I recently came across a beautiful tribute to the great Fred Astaire, in the form of a small coffee-table sized hardcover book entitled Fred Astaire: His Friends Talk. I felt lucky to find a copy of this book at such a reasonable price, as it appears to be out of print. However, if you can get your hands on a copy of this treasure (the debut book from Sarah Giles, previous editor-at-large for Vanity Fair), you will find the most loving tribute I have ever seen in print for Mr. A.
The primary feature of the book is the interviews Giles conducted around the world with Astaire's friends and colleagues, including leading ladies Cyd Charisse, Leslie Caron, and Audrey Hepburn, choreographer and kindred spirit Hermes Pan, director Stanley Donen, actress/singer/friend Liza Minnelli, daughter Ava Astaire McKenzie, and many more. Giles includes interview excerpts word-for-word, and as a result, we feel like we're getting a true and well-rounded portrait of the legendary star.
Adorned with a healthy amount of photos (many that I had never seen before, and from all eras of his life), and divided into themed chapters ("The Artist," "The Astaire Women," "His Private World," and "Finale,"), the book is a well-organized and lovingly presented tribute to a legend. I'm surprised the book has never gotten a re-release.
Highlight anecdotes of the book include Leslie Caron saying that in the rehearsal hall in movie pre-productions, even during a break, Astaire would constantly keep dancing. Caron recalls going out for a breath of fresh air and coming back to Astaire dancing with a coat rack. I guess he didn't tire of his coat rack partner in Royal Wedding! Stanley Donen also mentions how Astaire had copies of all of his dance routines on film, sans the singing. Donen asked to borrow these treasures, Astaire obliged (he kept them in his basement), and it took Donen 4 days to get through all the material!
Friends also mention Astaire's devastation at the loss of his first wife, Phyllis, his finding his heart again with dancer Barrie Chase (some friends and colleagues claim Chase was Astaire's personal favourite dancing partner), and how his grace, kindness, and complete lack of ego was not just something we saw onscreen. According to Jack Lemmon (his costar in The Notorious Landlady), that was the true offscreen Astaire as well.
I don't want to spoil much more of this book for Astaire fans, since reading through all the anecdotes is such a lovely and personal experience. I urge any Astaire cinephile to track down a copy of this loving book tribute to the screen's most iconic song and dance man.