Thursday, May 10, 2007

Where Have You Gone, Fred and Ginger?

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.


ERiCA said...

I agree that charisma can totally make up for any lack of traditional male beauty.

I haven't seen a couple of those movies... Guess I better go rent 'em! =)

Julia Buckley said...

Yeah, the Fred movies have aged well; they're still fun to watch. And at Christmas I always love to watch Holiday Inn.

Eric Mayer said...

Ah yes, Fred Astaire is one of my all time favorites and I don't even have any particular interest in dancing.

Aside from his creative work (and what an amazing athlete he must have been to do what he did and make it look so easy) he always presented himself with such class. I particularly remember when Saturday Night Fever came out and John Travolta did some disco dancing. Now, I liked that movies (although there's probably never been a musical I didn't like) and Travolta did a good job but there's really no way you could compare the sort of dancing he did to what Fred Astaire had done. Of course everyone rushed to ask Astaire about Travolta's performance. A lot of old timers would have denigrated Travolta (and with some justification) but Fred was completely postive and complimentary in all the comments I read. He never pointed out he was 100 times better.

Also, he was a fantastic singer. He had practically no voice, technically speaking (or so I'm told) but he presented the songs so perfectly and believably and without affectation. A lesson to writers maybe?

Julia Buckley said...

I agree, Eric. He was a class act. And his singing was memorable because it was always in character. When you think about some of the most famous singers, not all of them have good voices, but they all made themselves memorable somehow. Fred kept a tune and presented a charming fellow.