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  1. Did Fred and Adele Astaire star in the Mary Pickford silent movie, "Fanchon and the Cricket"?
  2. What were the exact words of the review of Fred's original screen test, and who wrote them?
  3. Did Fred and Ginger really hate each other?
  4. In "The Band Wagon," why do we frequently see references to a movie called "The Proud Land"?
  5. When and where exactly were Fred and Phyllis married?
  6. What are the lyrics to (insert song name here)?
  7. What is a "Babbitt" and a "Bromide"?
  8. Did Fred have a middle name?
  9. I'm having problems obtaining something. Where can I do so?
  10. Is there any footage of Fred and Adele dancing together?
  11. How tall was Fred?

1. Did Fred and Adele Astaire star in the Mary Pickford silent movie, "Fanchon and the Cricket"?

No. It is, however, a common misconception as Fred and Adele were present as observers during the filming but did not participate.

In 1914, Fred and Adele took a summer vacation at Delaware Water Gap, a resort area in Pennsylvania. While Ann (Fred's mother), Adele and Fred were there, Mary Pickford arrived on location to film a short, "Fanchon and the Cricket." They visited the set to watch, but did not appear in the film. Fred's autobiography and his biographies agree on this- for example, the most thorough, Billman's "Bio-Bibliography", writes, "They observed filming as visitors, but insisted they did not appear in the film. They were, however, fascinated with their first up-close observation of the moviemakers who were friendly with all of the youngsters."

Besides, as copies of the short are not known to exist, it's pretty much a moot point.


2. What were the exact words of the review of Fred's original screen test, and who wrote them?

Can't act. Slightly bald. Also dances.

The words above have become part of folklore. Several versions of the infamous review have floated around. Some include "Can't sing." It's quite ridiculous to imagine that a reviewer would write "Can't sing" about a Broadway musical star who was introducing songs by the Gershwins, among others, and was feted on both sides of the Atlantic.

Even worse, some sources site the last phrase as "Can dance a little," which is even more ridiculous given that Fred was acclaimed at the time by audiences and critics alike as the greatest dancer on Broadway, and possibly the greatest non-ballet dancer in the world.

Fred himself confirmed the correct version in his infamous 20/20 interview with Barbara Walters, the same interview where he announced his impending marriage to the jockey. He was very firm about it, listening to Walter's version (which ended "Can dance a little") before correcting her.

In her 1988 autobiography, Debbie Reynolds identifies the author as one Burt Grady.


3.Did Fred and Ginger really hate each other?

It's a common misconception. Both of Fred and Ginger have denied emphatically over the years any rumour that they hated each other off screen. They were great friends, and were always happy to see each other when they ran into each other. Fred got asked that question many times in his interviews (For example, Dick Cavett 1970, Michael Parkinson 1975) and each time not only denied it with the practised, slightly-weary air of someone who had been asked that many times, but even joked about it.

In his autobiography, Steps in Time, Fred makes clear he got along with Ginger very well. So well, in fact, that he talks about the only fight they ever had. Chapter 19, "Feathers," deals with the argument over the infamous feather costume in Top Hat (She wears it in the 'Cheek to Cheek' number). The dress was made of thousands of Ostrich feathers, and when they danced the dress shed and sent feathers flying everywhere. Take after take was ruined because of it, but Ginger refused to wear a different dress (she had helped design this one, and was personally invested in it). Thus there was tension on the set until they finally got the number filmed. But as Fred makes clear, "We laughed about that episode for weeks afterward. It was sort of a running gag with Ginger and me. I used to call her feathers!" (210).

Elsewhere in his autobiography his tone toward her is one of an affectionate friend, even calling her by pet names. Similarly, in Ginger: My Story, Ginger says the same thing. Their only fight was over the costume. Otherwise they were terrific pals.

There were a few reasons behind the rumour. Fred and Ginger were such magic onscreen, producing such powerful emotions, that fans concluded that they either had to be in love or hate each other off screen. The second conclusion was reached because, firstly, Fred was reluctant to kiss Ginger onscreen. He had publicly stated that he didn't like to kiss his leading lady onscreen because he thought he didn't do love scenes well. Other people have said it's because his wife didn't want him to. Either way, Fred and Ginger didn't engage in a real kiss till the second-last movie of the series. Secondly, Fred and Ginger weren't often seen together off screen. They moved in different social circles. Also, quite understandably, they saw each other for up to 16 hours a day while filming and rehearsing, and so weren't in any rush to hang out together.


4. In "The Band Wagon," why do we frequently see references to a movie called "The Proud Land"?

This question was solved by a member of the Fred Astaire Mailing List, Mark "Mark" Wilson:

While watching "The Bad and the Beautiful" with Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell among others, I discovered something. Kirk Douglas plays a controversial producer who makes big budget pictures. He adapts a best selling book (written by Dick Powell) called "The Proud Land" into a movie. The power struggle etc leads to his downfall. Since "The Bad and the Beautiful" was released in 1952, it would have been fresh on the minds of viewers as "The Bandwagon" (1953) poked a little fun at it. Plus, "The Bad and the Beautiful" was directed by Vincente Minnelli who also directed The Bandwagon.

Plus, I suppose, it could have been a reference to a similar internal power struggle in "The Band Wagon" between the writers, the egomanic director, and the two leads.


5. When and where exactly were Fred and Phyllis married?

The when is well known. Fred and Phyllis were married July 12, 1933, by State Supreme Court Justice Selah B. Strong. Henry and Maude Bull, her aunt and uncle, were the witnesses, and Mr. Bull gave Phyllis away.

The where has been a little uncertain. According to Bob Thomas, it was in Justice Strong's chambers. However, according to both Billman and Freedland, it was in the court library. Given that Billman is extremely accurate and Thomas made a few small errors in his book (including the maiden name of Ann Astaire), I would be more inclined to trust Billman. I clincher, I think, is the Astaire's wedding photo. They are clearly standing in a library (Next to Phyllis is her uncle Henry Bull, and on the right is Justice Strong).

They spent July 13 on a one day honeymoon on a yacht, the Captiva, owned by Mrs. Payne Whitney, the mother of Fred's friend Jock. On July 14, the newly weds boarded a Ford tri-motor plane for California to begin Fred's new movie career. Typically, Fred worked right up to the end- on July 11, he was recording a version of "Night And Day" for the British label Columbia!


6. What are the lyrics to (insert song name here)?

A number of Fred's songs are hard to decipher. I've listed some of them on the lyrics page. If the song you're looking for isn't there, feel free to send a request and I'll try and track it down for you!


7.What is a "Babbitt" and a "Bromide"?

For this one I have to thank Chris Bamberger (also a member of the stellar Fred Astaire Mailing List):

Main Entry: Bab·bitt
Pronunciation: 'ba-b&t
Function: noun
Etymology: George F. Babbitt, character in the novel Babbitt (1922) by Sinclair Lewis
Date: 1923

1 : a business or professional man who conforms unthinkingly to prevailing middle-class standards

Main Entry: bro·mide
Pronunciation: 'brO-"mId
Function: noun
Date: 1836

1 : a binary compound of bromine with another element or a radical including some (as potassium bromide) used as sedatives

2 a : a commonplace or tiresome person : BORE
b : a commonplace or hackneyed statement or notion


8. Did Fred have a middle name?

It's been rumoured that Fred had a middle name, possibly starting with "E." Frederick E. Austerlitz?

Gary "Terror of eBay" Shupak of the Fred Astaire Mailing List writes:

Well, a quick look through some of the bios at hand turned up no middle name for Fred. I did see "E." as his father's middle initial.

The biography by Satchell states that the birth of Fred was not even registered and that no birth certificate was issued until 30 some years later at his mother's initiative. Not sure how accurate that account is.

I would surmise that there simply may never have been a middle name - if there had been I would think that it would have been a matter of public record by now.

If you're wondering about big sister Adele, her middle name was Marie.


9.I'm having problems obtaining something. Where can I do so?

Unfortunately some of Fred's movies are out of print, as well as many other things. If you've tried my Buy Fred pages with no luck, here's what you can do.

 
  • Movies/TV Shows: If you're in the USA and have cable, be patient. Almost all of Fred's movies are shown on Turner Classic Movies or American Movie Classics. You can always write in and request a show of his. Occasionally, other channels carry his shows, for example Fox. His television appearances may turn up on TVLand. Try this page for a list of his appearances on TV this month. To purchase, or if you're impatient, try Collector's Choice Video, which has a greater range, but at higher price. And there's always ebay. For PAL format, try Blackstar.

 
 
  • Music: If you've exhausted used CD and record stores, you can give Collector's Choice Music a shot, but chances are low. Otherwise, I can only suggest ebay.

10.Is there any footage of Fred and Adele dancing together?

Thus far there is but one short clip of Fred and Adele Astaire dancing with Marilyn Miller, in a rehearsal for "Smiles."

It can by found in the two-part documentary of Fred, "Fred Astaire: Puttin' On His Top Hat" and "Fred Astaire: Change Partners And Dance." It is narrated by Joanne Woodward, and both episodes are an hour long. It was shown on PBS on March 9 and 10, 1980, and was produced by the Educational Broadcast Corp. The sequence shows Fred, Adele and Marilyn dancing onstage (the camera was in the opposite wing, so we see them from the side), laughing at a joke about their bad form, and dancing off again. It originally was the end segment to a 20 minute short entitled, "Backstage on Broadway," which featured film of showgirls practicing on the roofs of New York and Gershwin rehearsing the chorus for his new show.

Special thanks to David Chertok and Astaire Mailing List member M.S. for discovering the clips and passing them on to the documentary makers!


11.How tall was Fred?

Fred's son-in-law wrote authoritatively that Fred was 5'9". Contemporary eyewitness reports all agree that Fred was between 5'8" and 5'9".

Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 November 2009 09:49