TCM turns spotlight on Fred Astaire for 24 hours

Millions of Americans flocked to movie theaters in the 1930s and '40s to see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance.
Millions of Americans flocked to movie theaters in the 1930s and ’40s to see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance.

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is featuring a different star each day during August as part of its Summer Under the Stars program and today belongs to Frederick Austerlitz, otherwise know as Fred Astaire, a Broadway star who made the leap to the silver screen.

Astaire’s family left their hometown of  Omaha for NYC where he and his sister Adele eventually signed a contract with the Orpheum Circuit, touring the country as a vaudeville act.

During the 1920s, Fred and Adele appeared on Broadway and in  London stage in shows such as Jerome Kern’s “The Bunch and Judy” (1922), George and Ira Gershwin’s “Lady Be Good “(1924) and “Funny Face” (1927) and later in “The Band Wagon” (1931).

Astaire learned to tap from Bill (Bojangles) Robinson and earned the reputation of being one of the best. s Robert Benchley wrote in 1930, “I don’t think that I will plunge the nation into war by stating that Fred is the greatest tap-dancer in the world.”

After the close of “Funny Face,” the Astaires went to Hollywood for a screen test at Paramount Pictures but were rejected. They split in 1932 when Adele married Lord Charles Arthur Francis Cavendish, a son of the Duke of Devonshire.

Image of Fred AstaireWith new partner Claire Luce they danced to Cole Porter’s “Night and Day,” which had been written for “The Gay Divorcee.” Luce stated that she had to encourage him to take a more romantic approach: “Come on, Fred, I’m not your sister, you know.” The success of the stage play was credited to this number and, when recreated in the film version of the play “The Gay Divorcee” (1934), it ushered in a new era in filmed dance

His stage and subsequent film and television careers spanned a total of 76 years, during which he made 31 musical films and several award-winning television specials and issued numerous recordings. He was named the fifth Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute. He is best known as the dancing partner and on-screen romantic interest of Ginger Rogers, with whom he co-starred in a series of ten Hollywood musicals which transformed the genre.

Here’s a list of today’s scheduled movies, several of which began on the stage:  “Flying Down to Rio” (1933), at 6; “The Gay Divorcee” (1934), at 7:30; “Roberta” (1935), at 9:30; “Top Hat” (1935), at 11:15; “Follow the Fleet” (1936), at 1 p.m.; “Swing Time” (1936), at 3; “Carefree” (1938), at 4:45; “The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle” (1939), at 6:15; “Shall We Dance” (1937), at 8; “You Were Never Lovelier” (1942), at 10:15; “The Band Wagon” (1953), at midnight; “Silk Stockings” (1957), at 2 a.m.; and “Royal Wedding” (1951), at 4:15.

Who else is being honored as part of the Summer Under the Stars event?