this came out, but I really wanted to post something for Fred for this blogathon. I have a feeling I'll be expounding on this in the future!

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  2. Well, I had to laugh. I made the mistake of showing my daughter, when she was quite young, Holiday Inn as her introduction to Mr. Astaire. Yes, it took her years to get over mean old Fred trying to steal Bing's gal.

    Beyond even his sublime dancing, I think of Fred as one of THE voices of the 20th century having introduced so many standards by Porter, Kern, the Gershwins, and Irving Berlin. His is a career one can never tire of exploring, and your tribute it outstanding.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! That Holiday Inn sure is powerful! It's still my favorite Christmas movie, and it's the reason why I didn't give White Christmas a chance until I was about 20.

      You're so right about Fred and his influence on the Great American Songbook. I'm not entirely happy with this tribute, and that is yet another thing I'll have to talk about whenever I revise it (because I have no doubt that it'll drive me crazy and I'll have to write some kind of part 2).

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  3. That was such a beautiful tribute! Fred also means a lot to me, besides charm, elegance, talent and ability to dance: he always represented what is beautiful in the world and worth living for.

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    Replies
    1. Aw, thanks! And wonderfully said! It's a testament to him as a performer and as a person that he holds such a special place in so many people's hearts.

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  4. Hi Michaela, Happy New Year and love you to sign up
    https://weegiemidget.wordpress.com/2020/01/16/pop-stars-moonlighting-blogathon-2020/

    ReplyDelete

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