Today, we’re “Puttin’ on the Ritz” to celebrate the birthday of Fred Astaire! This American dancer, choreographer, singer, musician, and actor is famous for his vast legacy of work, influencing the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., Michael Jackson, and Gene Kelly. He was nominated for and won numerous awards including Emmys, Golden Globes, Academy Awards, and the opportunity to place his hand and foot prints in the cement on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Astaire, who would be 114 today, remains a widely celebrated figure in American entertainment to this day.
Astaire’s given name was Frederick Austerlitz. He was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and lived there with his parents and older sister Adele. Adele had a natural aptitude for singing and dancing, and Fred played the piano, accordion, and clarinet. His parents, having already discovered their children’s wonderful talents, moved to New York to introduce Fred, then only 5, and Adele, 8, into the world of show business. They planned a brother-and-sister act, and the children began training at the Alviene Master School of the Theatre and Academy of Cultural Arts. Soon after, by their mother’s suggestion, they traded the surname Austerlitz for Astaire.
When Fred was only 14, he and his sister were cast to perform on Broadway and then found continued success. They performed together until Adele married her first husband in 1932, following which Fred maintained his success performing on Broadway, famous for his amazing tap dancing and exuberant charm. He debuted on film in 1933 with Joan Crawford in Dancing Lady. He went on to perform in over 50 films, including The Band Wagon, Holiday Inn, The Towering Inferno, Top Hat, Royal Wedding, and more.
With a career stretching over some 80 years, Astaire married twice and passed away due to pneumonia in 1987 at the age of 88. Modest and a perfectionist his whole life, he oozed charm and had smooth moves. Over the course of his lifetime, he was named the fifth Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute, starred in more than ten films alongside Ginger Rogers, and almost singlehandedly revolutionized movie musicals and entertainment as a whole. And he’s still fun to watch–as your kids will agree when they check out this amazing scene from 1948’s Easter Parade…