The Astaires: Fred & Adele

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Overview


Before "Fred and Ginger," there was "Fred and Adele," a show-business partnership and cultural sensation like no other. In our celebrity-saturated era, it's hard to comprehend what a genuine phenomenon these two siblings from Omaha were. At the height of their success in the mid-1920s, the Astaires seemed to define the Jazz Age. They were Gershwin's music in motion, a fascinating pair who wove spellbinding rhythms in song and dance.

In this book, the first comprehensive study ...

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Overview


Before "Fred and Ginger," there was "Fred and Adele," a show-business partnership and cultural sensation like no other. In our celebrity-saturated era, it's hard to comprehend what a genuine phenomenon these two siblings from Omaha were. At the height of their success in the mid-1920s, the Astaires seemed to define the Jazz Age. They were Gershwin's music in motion, a fascinating pair who wove spellbinding rhythms in song and dance.

In this book, the first comprehensive study of their theatrical career together, Kathleen Riley traces the Astaires' rise to fame from humble midwestern origins and early days as child performers on small-time vaudeville stages (where Fred, fatefully, first donned top hat and tails) to their 1917 debut on Broadway to star billings on both sides of the Atlantic. They became ambassadors of an art form they helped to revolutionize, adored by audiences, feted by royalty, and courted socially by elites everywhere they went. From the start, Adele was the more natural performer, spontaneous, funny, and self-possessed, while Fred had to hone his trademark timing and elegance through endless hours of rehearsal, a disciplined regimen that Adele loathed. Ultimately, Fred's dancing expertise surpassed his sister's, and their paths diverged: Adele married into British aristocracy, and Fred headed for Hollywood.

The Astaires examines in depth the extraordinary story of this great brother-sister team, with full attention to its historical and theatrical context. It is not merely an account of the first part of Fred's long and illustrious career but one with its own significance. Born at the close of the 1800s, Fred and Adele grew up together with the new century, and when they reached superstardom during the interwar years, they shone as an affirmation of life and hope amid a prevailing crisis of faith and identity.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this comprehensive coverage of Fred Astaire and his sister, Adele Astaire, Riley (Nigel Hawthorne On Stage) offers a splendiferous glimpse of gaiety, scintillating style, syncopated rhythms; and lost glamour, noting, “The story of the Astaires conjures up a vanished world.” Leaving their hometown of Omaha in 1905, the two began in vaudeville as child performers, receiving vocal and dance training in New York. While touring the country in 1908–1909, one manager said, “The girl seems to have talent, but the boy can do nothing.” By 1917, both were on Broadway in the patriotic Over the Top, and during the next 15 years they were showered with accolades as they performed in London and New York. The celebrated siblings split up after Adele married in 1932. Offering fascinating anecdotes and surprising details, Riley contrasts Fred’s perfectionism with Adele’s alluring impudence: critic Richard Watts found her “funny and bewitching.” Riley writes with zest and authoritative expertise, displaying a grace and elegance equal to her subjects. Her scholarly skills are showcased in this effervescent, spirited history, with a concluding “Chronologies,” an informative 18-page chart, printed sideways, that lists all Astaire shows with their musical numbers, production personnel, and theaters. 50 b&w halftones. (Mar. 1)
From the Publisher

"Kathleen Riley's book on Fred and Adele--the first full-scale study--is a welcome rehabilitation...The Astaires is a salute to an America at ease with itself and doing something wonderful in the song-and-dance line that seemed, for a time, like the hottest thing in the culture." -- The Wall Street Journal

"In her fascinating new book The Astaires, the Australian theater historian Kathleen Riley describes the exploits of this brother-sister team in glorious detail." -- The New York Times Book Review

"Riley writes with zest and authoritative expertise, displaying a grace and elegance equal to her subjects." -- Publishers Weekly

"A fascinating look at a movie icon and a revealing snapshot of theater history." -- Booklist

"The Astaires: Fred and Adele is a page-turner of a biography, briskly written and immaculately researched. Author Kathleen Riley has, among other things, been given access to audio recordings of Adele Astaire that allow her to tell her story with an authority uncommon in modern biographies. This is an excellent work, well worth reading." --The New York Journal of Books

"With this book, Kathleen Riley has given Adele her proper place in the life and legacy of her brother. Recreating a time when 'celebrity' meant talent, charisma and dedication with her evocative prose, this book is a 'must' for Astaire and musical theatre history fans."-- Larry Billman, author Fred Astaire: A Bio-Bibliography and Film Choreographers and Dance Directors

"We are so accustomed to thinking of 'Astaire' teamed up with 'Rogers' that we overlook Astaire's stage career with sister Adele. That story is told with elegance and authority in Kathleen Riley's enthralling, thoroughly researched The Astaires, a book that sheds further light on an important period in Fred Astaire's pre-screen career." -- Peter Evans, Emeritus Professor of Film Studies, Queen Mary, University of London

"Of the many books on Fred Astaire, this is the most unique. Focusing on Fred's amazing partnership with his sister, Adele, Kathleen Riley has produced a work of remarkable depth and nuanced detail."-- Ken Barnes, Writer and Producer

"Although I was extremely close to both my father and my aunt, in this informative book Kathleen Riley has captured the essence of their lovely spirits far better than I could."-- Ava Astaire McKenzie

Library Journal
Although Fred Astaire's dance partnership with Ginger Rogers has been written about in a number of books, this is the first full-length work on the brother-and-sister pairing that preceded it. Riley, a classics scholar and modern theater historian, staged the first international conference on the art and legacy of Fred Astaire at Oxford University in 2008. Her meticulous research is drawn mainly from primary sources. A number of historical photographs are included, as are chronologies of the stage shows and charity events in which the pair performed. As Riley notes in the preface, "The story of Fred and Adele Astaire is an extraordinary one and deserves to be told for its own sake and not merely as the prologue to Fred's more famous solo career." She takes us from the beginning of the 20th century to the early 1930s, and along the way we encounter Noël Coward, George and Ira Gershwin, Florenz Ziegfeld, Charles Dillingham, and other members of theatrical (and actual) royalty (Adele retired from show business and married a member of the British aristocracy). VERDICT A scholarly work that will appeal to dance and theater historians and devotees.—Carolyn M. Mulac, Chicago P.L.
Toni Bentley
…fascinating…Kathleen Riley describes the exploits of this brother-sister team in glorious detail. And it becomes clear that it was behind and beside, but never in front of, Adele that Fred learned not only how to dance, but how to present a woman, honor her and make her glow…Riley performs the great service of giving us the history before the history, of Fred and Adele, the biggest vaudeville and musical theater stars of their time. It's a love story rarely told, of that between a sister and her brother, one bonded in blood but cemented by hoofing. It's also the tale of one more relentlessly devoted stage mother, who joins Rose Thompson Hovick in that distinguished pantheon of ambitious bulldozers.
—The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199738410
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2012
  • Pages: 266
  • Sales rank: 986,796
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in Australia and educated at Sydney and Oxford Universities, Kathleen Riley is a classical scholar and modern theater historian. She is the author of Nigel Hawthorne on Stage and The Reception and Performance of Euripides' Herakles: Reasoning Madness. At Oxford in 2008 she convened the first international conference on the art and legacy of Fred Astaire.

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Table of Contents

List of illustrations
Foreword by John Mueller
Acknowledgements
Preface
Introduction: Moaning Minnie and Goodtime Charlie
Chapter 1: Opening the bill
Chapter 2: Over the top
Chapter 3: Dancing comedians
Chapter 4: Nightingales in Berkeley Square
Chapter 5: Fascinating rhythms
Chapter 6: The golden calf
Chapter 7: Frater, ave atque vale
Chapter 8: By myself
Chapter 9: After the dance
Chronologies:
1. (a) The shows
1. (b) Charity performances
2. Other notable events in theatre, 1917-1933
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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