Today is the birthday of the great Fred Astaire. Even after all this time I miss Fred Astaire. I loved him when he danced with Ginger Rogers, and I loved him when he danced alone, or with a chair, or a broom, or whatever prop he thought might be amusing. There were all sorts of dancers in Astaire's time (Gene Kelly is the particular favorite of my father's), but Astaire, I think, was considered the leader of the pack.
What's interesting is that he wasn't a handsome fellow by most people's standards--he had rather an odd face. I bought him as the leading man in every film he made, though, and it was because Fred had grace, wit, and charm. Fred had charisma. When my students learn the word "debonair" in their vocabulary books and want an example of what it means, I always ask, "Have any of you ever heard of Fred Astaire?"
It became a family tradition of ours to watch Fred Astaire movies on New Year's Eve, back when I was a kid. We'd make milkshakes or sundaes or some ice creamy treat, and we'd lose ourselves in Top Hat or The Gay Divorcee or Daddy Long Legs. I'd be thrilled by Fred's antics as he tried to win a lady--or win her back. I'd gasp at the misunderstandings of these farcical films and swoon over the romance of the dance scenes--long, long dance scenes in which Ginger's dress frothed over her ankles like something made of the lightest whipped cream and Fred lifted her effortlessly into the air again and again, looking deeply into her eyes. Fred Astaire made me believe in romance, and I'm a hopeless romantic to this day.
But who could ever replace Fred Astaire? Thank goodness for DVDs of old movies.