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 the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Commentary, Town and Country, and other magazines.