Friday, May 10, 2013

Friday Dance Party: All Astaire

Time to return the Friday Dance Party to its original intent (at least for this week), that is, as a fun showcase for The Dance.  Who better to star than one of the premiere interpreters of American Popular Dance, someone who has appeared in this segment many times?  By no coincidence, today is Fred Astaire's 114th Birthday.  Doesn't he look great?
"Backwards, and in heels," Ginger Rogers matched Fred step for step.  She's his most famous dance partner (and that includes his own sister!).  The duo appeared in one of my favorite clips in this series, just because it features simplicity.  Go here for that dance number.
This was not by any means the only time the team of Fred and Ginger have hosted the Dance Party. 
The "Dance-Off" was a popular conceit, and perhaps it still is, considering all the competition on various dance shows these days.  Fred and Ginger competed in one.  I think they won it.
And not to wear out their welcome, Fred and Ginger appeared yet again in these pages:
Rogers was a last minute replacement for Judy Garland in this film (one of the many times Judy was fired for her unreliability), and it was to become the final Astaire/Rogers film.   Here is their clip.
Never let it be said that our Fred couldn't dance with absolutely anybody.  Apparently, he could.
French pixie Leslie Caron was paired with the MUCH older Astaire in Daddy Long Legs.  For some reason, nobody thought it was creepy.  Go here for that clip.
Rita Hayward was a great star of her time period, but she was not really known for her dance abilities.
When Hayward teamed with Astaire in these pages, it was really only because she slightly resembled my mother.  I wrote about that here, which includes the Fred/Rita dance clip.
Astaire was rarely (if ever) evenly matched with his partners, but he made them look good just the same.  When he was paired with Eleanor Powell, though, he did not have to downgrade his performance.  She was one of the great hoofers of history.
Powell could match Astaire tap for tap, as seen in this pairing.
One of my favorite Dance Party clips featuring Astaire actually puts him in the subordinate position. 
Betty Hutton was one of the great musical comedy stars of her time, though is largely forgotten today.  I love her, and she stars in this clip, with a surprise appearance by Astaire.  OK, I guess I ruined the surprise.
Well, because Astaire is turning 114 today, it's about time he got his own solo dance routine in these pages. 
Astaire was not particularly versatile as an actor,
but his light and breezy style was put to good
use in the 1960s spy series It Takes A Thief,
playing Robert Wagner's father.

The clip is from Damsel In Distress, which I must confess I have not seen.  I suppose all Astaire musicals are now considered classics, but this one seems to float under the radar a bit.  Fred's co-star was Joan Fontaine, and isn't it just like a producer to hire a star for a musical without first finding out if she can dance?  Fontaine couldn't, and our Fred attempted to replace her with Ruby Keeler.  Joan remained in the film, and director George Stevens did his best to hide her two left feet with camera trickery and, in one instance, a bunch of trees. 

A madcap romp through a funhouse, with costars Burns and
Allen, provides some comic relief.
The movie introduced several Gershwin songs which went on to become standards, such as "A Foggy Day (in London Town)" and "Nice Work If You Can Get It," but the film did not succeed.  Damsel in Distress was the first Astaire film to lose money, but it gives our hero a nice platform to finally strut his stuff solo. This clip, as so many of the numbers in the Astaire dance repertoire, was shot in a continuous take. Happy Birthday, Fred!