Today is Adele Astaire's birthday. I could think of no better way to celebrate than to introduce you to her, the heroine of my book. I "met" Adele Astaire one night several years ago when Matt and I were watching the documentary "Secrets of Chatsworth" (available on Netflix). Before that moment, I, like most people, had no idea that Fred Astaire even had a sister, let alone that she was his first dancing partner (and the better dancer of the two of them!). I was captivated and drawn to learn more about her.
"Fred Astaire’s sister, Adele, was his original dancing partner. In 1923, they came to England to star on the London stage. They soon achieved the stardom they already achieved back home--and it was Adele who had put them there.
'Adele is actually the one who is the most famous. She completely captivates London Society, including royalty.' One of the hearts she captured was that of Charlie Cavendish. Second son of the Duke of Devonshire. He brought her to Chatsworth to meet his parents.
'She’s so overawed, so family history goes, that when she got to the door of the library, the 9th Duke and Duchess were standing by the fireplace, halfway down this long room, and she’s so overawed, she starts turning cartwheels down the whole length of the library, lands at the 9th duke’s feet, and says, “hello.” That’s how they meet.'
Two years later the celebrity couple married in the centuries old chapel at Chatsworth. 'The wedding had to be kept secret because Adele was a really big star. She was in in all of the Newspaper columns… It was so unusual for an actress to marry into the English aristocracy. The fact that she’s having this fairytale romance with an English Lord just completely captivates everybody.'" - "Secrets of Chatsworth," Secrets of the Manor House with insight from Chatsworth House curator, Hannah Obee
I knew immediately that hers was a story worth telling, and I started to dream about writing a novel about her choice to give up the stage for love. I went to the library and checked out books about her and her brother, eventually buying The Astaires: Fred and Adele by Kathleen Riley, Puttin' on the Ritz by Peter J. Levinson, and Steps in Time: An Autobiography by Fred Astaire. I researched her life for years, getting to know her, and outlining the people, places, and details that would bring her story to life.
There were times, especially when I first started writing, when I was intimidated by her. At first glance, she appeared to be so glamorous and outgoing and charismatic that I wondered if I would know how to accurately portray her character--we are so different, after all. But the more I came to know her for the complex person that she was, the more I saw who she really was and all that we had in common.
A friend in later life described her as "a wayward child trying to find her way through the mists." And I found a lot of information that suggested the person she presented to the stage and the public was very different from who she was in her private live and who she wanted to be. Her character took shape as I discovered this to be true by her own admission. She didn't like like people to see her down, and she admitted, "I fooled the public for years. It was never me." I especially loved the side of her that led her to say, "The first thing I think about every time I go to a party is, 'How soon can I scram away from this place and get home?'...I feel now the most attractive thing in the world is to get into bed with a good novel in my hands..."
So how did she get into her career in the first place? For starters, she was born with natural talent, and people saw her potential from a young age. Early on, a career on the stage was what her parents wanted for her and Fred, and they gave up everything to ensure that Fred and Adele were given every opportunity. It wasn't easy, and success came after years of training and performing on Vaudeville. The life they had was hard fought and it was the only life they knew.
There is so much more to this woman that I cover in the book, from childhood memories and the relationships that shaped her, to her famed career and the man for whom she gave it all up. The book does center on that fateful decision, and all of the internal struggle that went into making it, but it's really about her coming to know herself, to know her own mind, and to follow her heart.
Excerpt from the book
It was so beautiful, the way a story could be told through this medium. Music and movement stood in the place of words as a universal language that was felt as much as it was understood. She sat at the edge of her seat, feeling a familiar yearning to be the one on the stage coupled with an awe-filled sense of regret that she would never move in that way. For all of their training, talent, and experience, what she did on the stage did not compare to what she beheld.
The beauty of it all suddenly made her sad. Thoughts of what paths life might have taken were again at the forefront of her mind. And as she unconsciously compared her own recent performances with the strains of music and the emotional choreography unfolding in front of her, she couldn’t help but feel as if her own story was in danger of being drowned out by the characters she took on and the words that were written for her.
But how did that resonate with the ache she continued to feel to be part of the performance instead of sitting idly by watching in the audience? Here, she was a guest, or perhaps even a stranger. But there was Charles beside her, placing his hand on hers, a new shared experience that she was wholly a part of. And for the first time, she opened herself up to really consider a life with this as her view of the stage.
What else do you want to know about Adele?