I didn't grow up watching a lot of Fred Astaire. In fact, I think my main exposure to him was his role as a claymation postman in the 1970s Christmas classic Santa Clause is Coming to Town. But, of course, I had heard of him. And there was no way I could come to know Adele without coming to know Freddy during the process.
HIS FAME. Even if you've never heard of Adele before, you've probably heard of Fred Astaire. Most people I talk to about my book are surprised to know that he had a sister and even more surprised to learn that she was ever considered the better dancer between the two of them. The reason Fred's legacy has prevailed is due largely in part to his career move from Broadway to Hollywood- because how many people today remember the stars of the stage from the 1920s? And to his credit, Fred Astaire is also remembered today because he really was one of the best. While Adele had a natural talent that propelled their early career, it was Fred's knack for choreography and his tireless work ethic that made them both famous and made him the iconic figure that he is.
HIS FASHION. Most people think of Fred Astaire and immediately imagine him in a top hat and tails. He and Cary Grant were called "the best dressed actor[s] in American movies," and I even found him prominently featured in a men's fashion article when I was doing research on men's clothing for the book! But one of the most interesting things I learned about Fred Astaire was that he not only didn't enjoy top hats and tails, but he also didn't consider himself to be fashionable at all!
"At the risk of disillusionment, I must admit that I don't like top hats, white ties and tails. I am always arriving at dinner parties not wearing a dinner jacket when I should, or vice versa...
The carefree, the best-dressed, the debonair Astaire! What a myth! My hats are too small, my coats are too short, my walk is loose. I am full of faults. I have a sense of humor but it won't always work for me. I am always blowing my top over the wrong things. I tell you, I am a very annoying guy."
-Fred Astaire, Steps in Time, 1959
Picture from their first recital. That's Fred in the dress on the left :)
HIS PRIVACY. One of the most important things that I learned about Fred Astaire is that he never wanted his life portrayed in a film. According to one of his biographers he said, "However much they offer me—and offers come in all the time—I shall not sell." A clause in his will outlines the same thing, about which he added, "It is there because I have no particular desire to have my life misinterpreted, which it would be." With that in the back of my mind each time I wrote about his character, I did my best to stick to the facts from his own autobiography, using quotes he said in real life to shape his voice and dialogue, and trusting his perspective on events that take place in the book. There is very little interpretation of him on my part, and if I erred in my portrayal of him, it was in an attempt to show him as he wanted to be shown. So, I think you'll recognize him as you already known him. But ultimately, this book is about Adele Astaire, and, though though Freddy is a significant figure in the story, he plays a much smaller role.
Are you a fan of Fred Astaire?
What other questions do you have about his character in the book?