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Steps in Time: An Autobiography Paperback – August 5, 2008
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“...brimming over with fresh and amusing anecdotes...” (New York Times)
“...as easy and as effervescent as his own personable way of dancing.” (New York Herald Tribune)
Top Customer Reviews
Having said that, there are some drawbacks to this book. (1) It was published in 1960 and was never amended, even though Astaire lived another twenty-seven years; this was just after Astaire had completed the second of two TV specials for NBC, with dancer Barrie Chase. That leaves almost three decades of Astaire's life undocumented, including his playing in movies and on TV in non-musical roles, his continual coming out of retirement, and his surprising marriage in late life to a horse-jockey-turned-pilot (Robin Astaire).
(2) In terms of his basic motivations or what made Fred tick, the reader will come away from this book almost completely baffled. One reason for this is that autobiographies from older stars (and recall that Fred was a vaudeville star of the Twenties) were not written in a confessional mode as they so often are today. As a result, the Fred Astaire who wrote this volume about his life comes very close to the "nice guy" Astaire of his musicals and other entertainments.
(3) For those expecting suspense or drama, a further reason that STEPS IN TIME comes off as bland and uninsightful is that Astaire's life really does seem to be remarkably free of trauma, except for the loss of his sister (and former dance partner) Adele to retirement and the death of his wife Phyllis to cancer in 1954. Astaire admits to being anguished about his wife's painful and relatively sudden death, but as usual in STEPS IN TIME he puts himself rather quickly into rehearsals for DADDY LONG LEGS(Fox, 1955). However, a quick look at Peter J. Levinson's recent bio PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ reveals co-star Leslie Caron's memory of his crying into a towel during DADDY's production.
It appears that Astaire has committed a kind of sin of omission with regard to his emotions. And of course he perpetuated his generation's credo of "never complain, never explain" or what Astaire, ever the Anglophile, might have called a "stiff upper lip." Astaire does admit that he could be grumpy during rehearsals and that, to use today's language, he was a workaholic's workaholic. In STEPS IN TIME he writes frankly about his perfectionism, but (a nice guy to the end) deals with the long, long rehearsal time he insisted on for each role without sounding arrogant or condescending.
A useful alternative or companion volume to STEPS IN TIME is Peter J. Levinson's comprehensive PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ, recently published (Spring 2009). Not only do we get the full sweep of Fred Astaire's life, we get honest inquiry into Fred's emotional makeup, or about as much as Fred would allow. Or get the proof straight from the movies: the nine-DVD boxed set with all the Astaire-Rogers RKO musicals of the Thirties is a good place to start. For less money, Astaire's genius is also much on display in EASTER PARADE(1948) or THE BAND WAGON(1953), both out of MGM. These are only a beginning.
I bought a few record albums and books, but I don't remember seeing his autobiography, perhaps it was out of print at that time.
When I recently saw that it was available, I couldn't resist. It originally came out in 1959. I'm sure he thought he was finished making musicals by then, but he did make one more, "Finian's Rainbow" in 1968, plus some non-musicals up to 1981.
The book covers all those fascinating decades after the turn of the century (he was born in 1899) including vaudeville, Broadway, and the films of the art deco era.
Astaire was lauded as being the greatest dancer, most influential, one-of-a-kind, a perfectionist.
The great songwriters of his time preferred for him to introduce their new songs in his films.
He was an innovator in American men's fashion.
And, most endearing, his life was free from scandal; he was described as kind, gentle, shy and self-effacing. I have never heard of anyone saying a bad thing about him.
The reader gets a feeling of this down-to-earth personality in the pages of his book.
One warning, however, after reading this autobiography I had the urge to see all the films again and ended up purchasing every single Astaire musical, including several which I had to settle for on VHS tape.
There is a great boxed set available of the Fred and Ginger movies. I wish someone would do the same with the complete collection of Astaire musicals. It would be better than a bottle of Prozac. Whenever I watch Fred Astaire I just can't stop smiling. And this book had the same effect.