Oscar Actors: Astaire, Fred–Supporting Actor Nominee

Born Frederick Austerlitz on May 10, 1899 in Omaha, Nebraska; died in 1987.

At the age of seven, Astaire started touring the vaudeville circuit wit his sister Adele as a dancing partner. According to some sources, they appeared in 1915 in Mary Pickford’s film “Fanchon the Cricket.”

In 1917, they made their Broadway dancing debut in the musical “Over the Top,” followed by their first big success, “The Passing Show of 1918,” after which hey became perennial favorites with Broadway and London audiences.

After several stage hits, including “Lady Be Good” (1924), “Smiles” (1930), and “The Band Wagon”(1931), the partnership was dissolved following Adele’s marriage to Lord Charles Cavendish.

Astaire was given a Hollywood screen test, resulting in the famous verdict: “Can’t act. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.” Nevertheless, he got a small part opposite Joan Crawford in “Dancing Lady” (1933).

Shortly afterward, Astaire was paired with newcomer Ginger Rogers, a partnership that was to last through ten films and produced some of the most magical moments in screen musical history. When Miss Rogers turned to dramatic roles, Astaire continued to dominate the musical film scene with such partners as Lucille Bremer, Rita Hayworth, Eleanor Powell, and Cyd Chariss.

In 1946, with Gene Kelly fast becoming his heir apparent, Astaire announced his retirement, but two years later he replaced the ailing Kelly as Judy Garland’s partner in “Easter Parade.” His comeback was triumphant.

Almost singlehandedly, Fred Astaire restyled the song-and-dance film, leaving his graceful mark on all musical movies to come. His own films always included solo dance numbers in which he skillfully improvised in his free, easygoing style, charming audiences with his relaxed exuberance and sophistication. He also introduced many hit songs, written especially for his pleasant, if untrained, singing voice.

He later proved to be a capable actor in his first dramatic role in “On the Beach” (1959). He subsequently abandoned songanddance parts for straight acting and was nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actor for his performance in “The Towering Inferno” (1974).

Astaire received a special Academy Award in 1949 for his contribution to films. In 1981, he was honored with the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award. Astaire wrote his autobiography, “Steps in Time.”

Oscar Alert

In 1974, Fred Astaire competed for the Supporting Actor Oscar with
Jeff Bridges in “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,” Robert De Niro (who won) in “The Godfather: Part II,” Michael Gazzo in “The Godfather: Part II,” and Lee Strasberg also in “The Godfather: Part II.”