You’ll get a kick out of the studio’s evaluation of Fred Astaire’s initial screen test. It’s purported to have read: “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Balding. Can dance a little.” Yeah, just a little. No less a talent than Gene Kelly said, “The history of dance on film begins with Astaire.”
Fred experienced great success on Broadway in such successes as the Gershwins’ Funny Face and Cole Porter’s Gay Divorce (renamed The Gay Divorcee for film). But the world of movies and Hollywood beckoned, and he went west and appeared in his first film in 1933. He first danced with Ginger Rogers in that year’s Flying Down to Rio, and he went on to partner with her in nine more pictures.
It’s generally agreed that while Rogers wasn’t the most talented dancer of Fred’s partners, she just looked right with him. She seemed to be having the time of her life. Others he danced with, with varying degrees of success, include Eleanor Powell, Paulette Goddard, Rita Hayworth, Cyd Charisse, and Leslie Caron. One of his highest compliments was payed to Charisse. “When you dance with her,” he said, “you stay danced.”
At least two of his routines are film classics. And, though we remember Astaire most for his partner dances, these were both solos. The first is “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” from the film Blue Skies. Here, he wears his signature top hat and tails, and parodies his upcoming retirement in what was then known as “Fred Astaire’s last dance.” (He unretired two years later.) The other is his dancing on the ceiling number from Royal Wedding. Everyone loves it, so here it is for your enjoyment: