Fred and Adele Astaire

Fred and Adele Astaire in 'Stop Flirting', Shaftesbury Theatre, London, May 1923.

Fred and Adele Astaire in 'Stop Flirting', Shaftesbury Theatre, London, May 1923.

Fred Astaire (1899–1987) was one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century. He and his sister Adele (1896–1981) were child stars in American Vaudeville before moving into musicals in their late teens. They became major Broadway stars and then in 1923 appeared for the first time in Britain in Stop Flirting. They were an immediate hit and settled into a West End run of 418 performances. They returned to London throughout the 1920s with such shows as Gershwin’s 'Lady be Good' and 'Funny Face'.

The Astaires were feted by royalty and high society. Adele at first received most praise for her vivacity and natural comic timing but her career ended in 1932 when she married into the British aristocracy leaving Fred to go it alone. He took on the first of what were to become his signature roles, as a romantic lead with Claire Luce in Cole Porter’s 'The Gay Divorcee'. Dancing to the haunting ‘Night and Day’, Astaire created the first of his famous romantic duets. Astaire was not conventionally good looking but his ability to express romance through movement was to make him an international star. One critic said ‘He makes dance a vertical expression of horizontal desire’.

His first major film 'Flying Down to Rio' was released during the London run of 'The Gay Divorcee'. Although he was not the lead, audiences went wild over Astaire and his partner Ginger Rogers. Astaire never appeared in a full stage production again. With Ginger Rogers he went on to make ten films including the classic 'Top Hat' (1935) and 'Swing Time' (1936). His later partners included Judy Garland, Eleanor Powell, Rita Hayworth, Cyd Charisse, Audrey Hepburn and Leslie Caron.

Great songwriters of his day also wrote some of their greatest songs for him – Irving Berlin,‘Cheek to Cheek’, George Gershwin, ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’, Jerome Kern, ‘The Way You Look Tonight’, Cole Porter, ‘Night and Day’ and Johnny Mercer, ‘One for My Baby and One More for the Road’.

Publicity postcard of Adele Astaire, early to mid 20th century.

Publicity postcard of Adele Astaire, early to mid 20th century.

Publicity pictures for Fred Astaire’s London opening of the film A Damsel in Distress, 1938

Publicity pictures for Fred Astaire’s London opening of the film A Damsel in Distress, 1938

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Funny Face [DVD]

Funny Face [DVD]

This filmed version of the 1927 George Gershwin Broadway musical Funny Face utilizes the play's original star, Fred Astaire, and several of the origin…

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