Since my retirement in 2013 and substantial renovations to the basement of our home, I have been researching and writing a book on the life of Fred Astaire in New York City to be called Young Man of Manhattan. In the book, I will be exploring how Astaire and the city changed from 1905, when the five-year-old Fred came to the city by train with his mother and sister, until 1933, when he and his wife went to Hollywood by airplane to begin his film career. In the years between, Astaire learned how to dance, toured vaudeville in a juvenile act with his sister, grew into prominent jazz dancers, and eventually big-time Broadway stars. At the same time, New York was transforming itself with new transportation technologies (subways and Hudson River tunnels), new skyscrapers, new publications (Variety and The New Yorker), and new music (ragtime, jazz).
Among the things I’m exploring are the many different actors, musicians and others with whom Astaire worked in New York: there were literally thousands of people he performed with in vaudeville and on Broadway before he began his third career in the movies.
As a sort of holiday sidebar to my Young Man of Manhattan research and writing, if I see an Astaire connection in any of the films on our Christmas watch-list, I will point them out. Fred himself appears in only one of the films, the classic Holiday Inn (1942), but many of the character actors I will be highlighting appeared with Astaire on Broadway or in vaudeville and still others appeared in the 31 films he made.
After the holidays, I will continue to post my progress on the Astaire book.
Earlier this year The Passing Show, the newsletter of the Shubert Archives, published my article “Steps in Shubert Time: Fred Astaire in the Archives.”