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Screen Teams: Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire |
Astaire made his dramatic film debut in ON THE BEACH (1959), a doomsday
drama starring Gregory Peck,
Ava Gardner and Anthony Perkins. Set in 1964, the film begins
with the premise that atomic war has destroyed every continent on earth
except Australia where submarine commander Peck
takes his crew to wait for the fallout to destroy all human life.
Astaire plays a nuclear scientist trying to monitor the rising levels of
radiation, and both he and the film received very positive reviews.
Neglecting to lay blame for the start of the war or to finger the
participants, ON THE BEACH was a major Cold War box office success
world-wide -- including in Communist Russia.
"The war started when people accepted the idiotic principle that
peace could be maintained by arranging to defend themselves with
weapons they couldn't possibly use without committing suicide."
--as Julian Osborne in ON THE BEACH (1959) (a .WAV file).
Astaire returned to lighter fare in THE PLEASURE OF HIS COMPANY (1961)
playing Debbie Reynolds'
long-absent father who returns for her wedding, but, in an attempt to
reconcile and make up for lost time, almost charms her away from her
fiancé, Tab Hunter. Lilli Palmer plays Astaire's (remarried) ex-wife
and the second object of his reconciliation attempt -- much to the chagrin
of her current husband, Gary Merrill. Though one would expect a
musical with Astaire and
in the cast, THE PLEASURE OF HIS COMPANY is actually a light non-musical
comedy -- and a pleasant one -- based on the play by Cornelia Otis Skinner
and Samuel A. Taylor. Astaire does dance, but only casually -- with
Reynolds at a party.
FINIAN'S RAINBOW (1968) was Fred's last major movie musical. Also
featuring Petula Clark, this fantasy about a transplanted Irishman (Fred)
whose leprechaun comes to life in the American South dealt with the issue
of racial injustice. And though as a Broadway musical in the late
1940s, it was considered ahead of its time, the film version was rather
dated when it appeared 20 years later. Disappointed with his
physical appearance in the film and its overall poor reception by critics
and audiences, Astaire gave up dancing shortly after the film was released
-- at the age of 70.
In 1974, Astaire earned his first and only Oscar nomination for his
supporting role as a charming con-artist trapped in Irwin Allen's
star-studded disaster epic, THE TOWERING INFERNO. Starring Steve
McQueen, Paul Newman
and such distinguished supporting players as
Jennifer Jones, Faye Dunaway, Robert
and even football star O.J. Simpson, THE TOWERING INFERNO was the
biggest blockbuster of the year and over time has earned a reputation as
one of the greatest disaster films ever made. Winning three Oscars
for its editing, cinematography and song ("We May Never Love Like This
Again"), out of such a distinguished cast, Astaire nevertheless received
the film's only acting nomination.
Also in 1974, producer Jack Haley, Jr. put together a nostalgic
compilation of moments from the great
musicals of the 1920s-1950s released as THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!
Astaire appeared in the film as one of several star hosts (including
Mickey Rooney, Gene Kelly,
Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby,
Elizabeth Taylor, Jimmy Stewart, Liza
Minnelli, Peter Lawford and Donald
O'Connor) who introduced the film clips. Then in 1976, Astaire
and Gene Kelly teamed up to host the
sequel, THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT, PART II, featuring more film clips -- this
time from some of MGM's comedies
and dramas as well. Although this second outing was criticized for a
lack of cohesion, it was nevertheless followed by THAT'S DANCING (1985)
and THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT, PART III (1994) neither of which featured
Astaire in person, but both of which featured still more clips of his many
memorable screen moments.
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