A Tap Dancer Named Fred: Astaire Survived His Infamous Screen Test: "Can't Act. Can't Sing. Balding. Can Dance a Little."

By Barnes, Clive | Dance Magazine, May 2008 | Go to article overview

A Tap Dancer Named Fred: Astaire Survived His Infamous Screen Test: "Can't Act. Can't Sing. Balding. Can Dance a Little."


Barnes, Clive, Dance Magazine


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The name Austerlitz sounds more like a Napoleonic battle than a name fit for a great dancer. As a matter of fact, in 1805 it was a Napoleonic battle! But dancer Fred Austerlitz was born in Omaha some 94 years later, on May 10, 1899. The family moved to New York in 1904, and when he and his sister, Adele (a year older), both with relatively little formal training, were started on a boy-and-girl vaudeville act in 1906, someone had the sense to change their name to Astaire. The two of them made their Broadway debut in 1917 with the musical comedy Over the Top, but had their first big success a year later with The Passing Show of 1918.

It was during the 1920s and '30s that they placed an indelible mark both on Broadway and London's West End. Such shows as George and Ira Gershwin's Lady, Be Good/(1924), another Gershwin musical Funny Face (1927), Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz's revue The Band Wagon (1931), and then, after Adele's marriage into English society and her subsequent retirement, Fred's first show without her, Cole Porter's musical The Gay Divorce in 1932.

Despite the show's modest success (it did include "Night and Day" among its numbers), things soon started to look down for Fred. He was like a Laurel without a Hardy, as one unkind Broadway wit put it. There was an unpleasant truth in this: Unlike his later rival, the 13-years-younger Gene Kelly, Astaire was never really comfortable as a solo act.

After the advent of the talkies in 1927, Hollywood became fair game for musicals. But the first throw of the movie dice was definitely loaded against Astaire. It was the celebrated screen test that year, probably the most infamous of all time, for a movie of Funny Face that resulted in Adele being dismissed as "lively," and the unforgettable verdict on Fred: "Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little." Fortunately, our Fred could dance rather more than "a little."

Still, with Adele retired, now forced to go solo (his temporary partner in The Gay Divorce was Claire Luce, an actress who really couldn't sing or dance!), Astaire trekked westward to Hollywood. In 1933 he picked up a small part in a Joan Crawford backstage movie in which he--clad, of course, in top hat, white tie, and tails--played himself in a couple of numbers. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Tap Dancer Named Fred: Astaire Survived His Infamous Screen Test: "Can't Act. Can't Sing. Balding. Can Dance a Little."
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.