Fred Astaire allows us to see through the effortless balletic exuberance.
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- 1st Perennial Library ed
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Steps in Time
As long as fifteen years ago I was very kindly asked to write my story. They wanted a sort of saga of the song-and-dance theatre. However, even back there in 1943 I said, "I can't do it. I can't remember a whole bookful."
Starting in again now, fifteen years later, of course there's a lot more to remember, including fourteen more movies. I've come to the conclusion that as far as this job is concerned 1 belong somewhere or other "in the rhythm section."
My status as an amateur writer is certainly taken for granted, and this can give one a complex.
When I find myself blocked by a sort of mental impasse, I seek out my friend Cameron Shipp for advice and guidance on the project. I ask: "How does that sound?" or "Can I say it like this?"
Mr. Shipp says, "No you can't," and I do it anyway.
Cam and I are not strangers to each other. Not at all.
Here's how it happened:
Through the years at various studios I would get an occasional call from the publicity department and someone would say, "Mr. Astaire, Cam Shipp called in. He wants to see you about an article for . .
To which I'd reply, "Oh, no! What? Again?"
Now we have a different deal: I'm to write the story. What a switch! And Cam says, "Oh, no! What?"
Anyway, I am indeed grateful to Cam for his aid and personal interest in this book.
Now, as far as career stories, biographies and things like that go, one is supposed to have had a fabulous life, a tale to tell. Well, maybe mine wasn't fabulous, but as I look back itcertainly was active. I never realized it so much until this writing job came along.
What about the present position of this career?
I'm not nearly finished. Or am I? I don't know.
I don't think anyone familiar with my work feels that I am, although the press makes a habit of blasting out my age every time they review a job of mine. It's sort of a newspaper gimmick these days to be age conscious.
Frankly, it amuses me to read it, but it also gives me a big fat headache. Oh, not really.
Worry? Yes, this I do, always, about my work.
"They went that way"—the years, I mean. I don't know what happened to them, they just went. I wasn't aware that this could happen, and I think no one can be unless he gets that sudden, jolting awakening, as I did.
People do not really think about the age of an actor unless they have been briefed by the press. There's the "He's-been-around-ever-since-I-can-remember" line. Then, "The fifty-something-year-old-Fred-who-doesn't-look-it" is of course a compliment, but it also acts as a theatrical kiss of death. One becomes a freak attraction.
What is this age bit that goes on about actors and athletes, anyway? You read it all the time, but no one ever hears a word about the balding racehorse trainer, the wrinkling magazine writer, or the graying hi-fl album executive!
The truth about me is, however, that for some years I've been looking for the quitting signal. Seeing themselves on the screen is usually a chore for most performers. In my case, it's frightening because I've always thought that I looked rather peculiar.
I've had my eye out for the time when the years would simply show too much, even if they photographed me through three lace curtains.
Right now, all I can detect in the way of a menacing change is an occasional close-up which reveals an unusual number of creases under the chin. This happens when I hold my head down a bit.
I am fifty-eight as I write these lines. What I'll be when the book comes out I don't know. In this assault on basic English, Mr. Shipp claims that I am aging him the way you antique furniture, at the rate of several years per week.
But it's nice to hear, "How does the old boy do it ... why isn't he falling apart?" And all that jazz.
These things sound odd to me because I don't feel any different. In fact, I feel a lot better than when I was belting around at eighteen.
A teen-ager, no less! Oh sure, and working in the New York Winter Garden in The Passing Show of 1918. And I teened my way through many professional years before that, too.
Of course, those were "the good old days"—we must say that. But these are better. To me, these are the good old days, theatrically speaking.
In trying to think of a title for this book. I ran into difficulties, of course. Titles are not always easy to find. But I thought up a few, my dear Cam.
How about: A Hoofer Sounds Off ?—Too Many Words—Hooray for Bookrnakers?—No?
All right, I'll get one.
I considered some of those nifty concoctions you dream up sometimes, such as the one you tagged on a magazine story aboutGinger Rogers and me a few years back: How to Dance Like Four Antelopes. Liked that one.
I snaffled my son, Fred, Jr., and asked him if he had any suggestions.
"I've got it," he said, "Gone With the Dance." Fred was in the service at the time, home on leave for the day.
My daughter, Ava, who is sixteen, called from the next room: "I know! Call it With No Hair on My Head."
I was caught in a vise.
"Oh, very pretty, Ava," I said. "Except that it's untrue. I have lots and lots of hairs on my head. It just so happens that on top it's the kind of rare hair you don't see too well unless you make a very close inspection."
"Of course, Daddy," came the faint reply.Steps in Time
An Autobiography. Copyright � by Fred Astaire. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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