A MAN AND HIS ‘DOGS’

dogs, Slang. The feet: My dogs are killing me!  fantasy, n.  A play of the mind; imagination; fancy; a picture existing only in the mind. –World Book Dictionary

A footnote to the World Book definition of fantasy: it is personified, in my view, by one man — fittingly so, because beyond his pictures he still dances in the mind, as timeless as imagination….no less real than the Hollywood from which such flights of fancy emanated and stars were born. That ethe-real man is Fred Astaire, the pictures were his movies, and this day is his birthday (May 10, 1899).

Astaire’s “dogs” may have been what carried him across the dance floor with Ginger Rogers in his arms, but it was his persona that took us with him. I like to think that what Santa Claus embodied for children, Fred Astaire embodied for my parent’s generation as teenagers/young adults, epitomizing easy grace and the allure of dreams more enticing than any toy that Santa could promise.  No other hoofer in film history even comes close to capturing his magic….which is why he survives his and my parent’s generation, just as any great artist lives on in what he or she creates.

In my favorite scene from my favorite Astaire-Rogers film (SWING TIME, 1936), professional dancer Astaire comes to New York and, after a chance street encounter with Rogers doesn’t go well, he follows her to the dance studio where she is an instructor. Pretending to be a novice, he botches the dance lesson. She insults him and is fired. As she is leaving the studio….

Of course, many elements must come together to produce movie magic, and SWING TIME had the good fortune to combine the talents of the stars with those of a great director (George Stevens), a fine supporting cast (including Eric Blore, seen in the above clip), and one of the best composer/lyricist teams of the Golden Age (Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields). In addition to the ‘dance lesson’ song PICK YOURSELF UP, their outstanding score includes A FINE ROMANCE, NEVER GONNA DANCE, and this love song:

On this May 10 celebration, let’s end appropriately with this: