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ADELE AND FRED.



BEFORE GINGER THERE WAS ADELE.

The partnership that made Fred Astaire famous isn't well known (some have not even heard of his sister), at least not to the extent as that of his other partnerships, or even his solo career. Though still an important part in the rise of his stardom and iconic, untouchable status even now. She was a star in her own right, the other Astaire, and at one point, the more famous Astaire. 

VAUDEVILLE

Adele Astaire is the oldest of the two, born on September 10th, 1896, in Omaha, Nebraska, to parents Johanna and Frederic Austerlitz. Fred would be born three years later. After showing a natural talent in dance, her parents enrolled her in a local dance school. And as a somewhat frail child, the Astair parents enrolled her little brother as well, hoping he would build strength through all the training. He too would go on to show a natural talent for the art of dance. A teacher was the one who planted the idea of a stage career for the two dancing siblings, when Adele was eight and Fred was five. "With the proper training", she said. After hearing this, the Astaire clan moved from Omaha to New York, the stage show capitol. Their father moved back to Omaha for work and the mother and her two children lived in a boarding house, while the children began attending the Alvin Master School of the Theater and Academy of Cultural Arts. It was around this time that the sibling pair adopted the more American-sounding surname, Astaire, their mother would also adopt the new name. 


1906

Come 1905, Adele begins a professional vaudeville act with her brother. It should also be noted, that at this point in time, Adele is looked at as the better dancer, the true talent above all else. A dance instructor, Claude Alvienne helps create a routine for the two, one that involves two large set pieces in the form of wedding cakes. Fred is dressed like a small groom and Adele a bride. As the two dance around the cakes lights are activated around their feet. A simple waltz that started on and off again performances, which stopped as the two attended normal school in New Jersey, for about two years.

After the two years of schooling, the pair returned to vaudeville in 1911. The pair struggled to find work for the following couple of years. Agents simply did not want to represent the unknown pair. After their father introduced his children to an experienced dance instructor, Aurelio Coccia, work came faster and more frequent for the pair, after he taught the two new dances and a more mature routine. This small success was halted when the White Rats of America, a union of vaudeville performers, staged a workers' strike, which tore the relationships between vaudeville managers and their performers. Once the strike ended the pair found themselves in a successful season of shows.

As the pair grew older, the different and somewhat contrasting personalities began to show through. Adele was known for her raw frankness and her swearing. While Fred was the quiet, hardworking perfectionist. One who was nervous at all times, about routines and details. His nickname, given by his sister, was "Moaning Minnie," for his worrying nature. 

At the tender age of fifteen, Fred took over the business side of the pair, setting contracts with producers, songwriters, and managers. He would look through 'Tin-Pan Alley' for song material. This is where Fred met and became best friends with George Gershwin, the two would spend off-hours perfecting each act while Adele was off dating rich and good-looking men. During these off-hours, The Astaire's act came into being and so on, would be just the right thing that the Roaring Twenties needed. 

BROADWAY

In 1917, Fred purchases a full-page advertisement on the back cover of VARIETY. Soon after, the siblings land a part in their first Broadway show, Lee Shubert's OVER THE TOP. Adele was twenty-one and Fred was eighteen. The show opened on November 28th, 1917, the pair received $250 a week for their assigned dance numbers and the odd comedy skit. 

"ONE OF THE PRETTIEST FEATURES OF THE SHOW." - A critic from THE NEW YORK GLOBE said of the pair during the production, which ran for seventy-eight performances. 

In 1918 the pair performed in THE PASSING SHOW OF 1918, which ran for 125 performances. Adele was given a solo at the opening of it, in which she sang, "I REALLY CAN'T MAKE MY FEET BEHAVE." 

"LIKE FRED AND ADELE, WE'RE FLOATING ON AIR NOW!"

The following year, the Astaires appeared in the operetta APPLE BLOSSOMS, which marked the first collaboration with Charles Dillingham. That show was more successful than the previous one, running 256 performances. Their weekly salary was $550 but rose to $750 when the show began its post-Broadway tour from September of 1920 to April of 1921. At this point, the sibling dance duo had grown a small following, with reporters at every side door. Adele found it easy to speak to them, whilst Fred struggled with offstage shyness. 

The pair grew their following and garnered appreciation from all audiences, even though their next show THE LOVE LETTER was a commercial flop. During these shows, the pair introduced what would become one of their signature exit moves, the Runaround. Standing shoulder to shoulder at the end of a dance number, the two would put their arms out as if holding handlebars of a bicycle, then ran around the stage together in ever-growing circles whilst the orchestra played "a series of ommphas", then the pair would disappear into the wings. Audiences adored it. Fred said that his sister's comedic timing made it perfect. And though the show was a flop another good thing came from it. An English playwright, Noel Coward was dazzled by the pair and met them backstage, urging them to consider taking their performances to London. 


1923

Speaking roles came in 1922. The musical was FOR GOODNESS SAKE, playing best friends of the lead characters. A couple things came from this show, positive reviews, growing more popular with audiences and critics, and Fred began taking more of a lead in the choreographing of their routines. Which sparked the perfectionist role he endured. The siblings received star billing in the short-lived THE BUNCH AND JUDY, in which the weekly salary was then $1000.

"THE MOST GRACEFUL AND CHARMING YOUNG DANCERS IN THE WORLD OF MUSICAL COMEDY." Said that of drama critic Heywood Broun. 

The rise of their fame was one for the books. Adele became known for her comedic timing and "adorably squeaky" soprano voice, as she often ad-libbed onstage. She was delightful, full of spark and high-spirits. Fred as well, developed his own style, the nonchalance of his dancing. The dancing between them improved with each show, with detailed and complex steps that looked quick and full of grace, as if walking on air. Critics called it a "whirlwind". 

The two took the idea once given to them about performing overseas and agreed to take FOR A GOODNESS SAKE, which was renamed STOP FLIRTING, to the West End in London. The show opened on May 30th, 1923 and received a standing ovation. It would go on to run for another 417 performances. The show moved to the Queen's Theater, with the Prince of Wales seeing it ten times. The pair were celebrated and then the news broke that their father had passed from cancer. 

The two returned to New York in late 1924 to star in LADY, BE GOOD!, which was a huge hit for both critics and audience. The siblings earned $1750 per week. One critic, in particular, hailed Adele's performance, calling her the most charming and entertaining musical actress seen "in many a moon." In the spring of 1926, Adele and her brother took LADY, BE GOOD! to London, opening at the Empire Theatre to an enthusiastic reception. 


1927

Come 1927 the two were in New York once again, for their new musical FUNNY FACE. Another hit for the brother and sister duo. Right after the show opened, the two arranged for a film screen test with Paramount Pictures. The studio wanted to feature the pair in a film version of the play, but the perfectionist siblings didn't like the screen test results and the project never went forward. On the Broadway stage, FUNNY FACE ran for 250 performances, closing only due to a summer heatwave in 1928 that made theaters too hot for audiences and performers. Another problem arose that summer. Adele was injured in an accident, when a motorboat engine exploded, scalding her upper body with burning oil. And though her career was stalled for a few months, she made a full recovery. 


The Astraires moved the show to London, which deemed it, "ANOTHER OUTBREAK OF 'ASTAIRIA". The two dancing siblings had the same star-power as that of Elvis or the Beatles. On the night of their final performance in London, Adele was introduced to Lord Charles Cavendish, the second son of the 9th Duke of Devonshire. The pair sparked a romance, spending time in Paris before she returned to America with her brother. The two met again when Cavendish moved to New York and took up a position with J.P. Morgan & Co. 

The next show SMILES was a flop. But the two had another hit with the next show, THE BAND WAGON. Which opened on June 3rd, 1931 and ran for 260 performances. Critics found it modern and creative, with sets and writing. This would be the last time the two danced together on stage. 

RETIREMENT

On March 5th, 1932, after the last show in THE BAND WAGON, Adele retired from the stage. After she and Cavendish had been courting for some time, she proposed marriage to him and he accepted. She hated the travel and the constant rehearsals required for a full-time performer and had been thinking of retirement for some time. Theater life to her was never a full-time priority, unlike Fred, who lived and breathed dance. 

"HEAVEN DOESN'T SEND EVERY GENERATION AN ADELE ASTAIRE." - American drama critic Ashton Stevens declared after her departure, deeming it a sad occasion. 

ADELE AFTER FRED


1939

LORD AND LADY CHARLES CAVENDISH 

After a farewell party, Adele and her mother boarded the RMS Majestic and sailed off for London. Leaving Fred in America to continue his career. After becoming wed to Lord Charles Cavendish she was titled "Lady Charles," and the couple moved to Country Waterford in Ireland. Back in America, just as Fred was about to go on ad do the first performance in his new show THE GAY DIVORCEE, he received a telegram from his sister which read: "Now Minnie, don't forget to moan." 

In 1933 she gave birth to a daughter, who did not survive. Then two years later, she gave birth to stillborn twin sons. She turned down two screen roles, as she dealt with periods of depression and her husband's ongoing battle with alcoholism. In 1939, aged forty-two suffered a miscarriage in her third and final pregnancy. 

During the war, she searched for ways to contribute to the wartime effort. She worked at the American Red Cross, wrote letters home for soldiers, worked at the information desk and even danced with soldiers. Doing all these tasks helped her keep her mind off personal problems at home. 

In March of 1944, her husband died as a result of long-term alcohol poisoning, he was thirty-eight. Adele received compassionate leave to attend his funeral at St. Carthage's, where Charles was buried near his children. Soon after his death, she turned down another offer, this one for the stage, in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, by Irving Berlin. 

She would go on to re-marry, this time to an old friend from the war, Kingman Douglass, in April of 1947. She gained three stepsons from this marriage. She seemed to enjoy a new sense of newfound freedom, traveling and entertaining at her Jamaica home. 


1959

ADELE AND FRED

Adele remained retired from stage life. In 1953, authors P. G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, both fans of Adele, wrote a teasing epilogue for her and her brother Fred, who had successfully transitioned to film work after his Broadway career. "Adele closed her career with a triumphant performance in THE BAND WAGON ... She then married the Duke of Devonshire's second son and retired to Lismore Castle, leaving a gap that can never be filled. Fred struggled on without her for a while, but finally threw his hand in and disappeared. There is a rumour that he turned up in Hollywood. It was the best the poor chap could hope for after losing his brilliant sister."

In 1971, she lost her second and final husband due to a brain hemorrhage. After his death, she moved to Pheonix, Arizona. Adele was known for her robust health, going regularly jogging every morning well into her late seventies, and according to her family, she was quick to overcome colds, soon getting back on her feet. She remained close with her brother, exchanging constant letters, packages and long-distance phone calls, chatting together about favorite soap operas. And in November of 1972, the once danging duo were both inducted into the newly-created American Theater Hall of Fame. 

Adele passed on January 25th, 1981. She was eighty-four. Some of her ashes were scattered in Ireland, by Lismore Castle and the graves of her children and first husband, while the rest were buried near her mother's grave in Chatsworth, California.

"Damn it, it’s all so difficult and unfair, Delly, and I don’t want to lose this girl. If she gets away for a long time anything can happen. All the girls that I’ve liked in the past have gone off and married–one can’t expect them to wait forever–not that I want any of those in the past, ‘cause I never asked any girl to marry me until this one, and I mean it.
I think it’s unfair to take so much of her time and stall along with no definite plans–after all, I’ve asked her and she has accepted and now there is no use in being miserable. She’s just what I want and that’s that." – A letter from Fred Astaire to his sister Adele, written in 1933, expressing his frustration over his mother’s disapproval of his soon-to-be wife Phyllis.

AND WE ALL KNOW WHERE FRED WENT.


R.