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.
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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.Review:
"Epstein writes like an insider chatting over mai tais at the Brown Derby."—Patricia Volk, O, the Oprah Magazine (Patricia Volk O, the Oprah Magazine 2008-11-01)
"It's a joy to read Epstein on virtually any subject upon which he decides to write, but Epstein on Astaire is especially magical."—Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune (Julia Keller Chicago Tribune 2008-10-18)
"[Epstein] defines his subject with remarkable eloquence and precision. . . . The author becomes the Astaire of biography. As his book indicates, there can be no higher praise."—Stefan Kanfer, City Journal (Stefan Kanfer City Journal 2008-10-31)
"Deeply personal. . . . Insightful and elegantly written."—Glen C. Altschuler, Boston Globe (Glen C. Altschuler Boston Globe 2008-11-02)
"A delightful little volume to press into the hands of kids who want a concise introduction to Astaire—or old-timers who already revere him."—Tom Beer, Newsday (Tom Beer Newsday 2008-11-02)
“[Astaire’s] gift was to lift people’s spirits from their drab circumstances in a realm that was entirely magical . . . Joseph Epstein, with erudition, wit and panache, sets out to explore the magic and how it was achieved.” — Francis Phillips, Catholic Herald
(Francis Phillips Catholic Herald 2009-03-20)
"Nicely paced, almost scientifically analytical in explaining why Astaire became a legend while others merely became movie stars, and filled with illuminating asides and unexpected wisecracks. . . . My top hat's off to this guy."—Joe Queenan, Toronto Globe & Mail (Joe Queenan Toronto Globe & Mail 2009-04-30)
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