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Fred Astaire (Icons of America) Hardcover – October 21, 2008


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Product Details

  • Series: Icons of America
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (October 21, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300116950
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300116953
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #513,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The life of legendary dancer, singer and actor Fred Astaire has been chronicled before, but here, author Epstein (Snobbery:The American Version) brings a winning populist awe to his biographic probe of the movie star's time-tested magic. Epstein's honest intentions do little to mask his admiration and fascination with the icon, but it proves contagious as he gallops through Astaire's early life in turn-of-the-century Nebraska and first career steps as a sidekick to sister Adele in New York vaudeville. Despite apocryphal tales of a less-than-favorable RKO screen test ("Balding. Can't sing. Dances a little."), studio head David O. Selznick thought Astaire "a really sensational bet," and gave the performer his first Hollywood break. Epstein explores Astaire's star-making but personally disagreeable pairing with Ginger Rogers, and the better-liked partners who followed (Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn and others); defensively recounts Astaire's tight-lipped relationship with the media (which led many to suggest he was just dull); and celebrates the performer's earnest and dedicated spirit. Though Epstein's witty asides can great, his conversational tone keeps the life story moving, making this a good, quick read for even casual fans.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Essayist and fiction writer Epstein (Snobbery: The American Version; Fabulous Small Jews: Stories) turns his discerning gaze to the legendary dancer and star Fred Astaire. Although he presents general biographical details, Epstein's chief concern is with Astaire the artist, and he thoroughly scrutinizes all aspects of his talent. Epstein devotes attention to every facet of the Astaire image, discussing at length his physical characteristics and unique sense of style. He also spends a good portion of the book addressing Astaire's dancing partners and the varying success of each. Most biographies tend to focus on the sensational details of the life lived; Epstein, however, places the magic of Astaire's art front and center, which results in an astute and ardent examination. The author's passion for his subject makes this an engaging read, even for those with only cursory knowledge of Astaire. Essential for all dance collections and recommended for all performing arts collections in universities and large public libraries.—Katherine Litwin, Chicago
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

JOSEPH EPSTEIN is the author of the best-selling Snobbery and of Friendship, as well as the short story collections The Goldin Boys and Fabulous Small Jews, among other books, and was formerly editor of the American Scholar. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, and other magazines.

Customer Reviews

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Mr. Epstein also asserts that Fred Astaire's singing was just as good as his dancing.
G. Charles Steiner
While Mr. Epstein is a witty and sometimes pleasantly irreverent writer, this slim volume of mostly recycled information falls far short of answering this question.
H. Axelrod
If one is looking for a brief biography of Fred Astaire, this book by Joseph Epstein is definitely not the place to start.
RCM

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 47 people found the following review helpful By H. Axelrod on November 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The apparent premise and presumption of Joseph Epstein's book "Fred Astaire" is that the magic of Fred Astaire will be analyzed, described and explained to the reader. In the words of Mr. Epstein: "Whence derived Fred Astaire's sublimity, his magic? That is the great, happy question at the center of this little book." While Mr. Epstein is a witty and sometimes pleasantly irreverent writer, this slim volume of mostly recycled information falls far short of answering this question.

The initial attempt to define Mr. Astaire's magic is directed at the physical appearance of this "most attractive of men". Epstein begins this exercise by spending an inordinate number of pages describing and belittling Astaire's physical features, while admiring his clothes. However, he describes at the outset that Astaire was like a male version of "belle laide" : homely feature-by-feature yet stunning in totality. By his own words he therefore admits that this exercise is pointless. It is doubly pointless since nothing is said that has not appeared elsewhere or is not obvious from watching the films.

Recognizing after two chapters, that perhaps the force of Mr. Astaire's personality may be important to explaining his attractiveness, Epstein spends more fruitless pages trying to define his great charm; to pin down the indefinable. Charm is a characteristic that needs to be experienced and words are simply not adequate, as Mr. Epstein himself handily proves. During this discussion he says time and time again, that by his definition, Astaire is "not at all sexy". Of course, Epstein's definition of sexy includes features such as brutality, manly reticence, handsome features, and ample height and muscle.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By D. Contessa on January 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I bought this for my husband who is a huge Fred Astaire fan. He has read every book about him, so I thought this would be great. A new book he's never read! He hated it from the beginning. I thought it couldn't be that bad, but it was. He spends half the time just quoting from other sources. The other half unfairly criticizing Mr. Astaire. I thought this was a book written by someone who LIKED him. In the end, he comes around to it, but I doubt many people would read long enough to get there. A complete waste, and a terrible gift.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By RCM VINE VOICE on July 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
If one is looking for a brief biography of Fred Astaire, this book by Joseph Epstein is definitely not the place to start. While Epstein does include some biographical material, he purports that he will try to answer the question of what made Fred Astaire so magical and beguiling. Yet he fails in even answering that.

"Fred Astaire" begins promisingly enough with some early biographical information about the dancer, but it is quickly derailed by Epstein's focus on the qualities that supposedly made Astaire so magical. He concentrates on Astaire's eccentric features and frame, his style and choice of clothing, his aristocratic airs, and his unique singing voice and ability. The best information that Epstein manages to squeeze into his critique of Astaire is the information regarding his various dancing partners and a comparison with Gene Kelly, but even that information seems all too scant.

Epstein's writing style can best be described as flogging a dead horse. In order to make sure the readers understand his comparisons he must carry them to the nth degree (and for no purpose whatsoever). The material is redundant as Epstein seems to cover the exact same material in several different chapters. Each chapter is taken up with a lot of quotes rather than narrative or new information, and some of his choices of comparison seem rather odd for a volume about Fred Astaire and his movies and talent. For someone who is supposedly a fan of the dancer, Joseph Epstein seems awful disparaging, which makes "Fred Astaire" a rather depressing read rather than a joyful or magic one.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Alexander Woollcott was dazzled by a dance act on Broadway in 1918. The often acid-tongued reviewer praised "... that nimble and lack-a-daisical Adaire named Fred. He is one of those extraordinary persons whose sense of rhythm and humor have been all mixed up, whose very muscles of which he seems to have an extra supply, are facetious." Woollcott spelled the name wrong, but he got the praise right, and everyone knew about Fred Astaire once movie musicals came in vogue. _Fred Astaire_ (Yale University Press) by Joseph Epstein is not a biography, although it contains many biographical details. It is a small personal volume of essays, insightful and appreciative, about a performer who reached perfection, and was beloved by critics and the public. There is research here, and many quotations from others who have admired Astaire's work, but Epstein, who is a lecturer, editor, and author of essays and books not about Hollywood, has taken the tough assignment of coming to an understanding of Astaire's greatness. "After one has identified Fred Astaire's multiple and several steps and manifold moves," writes Epstein in a typical inclusive and lyrical manner, "his swirling leaps, his lifts, crazy-legged noodling, skips, hops, leg jabs, tap spins, struts, lunges, back kicks, tap barrages, high-stepping, stamping, darting, soft spins, arabesques, hip flips, saunterings, cross-overs, knee-and-pelvis jerks, strolls, turning jumps, steps done with a slight retard, syncopations, quick circling steps - after one has noted all these and the scores more of different moves he made, one still hasn't accounted for the magic in his performance. Can it be pinned down?"

No, the magic cannot be pinned down, not completely, but it can be completely appreciated.
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