All Columns in Alphabetical Order

Monday, June 7, 2010

READ THIS: Fred Astaire by Joseph Epstein

The Yale University Press publishes top-notch material, and Fred Astaire by Joseph Epstein is no exception.   You may be accustomed to only seeing Astaire dance, but let us assure you there is much more to the man and his elusive story, which is not known by many it seems.  Much more than just a dandy, Astaire was a charming personality that moved like none other.

As we are fans of Audrey Hepburn, we will quote her as Epstein does: "'Was he good looking?"asked Audrey Hepburn who danced with Fred Astaire in the movie Funny Face, and then answered her own question: 'I think so, because charm is the best-looking thing in the world, isn't it?"

Epstein says: "Charm is a present men and women bestow upon one another...Charm has to do with pleasing, light-handedly, sometimes to the point of fascination...Charm is a performance of a kind; it is virtuousity of the personality.  Charm is confident, never strained, always at ease in the world.  Charm is not pushing; it has a fine sense of proportion and measure, never goes too far, never stays too long...American charm, at least on exhibit in the movies, was best portrayed by Fred Astaire."

We love charming people, and would have loved to have met Astaire but this book is the best we can do!  As many who are blessed with extraordinary talent, dedication and discipline, Astaire had few peers when all is said and done and he removed any stigma from dance.  We wish more men today would dedicate themselves to the art of dance!    Choreographic feelings and skills from the football field translate to the dance floor, as Gene Kelly eluded to.  

Astaire was more than talent on the dance floor, and Astaire was more than a charming personality.   He was a total presence of style.  As Epstein says accurately:
"Style, true style, always outlasts fashion, because style is finer, richer, deeper than fashion.  Fashion is by its nature ephemeral; style, if it is genuine, pleases at all times.  Fashion goes out of style, yet style never goes out of fashion."  Astaire, a true original, will never be forgotten and will forever be in a class by himself.

Of course, we highly recommend Fred Astaire by Joseph Epstein!  Enjoy it with a glass of champagne, or two!


Joseph Epstein’s Fred Astaire investigates the great dancer’s magical talent, taking up the story of his life, his personality, his work habits, his modest pretensions, and above all his accomplishments. Written with the wit and grace the subject deserves, Fred Astaire provides a remarkable portrait of this extraordinary artist and how he came to embody for Americans a fantasy of easy elegance and, paradoxically, of democratic aristocracy.

Tracing Astaire’s life from his birth in Omaha to his death in his late eighties in Hollywood, the book discusses his early days with his talented and outspoken sister Adele, his gifts as a singer (Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Jerome Kern all delighted in composing for Astaire), and his many movie dance partners, among them Cyd Charisse, Rita Hayworth, Eleanor Powell, and Betty Hutton. A key chapter of the book is devoted to Astaire’s somewhat unwilling partnership with Ginger Rogers, the woman with whom he danced most dazzlingly. What emerges from these pages is a fascinating view of an American era, seen through the accomplishments of Fred Astaire, an unassuming but uncompromising performer who transformed entertainment into art and gave America a new yet enduring standard for style.

Joseph Epstein is the author of, among other books,Snobbery, Friendship, and Fabulous Small Jews. He has been editor of American Scholar and has written for theNew Yorker, the Atlantic, Commentary, Town and Country, and other magazines.

Back to TOP