The July 18 issue of the TLS has a report on the Fred Astaire Conference, held in June at Oriel College, Oxford. I’ve been to a fair number of academic conferences in the last couple of years–some more entertaining than others–and I wish this one had been in the travel budget. Thanks to my dad, I grew up on musicals, and I am delighted that scholars have seen fit to tackle the big questions:
A lively discussion evolved around the subject of Rogers’s dresses, traditionally maligned for being ‘in the way’: a view that is now undergoing revision. Even the famous feather-shedding confection for “Cheek to Cheek” in Top Hat (a dress parodied by Judy Garland and Astaire in Easter Parade) found apologists.
Also discussed: Astaire as “the New Man of the post-First World War era,” his “deep understanding” of jazz” (“Astaire was the only film dancer who danced to the Blues”–could that possibly be true?), and his close friendship with George Gershwin. As the TLS article notes, “Gershwin’s songs were preternaturally difficult to dance to, and Astaire was probably the only performer who could properly dance to them.” Amen to that.