Hollywood Remains to Be Seen

Fred Astaire
1899 - 1987

Oakwood Memorial Park

"Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little."

Though that evaluation of Fred Astaire's first screen test may be more Hollywood legend than fact, Astaire proved them wrong by acting, singing and dancing his way through some of the best-loved and most memorable musicals ever made. (And he wore a toupee, so he overcame that "balding" problem, too.)

The son of an Austrian immigrant, Astaire started in show business in vaudeville and on Broadway, dancing with his sister, Adele. From 1917 to 1932, the Astaires were a successful Broadway dance team, appearing in such musicals as "Over the Top," "Lady Be Good," and "Funny Face." After Adele retired from the act in 1932 to marry Lord Charles Cavendish, Astaire headed to Hollywood. After his first film, "Dancing Lady" (1933), Astaire appeared in "Flying Down to Rio" (1933), which was his first pairing with Ginger Rogers. Astaire and Rogers made 10 films together, usually light comedies with even lighter plots which followed a standard format. But the slim plots were just an excuse for Astaire and Rogers to do what they do best - him in top hat, white tie and tails; her in a flowing, feathery gown, combining the elements of ballroom, tap and other dance styles in a seamless picture of grace and elegance. Most fans agree that "Top Hat" (1935) was their best film together.

Astaire danced with many other partners in his film career, including Eleanor Powell in "Broadway Melody of 1940," Rita Hayworth in "You'll Never Get Rich" (1941), Judy Garland in "Easter Parade" (1948), Cyd Charisse in "Silk Stockings" (1957) and Audrey Hepburn in "Funny Face" (1957). Taking nothing away from his human partners, but Astaire could even make the coat rack he danced with in "Royal Wedding" (1951) seem graceful and elegant. Altogether, Astaire appeared in 54 films. In 1975, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in "The Towering Inferno." Astaire was awarded an honorary Academy Award in 1950, "for his unique artistry and his contributions to the technique of musical pictures." He was also a three-time Emmy winner.

Astaire married his first wife, Phyllis, in 1933, and had two children, Fred Jr. and Ava. Phyllis also had another child, Peter, from a previous marriage. Phyllis died in 1954. In 1980, the 81-year-old Astaire married jockey Robyn Smith -- who, at 35, was younger than both of his children.

Astaire's gravestone is as you might expect it to be, simple and elegant: "Fred Astaire, I Will Always Love You My Darling, Thank You." And, for an entertainer with endless and timeless talent, it does not include the dates of his birth or death.

Throughout his life, Astaire was generally known as a very private person who kept close ties to his family. So it's natural that he is surrounded by the people he loved most. Buried near Astaire is his sister Adele Astaire Douglas (1897 - 1981) -- after her first husband died, she married Kingman Douglas. Next to Adele is Ann Astaire (1878 - 1975), Fred and Adele's mother. Next to Ann Astaire is Phyllis Livingston Astaire (1908 - 1954), Fred's first wife. Next to Phyllis are the graves of her aunt and uncle, Henry Worthington Bull (1874 - 1958) and Maud Livingston Bull (1875 - 1962). Fred had known Henry Bull for several years before he met Phyllis, due to their mutual interest in horse racing, and the two couples remained close throughout their lives.

In his will, which was signed less than two years before he died, Astaire requested "that my funeral be private and that there be no memorial service."

Astaire was born Frederick Austerlitz on May 10, 1899, in Omaha, NE. He died on June 22, 1987, in Los Angeles, CA.

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