A Glimpse of Fred Astaire

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A Glimpse into the Life of Fred Astaire by Victoria Kastner

A delightful luncheon and lecture took place at the Virginia Robinson Gardens on Friday, March 10th. It was a perfect day at the Gardens.  And the Friends of Robinson Gardens took advantage of the weather by hosting luncheon outside in the Display Rose Garden on thematically decorated tables celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and the subject of the lecture, Fred Astaire.

Victoria Kastner, the official historian at Hearst Castle, presented a fascinating lecture on “Fred Astaire in Beverly Hills” on March 10. She focused on The Gay Divorcée, Astaire’s first co-starring role with Ginger Rogers. This 1934 blockbuster helped RKO avert its looming bankruptcy. Astaire borrowed Virginia Robinson’s rare 1929 Duesenberg Model J for the film’s wild chase scene, in which Rogers drives through the countryside, with Astaire in hot pursuit. Kastner also highlighted Astaire’s brilliant choreography for his duet with Rogers, Night and Day, pointing out that it was the first romantic dance to be presented integrally, within the storyline, in the entire history of American film. Kastner traced Astaire’s seventy-year performing career (which began in 1905, when at the age of six, he debuted in vaudeville with his older sister Adele). She maintained that Astaire is one of the 20th century’s greatest creative artists. Margot Fonteyn, Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine, and Mikhail Baryshnikov were unanimous in selecting him as America’s finest dancer.

Astaire was also one of its greatest choreographers and most admired singers.  He introduced more American standards than Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra combined, among them Fascinating Rhythm, The Way You Look Tonight, Night and Day, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, Something’s Gotta Give, Let’s Face the Music and Dance, Nice Work if You Can Get It, A Foggy Day (in London Town), and One for My Baby (and One More for the Road). The country’s best popular composers–Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, and Jerome Kern–all vied to write for Astaire, whom they knew would do justice to their songs. Kastner pointed out that there are thirty-one Astaire musicals–containing more than one hundred dances–available for us to see on DVD. She concluded by saying, “We can’t watch Michelangelo paint, but we can watch Astaire dance.”

Post by Marcella Ruble and Victoria Kastner

Photos by Linda Meadows and Marcella Ruble
Friends of Robinson Gardens Board Members

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