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Astaire on Astaire
- I have no desire to prove anything by it. I have never used it as an outlet or a means of expressing myself. I just dance.
- from Astaire's autobiography Steps in Time, 1959, p. 325.
- When working on my choreography I am not always receptive to outside suggestions or opinions. I believe that if you have something in mind in the way of a creation, such as a new dance, a sequence, or an effect, you are certain to come up with inaccurate criticism and damaging results if you go around asking for opinions.
- op. cit., p. 6.
- But I do nothing that I don't like, such as "inventing" up to the arty or "down" to the corny. I happen to relish a certain type of corn. What I think is the really dangerous approach is the "let's be artistic" attitude. I know that artistry just happens.
- op. cit., pp. 6-7.
- I don't make love by kissing, I make love by dancing.
- Either the camera will dance, or I will.
- Fred Astaire in Winge, John. "How Astaire Works." Film and Theatre Today, January 1950, pp. 7-9. (M).
- There comes a day when people begin to say, 'Why doesn't that old duffer retire?' I want to get out while they're still saying Astaire is a hell of a dancer.
- A four wood I hit on the 13th hole at Bel Air Country Club in June of 1945. It landed right on the green and rolled into the cup for a hole in one.
- Fred Astaire on his proudest achievement in Lewis, Jerry D. "Interview : Fred Astaire." Glendale Federal Magazine, Summer 1982, pp. 8-10. (M).
- What's all this talk about me being teamed with Ginger Rogers? I will not have it Leland--I did not go into pictures to be teamed with her or anyone else, and if that is the program in mind for me I will not stand for it. I don't mind making another picture with her but as for this teams idea, it's out.
- Fred Astaire in a letter to his agent Leland Hayward dated February 9, 1934. He went on to make a further nine musical films with Rogers. (M).
- I have had to do most of my choreography. I would say most of it, with help from various choreographers I have worked with.
- Fred Astaire in "Reminiscences of Fred Astaire", Interview with Ronald L. Davis, Beverly Hills, July 31, 1978, SMU Oral History Project on the Performing Arts. (M).
- Oh, there's no such thing as my favorite performance. I can't sit here today and look back, and say, Top Hat was better than Easter Parade or any of the others. I just don't look back, period. When I finish with a project, I say 'all right, that's that. What's next?'
- Fred Astaire, interviewed by Dan Navarro for American Classic Screen Magazine, September/October 1978.
On Astaire's insecurity
- He lacks confidence to the most enormous degree of all the people in the world. He will not even go to see his rushes. He’ll stay out in the alley and pace up and down and worry and collar you when you come out and say: ‘How good was so and so?’, and he’ll keep you for 45 minutes. It would be much simpler if he would go and look at them himself, you know? But he always thinks he’s no good.
- Vincente Minnelli quoted in Schickel, Richard. The Men Who Made The Movies. New York: Atheneum, 1975. (M).
- I remember when I was doing a film with Fred Astaire, it was nothing for him to work three or four days on two bars of music. One evening in the dark grey hours of dusk, I was walking across the deserted MGM lot when a small, weary figure with a towel around his neck suddenly appeared out of the giant cube sound stages. It was Fred. He came over to me, threw a heavy arm around my shoulder and said: "Oh Alan, why doesn't someone tell me I cannot dance?" The tormented illogic of his question made any answer insipid, and all I could do was walk with him in silence.
- Alan Jay Lerner in Lerner, Alan Jay. On the Street Where I Live. New York: Norton, 1978. p. 89. (M).
Classical dancers and choreographers on Astaire
- He is terribly rare. He is like Bach, who in his time had a great concentration of ability, essence, knowledge, a spread of music. Astaire has that same concentration of genius; there is so much of the dance in him that it has been distilled.
- George Balanchine in Nabokov, Ivan and Carmichael, Elizabeth. "Balanchine, An Interview". Horizon, January 1961, pp. 44-56. (M).
- He is the most interesting, the most inventive, the most elegant dancer of our times... you see a little bit of Astaire in everybody's dancing--a pause here, a move there. It was all Astaire's originally.
- George Balanchine, quoted in Thomas, Bob. Astaire, the Man, The Dancer. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1985. ISBN 0297784021 p. 33.
- What do dancers think of Fred Astaire? It's no secret. We hate him. He gives us a complex because he's too perfect. His perfection is an absurdity. It's too hard to face.
- He's a genius...a classical dancer like I never saw in my life.
- It's unmatched perfection. It's a taste, understanding of his strength, and weaknesses in a way. He was not a sexual animal, but he made his partners look so extraordinarily related to him.
- He was not just the best ballroom dancer, or tap dancer, he was simply the greatest, most imaginative, dancer of our time.
- When I was in the Soviet Union recently I was being interviewed by a newspaperman and he said, "Which dancers influenced you the most?" and I said, "Oh, well, Fred Astaire." He looked very surprised and shocked and I said, "What's the matter?" He said, "Well, Mr. Balanchine just said the same thing."
- The history of dance on film begins with Astaire.
- Except for times Fred worked with real professional dancers like Cyd Charisse, it was a twenty five year war.
- Hermes Pan, Astaire's principal choreographic collaborator, quoted in Davidson, Bill. The Real and the Unreal. New York: Harper and Bros., 1961. p. 186. (M).
Singers and songwriters on Astaire
- There is no setup in Hollywood that compares with an Astaire picture.
- As a dancer he stands alone, and no singer knows his way around a song like Fred Astaire.
- Irving Berlin, quoted in Puttin' on the Ritz, BBC Programme Acquisition, 1999.
- He has a remarkable ear for intonation, a great sense of rhythm and what is most important, he has great style - style in my way of thinking is a matter of delivery, phrasing, pace, emphasis, and most of all presence.
- Bing Crosby in Crosby, Bing. Liner notes for Attitude Dancing, United Artists Records, UAS29888, 1975. (M).
- There never was a greater perfectionist, there never was, and never will be, a better dancer, and I never knew anybody more kind, more considerate, or more completely a gentleman...I love Fred, John, and I admire and respect him. I guess it's because he's so many things I'd like to be and I'm not.
- For a guy who had retired ostensibly, your comeback represents the greatest event since Satchel Paige.
- When you talk about Fred Astaire, you talk about heaven. What more can I say?
- Johnny Green to Mike Steen in Steen, Mike. Hollywood Speaks! An Oral History, G.P. Putnam's, New York, 1974.
- Fred Astaire once worked so hard/ he often lost his breath/ and now he taps all other chaps to death
- They climb the clouds/ To come through with airmail/ The dancing crowds/ Look up to some rare male/ Like that Astaire male.
- from Lorenz Hart's title number to On Your Toes.
- Astaire can't do anything bad.
- Jerome Kern quoted in Bordman, Gerald. Jerome Kern: His Life and Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. p. 142. (M).
- Fred Astaire is the best singer of songs the movie world ever knew. His phrasing has individual sophistication that is utterly charming. Presumably the runner-up would be Bing Crosby, a wonderful fellow, though he doesn't have the unstressed elegance of Astaire.
- Oscar Levant in Levant, Oscar. The Memoirs of an Amnesiac. New York: Putnam, 1965. (M).
- Our homeward step was just as light/As the tap-dancing feet of Astaire/And, like an echo far away,/A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square
- You're the nimble tread/Of the feet of Fred Astaire
- from Cole Porter's lyric to "You're the Top".
- Astaire really sweat - he toiled. He was a humorless Teutonic man, the opposite of his debonair image in top hat and tails. I liked him because he was an entertainer and an artist. There's a distinction between them. An artist is concerned only with what is acceptable to himself, where an entertainer strives to please the public. Astaire did both. Louis Armstrong was another one.
- By far the gentlest man I have ever known.
- Frank Sinatra on Astaire as quoted in Barnes, Clive. "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails - Fred Astaire dead at 88," New York Times, June 23, 1987 as reproduced in Billman, Larry. Fred Astaire - a Bio-Bibliography, Greenwood Press, Connecticut, 1997, p. 300.
- Q: What great singers of the past do you wish had sung your music?
- A: Nobody really. Well, actually, Fred Astaire.
Hollywood on Astaire
- Can't act, slightly bald, also dances.
- You know, you so-and-so, you've a little of the hoodlum in you.
- Once after a dinner party, Gregory Peck and I drove Fred Astaire home. Fred lived in a colonial house that had a long porch with many pillars. When we dropped him off, he danced along the whole front porch, then opened the door, tipped his hat to us, and disappeared. Wow! Greg and I couldn't speak for a few minutes. It was a beautiful way to say thank you.
- You can get dancers like this for $75 a week.
- Johnny Considine, MGM associate producer, on viewing Astaire's screen test. Source: Burton Lane as quoted in Green, Benny. Fred Astaire. London: Hamlyn, 1979 and reaffirmed by Lane in Lane, Burton. Letter to John Mueller, March 3, 1983. (M).
- The main point of Flying Down to Rio is the screen promise of Fred Astaire.... He's assuredly a bet after this one, for he's distinctly likeable on the screen, the mike is kind to his voice and as a dancer he remains in a class by himself. The latter observation will be no news to the professsion, which has long admitted that Astaire starts dancing where the others stop hoofing.
- Variety. Flying Down to Rio, December 26, 1933. (M).
- Of all the actors and actresses I've ever worked with, the hardest worker is Fred Astaire. He behaved like he was a young man whose whole destiny depended on being successful in his first film. He rehearses between takes, after takes - there's no limit to his professionalism.
- Rouben Mamoulian in Lecture and discussion at University of Southern California, December 7, 1975. Tape recording, Special Collections, University of Southern California. (M).
- He is a truly complex fellow, not unlike the Michelangelos and da Vincis of the Renaissance period. He's a supreme artist but he is constantly filled with doubts and self-anger about his work--and that is what makes him so good. He is a perfectionist who is never sure he is attaining perfection.
- Rouben Mamoulian, quoted in Satchell, Tim. Astaire, The Biography. Hutchinson, London. 1987. ISBN 0091737362. p. 200.
- It was on tiny wheels with a mount for the camera that put the lens about two feet above the ground. On it rode the camera operator and the assistant who changed the focus and that's all. Fred always wanted to keep the camera in as tight as possible, and they used to shoot with a 40 millimetre lens, which doesn't give you too much leeway. So every time Fred and Ginger moved toward us, the camera had to go back, and every time they went back, the camera went in. The head grip who was in charge of pushing this thing was a joy to watch. He would maintain a consistent distance, and when they were in the midst of a hectic dance that's quite a stunt.
Writers on Astaire
- I don't think that I will plunge the nation into war by stating that Fred Astaire is the greatest tap-dancer in the world.
- Mr. Astaire is the nearest approach we are ever likely to have to a human Mickey Mouse; he might have been drawn by Mr. Walt Disney, with his quick physical wit, his incredible agility. He belongs to a fantasy world almost as free as Mickey's from the law of Gravity.
- A very distinguished colleague began his criticism of this show by asking what is Mr Astaire's secret. May I suggest that the solution hangs on a little word of three letters? Mr Astaire's secret is that of the late Rudolph Valentino and of Mr Maurice Chevalier — sex, but sex so bejewelled and be-pixied that the weaker vessels who fall for it can pretend that it isn't sex at all but a sublimated projection of the Little Fellow with the Knuckles in His Eyes. You'd have thought by the look of the first night foyer that it was Mothering Thursday, since every woman in the place was urgent to take to her bosom this waif with the sad eyes and the twinkling feet.
- At its most basic, Mr. Astaire's technique has three elements - tap, ballet and ballroom dancing. The ballet training, by his account, was brief but came at a crucial, early age. He has sometimes been classed as a tap dancer, but he was never the hoofer he has jokingly called himself. Much of the choreographic outline of his dancing with his ladies—be it Miss Rogers or Miss Hayworth—is ballroom. But of course, no ballroom dancer could dance like this.
- Dance critic Anna Kisselgoff, in Shepard, Richard F. "Fred Astaire, The Ultimate Dancer, Dies," The New York Times, 23 June 1987.
Literary references to Astaire
- As a dancer, I out-Fred the nimblest Astaire.
- But Adrian did not hear him. I have mentioned that during dinner, preoccupied with his thoughts, he had bolted his food. Nature now took its toll. An acute spasm suddenly ran though him, and with a brief 'Ouch!' of pain he doubled up and began to walk round in circles. Sir Jasper clicked his tongue impatiently. "This is no time for doing the Astaire pom-pom dance," he said sharply.
- From P.G. Wodehouse's Mulliner Nights (1933).
- "There's nothing to beat these old English country houses." said Charlie, becoming lyrical. "All those parks and gardens and terraces and stuff. Makes you think of bygone ages and knights in armour and all like that. I saw one of these joints in a movie in Cicero once with Fred Astaire in it, and I remember thinking those guys have it pretty soft."
- From P.G. Wodehouse's Do Butlers Burgle Banks? (1968).
- Mr. Llewellyn paused. Mr. Trout had begun to float about the room like something out of Swan Lake, and Mr. Llewellyn disapproved of this. He was apt to be a martinet in his dealings with his legal advisers, demanding that lawyers should behave like lawyers and leave eccentric dancing to the professionals. A man, he held, is either Fred Astaire or he is not Fred Astaire, and if he is not Fred Astaire he should not carry on like him.
- From P.G. Wodehouse's Bachelors Anonymous (1973).
- Grayce Llewellyn thought that with appropriate dietary restrictions, she and J Sheringham Adair could have Ivor Llewellyn looking like Fred Astaire.
- From P.G. Wodehouse's Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin (1972).
Dance partners on Astaire
- I'd never seen him out front before. It was also the first time I realized that Fred had sex appeal. Fred. Wherever did he get it?
- If people would only realize when they ask me why I don't do a picture with him - they ask me that all the time, and were quite keen on it while I was in Hollywood - if they'd only realize that he's gone 'way ahead of me. Why I couldn't begin to keep up with him. I couldn't even reach the steps he throws away.
- Adele Astaire op. cit.
- Come on, Fred, I'm not your sister, you know.
- Claire Luce, (Astaire's first dance partner after his sister Adele retired, urging Astaire to turn on the passion during rehearsals for Gay Divorce) in Telephone interview with John Mueller, June 7, 1981. (M).
- I once said that fifty years from now, the only one of today's dancers who will be remembered is Fred Astaire.
- The girls always think we're going to throw them over a table or toss them in the air. Their muscles tense up right away. So Fred and I go and sit in a corner and pretend we're talking business.
- Gene Kelly on the subject of social dancing, in Lawrenson, Helen. "It's Better to Remember Fred." Esquire, August 1976, pp92-96, 106, 109-110. (M).
- Just try and keep up with those feet of his sometime! Try and look graceful while thinking where your right hand should be, and how your head should be held, and which foot you end the next eight bars on, and whether you're near enough to the steps to leap up six of them backward without looking. Not to mention those Astaire rhythms. Did you ever count the different tempos he can think up in three minutes?
- Ginger Rogers in Evans, Harry. "Ginger, Leila, and Fred." Family Circle, May 8, 1936. (M).
- How do you think those routines were accomplished? With mirrors?... Well, I thought I knew what concentrated work was before I met Fred, but he's the limit. Never satisfied until every detail is right, and he will not compromise. No sir! What's more, if he thinks of something better after you've finished a routine, you do it over.
- Ginger Rogers (M) op. cit.
- We were only together for a part of my career, and for every film we did, I did another three on my own. The studio was working me too hard. Fred would rush off for a holiday and call me and say: "Hey, ready to do another?" And I didn't have the sense to say that I was too tired. Those times were murder for me. Oh, I adored Mr. A but all the hard work...the 5 a.m. calls, the months of non-stop dancing, singing and acting. We just worked it out and had a lot of fun and got very exhausted. And Mr A was quite divine.
- Ginger Rogers quoted in Satchell, Tim. Astaire, The Biography. Hutchinson, London. 1987. ISBN 0091737362. p. 132.
- I guess the only jewels of my life were the pictures I made with Fred Astaire.
- Rita Hayworth in Hallowell, John. "Rita Hayworth: Don't Put the Blame on Me, Boys." New York Times October 25, 1970, sec. 2, pp. 15, 38. (M).
Astaire compared to Gene Kelly
- If I was black and blue, it was Gene. If I didn't have a scratch it was Fred.
- Cyd Charisse on how her husband would know with whom she had danced, quoted in Aloff, Mindy. Dance Anecdotes: Stories from the Worlds of Ballet, Broadway, the Ballroom, and Modern Dance. Oxford University Press, 2006. p. 196 ISBN 0195054113.
- As one of the handful of girls who worked with both of those dance geniuses, I think I can give an honest comparison. In my opinion, Kelly is the more inventive choreographer of the two. Astaire, with Hermes Pan's help, creates fabulous numbers - for himself and his partner. But Kelly can create an entire number for somebody else... I think, however, that Astaire's coordination is better than Kelly's... his sense of rhythm is uncanny. Kelly, on the other hand, is the stronger of the two. When he lifts you, he lifts you!... To sum it up, I'd say they were the two greatest dancing personalities who were ever on screen. But it's like comparing apples and oranges. They're both delicious.
- Cyd Charisse in Charisse, Cyd; Martin, Tony; Kleiner, Dick. The Two of Us, New York: Mason/Charter, 1976. ISBN 0-884-053636.
- Me? I play Gene Kelly...It's a guy who produces, directs, sings, and dances. who else could it be but Kelly?
- The fact that Fred and I were in no way similar - nor were we the best male dancers around never occurred to the public or the journalists who wrote about us...Fred and I got the cream of the publicity and naturally we were compared. And while I personally was proud of the comparison, because there was no-one to touch Fred when it came to "popular" dance, we felt that people, especially film critics at the time, should have made an attempt to differentiate between our two styles. Fred and I both got a bit edgy after our names were mentioned in the same breath. I was the Marlon Brando of dancers, and he the Cary Grant. My approach was completely different from his, and we wanted the world to realise this, and not lump us together like peas in a pod. If there was any resentment on our behalf, it certainly wasn't with each other, but with people who talked about two highly individual dancers as if they were one person. For a start, the sort of wardrobe I wore - blue jeans, sweatshirt, sneakers - Fred wouldn't have been caught dead in. Fred always looked immaculate in rehearsals, I was always in an old shirt. Fred's steps were small, neat, graceful and intimate - mine were ballet-oriented and very athletic. The two of us couldn't have been more different, yet the public insisted on thinking of us as rivals...I persuaded him to put on his dancing shoes again, and replace me in Easter Parade after I'd broken my ankle. If we'd been rivals, I certainly wouldn't have encouraged him to make a comeback.
- Gene Kelly interviewed in Hirschhorn, Clive. Gene Kelly, A Biography. W.H Allen, London, 1984. p. 117. ISBN 0491031823.
- Fred taught me a step because I said I can't let this experience be over without my learning something. He taught me the most wonderful Fred Astaire-like step, with an umbrella. It was a complete throwaway; it was almost invisible. It was in the way he walked. As he moved along, he bounced the umbrella on the floor to the beat and then he grabbed it. It was effortless and invisible. As a matter of fact, a few years later I was photographing Gene Kelly and told him that Fred Astaire had taught me this trick with an umbrella. And Kelly said, "Oh I'll teach you one," and he did, and the two tricks with the umbrella in some way define the difference between Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, and, in my view, demonstrate who is the greater of the two artists. With Gene Kelly, he threw the umbrella way up into the air, and then he moved to catch it, very slowly, grabbing it behind his back. It was a big, grandstand play, about nothing.
- The major difference between Astaire and Kelly is a difference, not of talent or technique, but of levels of sophistication. On the face of it, Kelly looks the more sophisticated. Where Kelly has ideas, Astaire has dance steps. Where Kelly has smartly tailored, dramatically apt Comden and Green scripts, Astaire in the Thirties made do with formulas derived from nineteenth-century French Farce. But the Kelly film is no longer a dance film. It's a story film with dances, as distinguished from a dance film with a story. When Fred and Ginger go into their dance, you see it as a distinct formal entity, even if it's been elaborately built up to in the script. In a Kelly film, the plot action and the musical set pieces preserve a smooth community of high spirits, so that the pressure in a dance number will often seem too low, the dance itself plebeian or folksy in order to "match up" with the rest of the picture.
- I suspect it is this Camelot view that leads Miss Croce to be rather unfair to Gene Kelly...I should say the difference starts with their bodies. If you compare Kelly to Astaire, accepting Astaire's debonair style as perfection then, of course, Kelly looks bad. But in popular dance forms, in which movement is not rigidly codified, as it is in ballet, perfection is a romantic myth or a figure of speech, nothing more. Kelly isn't a winged dancer; he's a hoofer and more earthbound. But he has warmth and range as an actor...Astaire's grasshopper lightness was his limitation as an actor - confining him to perennial gosh-oh-gee adolescence;; he was always and only a light comedian and could function only in fairytale vehicles.
The Astaire style
- I think I can pinpoint the one moment when the American style of dressing first appeared. It was in an appalling 1933 movie called Dancing Lady during an otherwise forgettable dance number. It also just happened to be Fred Astaire's first on-camera dance. But don't look at the steps. Look at the outfit: Astaire is wearing a single-breasted, soft flannel suit with two-tone spectator shoes and a turtleneck. You wish you could look that stylish! Later that year, in Flying Down to Rio, we get the full Astaire impact. The muted plaid suit is not all that striking, but Fred is wearing it with a soft button-down shirt, a pale woven tie, silk pocket square, bright horizontally striped hose and white bucks. Whoa! Now that's different. This melange of the classic and the sporty was an American innovation. As we approach the impeccable Astaire's 100th birthday on May 10, it's worth remembering that he remains the greatest exemplar of that style.
- G. Bruce Boyer in "Shall We Dress?" Forbes, May 3rd, 1999.
- (Cary Grant) is, along with Fred Astaire, the best-dressed actor in American movies
Note: The designation (M) after a source denotes that the quotation and its source has been obtained from John Mueller: Astaire Dancing - The Musical Films of Fred Astaire, Knopf 1985, ISBN 0394516540.