Fred Astaire — Ten Lives — All Secret! (1936) 🇺🇸
Fred Astaire has been reading others’ views of his ‘”secret” life and decides to set forth a few ideas of his own on the subject. Read and you'll know him as weII off as you do on-screen, and like him better.
by Jerry Asher,
“What — another secret life!” exclaimed Fred Astaire humorously. The time was Thursday evening, (my weekly dinner date with the Astaires). The place, their lovely new Englishtype home, overlooking Hollywood from a hilltop and the first that Fred has ever had time to build and settle down to live in. I had just handed him a new magazine that contained the “innermost facts” and the “hidden secrets” in the life of public dancer number one. Fred prefers not reading about himself. But this particular story was so amazingly amusing, I just couldn’t resist showing him the article.
“Now let’s see — how many private lives does that give me?” Fred mused. “Oh yes, that makes ten in all. Not so bad for one guy, I would say. Well, even if I didn’t give any of them out, at least the other nine variations had some vestige of truth. But this one sure tops them all. (And Mister Astaire knows his tops.) This one is so private it’s all news to me. The facts and circumstances are strangely unfamiliar and definitely quite unknown. I’m certainly glad to learn all these things about myself. Just think what I’ve been missing — or who knows? Maybe I’m twins and don’t know it.”
We sat talking across the dinner table. Fred, who had just come in from the studio, was comfortably attired in a white polo shirt and flannels. (Formal Hollywood please note.) He had just completed his most difficult dance number in his new picture — and had done it all in one “take.” Yes, he was in a gay mood. Fred is always happy when his work is going well. But it’s seldom that it ever pleases him. This was a gala occasion indeed.
I’ve known the Astaires ever since Fred’s “Dancing Lady” days and it’s been a most delightful friendship.
Every week I’ve had dinner at their home or we’ve dined out and gone to a preview. Last summer I spent a few days with them at Palm Springs. Many’s the Saturday night I’ve called for them and we’ve gone out together to Joan Crawford’s dinner parties. I’ve even gone with Fred to the dentist — which I strongly suggest as a guaranteed way of getting acquainted with a movie star under the most drilling conditions.
This is all being prefaced, because it just suddenly dawned upon me that I’ve never attempted to do a story on the “private life of Fred Astaire.” (I’m the one who didn’t — remember?) To be honest with you, it never occurred to me that he had one. During the four years we’ve been friends, I’ve always been conscious of his great desire to remain as inconspicuous as possible — except in his work. Whenever I have Astaire assignments to do, having respect for Fred as a friend and regard for him as an artist, I always get twice as upset as he does. (Ye Ed, please note.) Maybe I’ve been all wrong — what — again? But I’d really like to know. Does Fred Astaire have a private life?
When the Astaires were building their new home, one evening at sunset we drove up to see how the work was progressing. As we started walking through the partially completed house, loud voices drifted down from the second floor. Then down the stairs marched a group of fans, burdened down with shingles and old hunks of wood, to be kept as souvenirs. They took one look at Fred and screamed for autographs. So Fred signed his name on everything, including a brick. But don’t think for a moment the fans were satisfied. They insisted on remaining. Fred, who is much too nice for his own good, wouldn’t think of asking them to leave. In his own home, he was practically taken on a personally conducted tour, by people he had never seen before in all his life.
Another time when we drove up to see the house, a second machine filled with people arrived at the same time. Naturally Fred thought they were more fans walking away with the foundation. Just then the driver called out to Fred and addressed him by his first name. Not knowing what or whom to expect, Fred breathed a sigh of relief when the man came closer and it turned out to be John Boles. The lot upon which Fred’s house stands was originally owned by Boles. He was just calling on his former property, to see how it looked all dressed up with a house.
Before Fred had even broken ground for the new home, a local paper ran the story that he was planning to build. That evening I met Fred at the studio, as he had invited me to dine and attend the skating exhibition of Sonja Henie at the Polar Palace. As we drove up to the house he was living in then, Fred couldn’t find a place to park. The street was lined with cars and his front yard looked like a convention. As we came up the walk, the men formed a circle around us. They represented contracting firms, architects’ offices, landscape gardeners, plumbing establishments, frigidaire sales-men, brick layers, house painters and interior decorators. Fred, who was fresh from eight hours of hoofing, stopped and talked to every one. By the time we got in the house, there was barely enough time for a cup of soup and we were off to the ice rink.
Besides myself, the Astaires had also invited Hermes Pan, who is Fred’s dancing assistant. While they look nothing alike, Fred and Pan have similar coloring and are about the same size. No sooner were we seated in our box, than the fans and cameramen started charging. Fred, who is a past master on skates himself, was especially anxious to see the show. Instinctively he slumped in his seat, mostly because it upsets him to be made the center of attraction, when he is out some place trying to enjoy himself.
Fred was wearing a plain tweed suit and a soft turned-down hat. Dark glasses shaded his eyes, to rest them after the piercing glare of the studio lights. Pan was wearing a new Palm Beach suit and was all dressed up the way people expect a movie star to look. For a moment the fans surveyed our box. (They knew darn well it wasn’t Astaire.) Then they decided that of the two, Pan looked the most like a movie star.
While Fred sat and calmly watched the show, Pan signed book after book. Finally, the publicity man of the place came up and asked if he would pose for a picture and say a few words over the loud speaker. This time Fred was on his own. Any other actor might have been terribly annoyed at not being recognized. Fred was delighted and not a bit disappointed. It was one of the few times since he’d been in Hollywood that he could attend a show and actually get to see it.
Please don’t get me wrong, that Fred does not appreciate the great public enthusiasm for his work. Quite to the contrary, he is more grateful than he can say. But I’m just trying to find out about this private life business. Fred feels the best way to show his appreciation is to give the very best of his talents. That’s why at the present time, besides acting and creating all the dances for his new picture, he is also composing songs, and making phonograph records. What little time there is left of himself, I’m sure Fred feels he is entitled to have. But that’s why his home life is so sacred to him and is his one refuge from the professional world that claims so much of his time.
When he is out in public, Fred objects to being photographed. It isn’t because he dislikes having his picture taken. It’s just that he gets self-conscious having people stare at him. On his last trip to New York, the train made its customary stop at the Kansas City station. Fred decided to get out and stretch his legs. Over in a corner stood one of those automatic camera booths, that give out eight poses for a dime. Fred looked around to see if anyone was watching. Thinking himself quite alone, he went into the booth and drew the curtains.
Picture, if you can, the debonair Fred Astaire, who poses for thousands of studio photographs yearly, doing his stuff in a lone booth in a Kansas City railroad station! Actually, he was doing it for a gag and having the time of his life. When the pictures were finished, Fred drew back the curtains and stepped out. Two hundred people, who stood waiting, broke into loud applause. A waitress at a counter had recognized Fred and spread the good word around. For the balance of the stop-over, Fred autographed menus, soda fountain checks, and anything they could lay their hands on.
Before Fred was acquainted in Hollywood, he had to go to the dentist. His work wasn’t serious, so he went to a man in the neighborhood. When the dentist took one look at his famous patient, a strange look came over his face. Fred asked him to speed up the job, because rehearsals were waiting at the studio. In the middle of his work, the man suddenly stopped.
“I’ve always wanted to be a famous dancer,” said the dentist. (Fred forced a sickly smile.) “I make up difficult steps, you know. Now what do you think of this one?” With that the man began dancing in circles around Fred’s chair, at the same time waving his instruments in mid-air. There was nothing for Fred to do but sit back and try to look impressed.
A similar tiling happened when Fred went to his first Hollywood barber shop. Just as he was settling himself comfortably in the chair, the man next to him showed signs of recognition. Immediately he went into a lengthy discourse on his dear, sweet, little Betty Lou, who really was a great undiscovered child prodigy.
Fred listened politely and assured the doting parent that he was sure his little girl would grow up to be a great pride and joy to the family. But he wasn’t to get out of it so easily. The man insisted that he take photographs of Betty Lou, (who was minus several important teeth), and insisted that Fred arrange for the child to have an audition. Needless to say, little Betty Lou didn’t become an Astaire discovery. Now Fred goes to the studio barber shop, where he can get a haircut — and like it.
Astaire is always a bit scared by the attention he attracts in public, but he’s always good-humored, as he was even when crowds invaded his new home, shown at right, before it was completed, in search of souvenirs and remained to get autographs.
Fred steps out! Here’s Astaire as you’ll be seeing him in his new picture, and very much as he is off-screen — a natural, smiling, courteous chap with a polite word and friendly bow for ail who greet him. He’s genuine!
Fred and his wife shy away from the spotlight. At left you see them in one of the few snapshots made of them, this one taken at a costume party. Above, Ginger Rogers and Astaire in the new film, “Swing Time.”
Source: Screenland Magazine, September 1936
Source: Stars and Films of 1937