When it comes to the Astiares, most people probably only associate Fred Astaire with Christmas, due to his roles in movies like Holiday Inn and Santa Clause is Coming to Town. But this holiday season has several influences on Adele's story that are mentioned throughout my book.
True to the historical fiction genre, the Christmas scenes depicted in book are based in fact but brought to life with fiction. I found very little about the Astaire's Christmas celebrations throughout the years, but these small pieces of their history allowed me to add a sense of time and memory to Adele's story.
Christmas in NEbraska
On the top floor of the grand Storz Residence in Omaha, Nebraska, a ballroom is named after Adele and Fred Astaire. When she was young, Adele attended a local dance school in Omaha, performing in recitals, including private performances at the Storz Residence. Since Fritz Astaire was an employee of the Storz Brewery, it was easy to imagine the family attending a Christmas celebration there where Adele would take center stage.
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK
"Fritz had pointed out the sound of music before they could even see their destination. Then, a turn in the road and a break in the trees opened up to the house itself, lit inside and out with hundreds of candles. It was a formidable sight, an enchanted castle of gray stone and high gabled dormers, and it made Adele think of the Beast’s castle—forbidding, but full of lively magic.The stark red roof still peeked out from under the thin layer of snow, and every one of the windows was aglow with of candlelight. The bay windows on each story of the house displayed lit Christmas trees, while every other window framed a holly wreath sheltering a single flame. Fir garlands of green and red were draped from the balcony balustrades, and Adele had taken it all in as a group of wassailers filled the air with familiar carols."
Christmas in New York City
At one point in my writing, I needed to stage a scene wherein a serious conversation takes place between brother and sister. Given the nature of their relationship, I had already written a couple of scenes featuring just the two of them, so I wanted to give the reader a glimpse of New York City, and imagined the quiet beauty of freshly fallen snow as the backdrop for what would pass between them. I was happily surprised to stumble across this New York City weather archive, which showed that the 1930 Christmas weather report for Christmas Eve was "3.9" of snow, which ended late in the morning on the 24th, provided a mantle of white for Christmas Day. This would be the biggest snowfall of the winter." The timeline worked perfectly to write a Christmas scene, and though the words are my own, this particular chapter will always feel real to me in a way that only the magic of a white Christmas can.
Adele also received a journal as a Christmas present from her father one year not too long after they had moved to New York City with their mother. That journal turned out to be the first of many for Adele, who was an avid journaler throughout her life. I made sure to include the influence of her journaling throughout the book, also using it as a tool to convey her inner thoughts in some chapters.
Christmas at chatsworth House
There is not a Christmas scene at Chatsworth in the book, but when I was searching for a way to show this great estate as the childhood home of Charlie Cavendish, I knew that referring to his Christmas memories memories there was sure to make Chatsworth feel more like home.
Chatsworth has a rich Christmas history. According to the Duchess of Devonshire, "The annual Christmas party for the school children is held in the Painted Hall and is as noisy and cheerful as can be. The highlight of the evening is the arrival of Father Christmas... [Santa] hides in the chimney of the huge fireplace guarded by four large men making a human screen... Eventually he emerges and hands out presents. Then off he goes, running along he gallery while 'snow' falls on the landing and piles of balloons float down. The performance never loses its magic" (Chatsworth: The House, 56).
I follow @chatsworthofficial on Instagram, and it was easy to imagine what Christmas must have been like for Charlie with the pictures they post of their annual Christmas Market and displays. I don't know whether Adele ever spent a Christmas at Chatsworth herself, but since she didn't return to the states in the time that she was married to Charlie, the chances are highly likely.
Family Christmas photo at Chatsworth, 1925. Charlie is to the far left.
One Last Christmas
Finally, in writing this post, I learned that Christmas of 1980 was the last time Fred and Adele were ever together in person (Puttin' on the Ritz, 400). They were close throughout their lives, and those last four days spent together over the holiday as Adele was nearing the end of her life must have been important to them both. Reading of this final meeting made me glad, in retrospect, that Christmas is featured in the book as it is.
Adele and Fred in Ireland, 1960s (The Astaires: Fred and Adele by Kathleen Riley, 242)
So let me just end by saying
M E R R Y C H R I S T M A S
from the desk where I spent these Christmases with Adele.