Hermes Pan, the Man Who Danced with Fred Astaire

By Levine, Debra | Dance Magazine, December 2012 | Go to article overview

Hermes Pan, the Man Who Danced with Fred Astaire


Levine, Debra, Dance Magazine


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Hermes Pan, The Man Who Danced with Fred Astaire By John C. Franceschina. Oxford University Press. 2012. 306 pages. Illustrated. $35.

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Growing up in Memphis as the son of Greek immigrants, Hermes Pan (1909-1990) copped dance steps from the family's African-American household help. Fast-forward to the Depression, when the self-taught Hollywood choreographer's black-and-white dance fantasies for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers offered Americans escape. The versatile dance director whose career encompassed nearly 100 films is the subject of Hermes Pan, The Man Who Danced with Fred Astaire.

Pan got his start at 14 in New York. A dance-crazed kid, he performed in amateur theatricals and speakeasies. Leaping to Los Angeles by 1930, he assisted on Flying Down to Rio (1933) and Astaire took a liking to him. Pan became the star's most enduring creative partner and his lifelong friend.

Franceschina, a former Penn State theater professor, translates Pan's enormous IMDB vitae, often ploddingly, into prose, touring through the creation of numbers like "The Piccolino" and "Cheek to Cheek," from Top Hat (1935); "Bojangles of Harlem," from Swingtime (1936); "Fun House," from A Damsel in Distress (it garnered Pan an Academy Award for Dance Direction in 1937); and "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," on roller skates, from Shall We Dance (1937). …

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