Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 2/10/09--Fred Astaire

In today's excerpt-charm, and the charming and iconic movie star Fred Astaire (1899-1987), whose dancing and singing put him at the very top of the Hollywood box office:

"Gifts come from God, presents from men and women. Serious talent is largely a gift from God. Charm is a present men and women bestow upon one another. No one is born charming, though charm comes fairly easily to some and is apparently quite impossible for others.

"Charm has to do with pleasing, light-handedly, sometimes to the point of fascination. He or she 'turned on the charm,' we say, by which we mean that a man or woman cast a spell, however fleeting. Temporary enchantment is the state to which a charming person brings us. Charm is a performance of a kind; it is virtuosity of the personality. Charm is confident, never strained, always at ease in the world. Charm is not pushing; it has a fine sense of proportion and measure, never goes too far, never stays too long. Charm is Noel Coward, entering a party wearing an ordinary suit, discovering every other man in the room dressed in white tie and tails, and blithely announcing, 'Please, I don't want anyone to apologize for overdressing.' ...

"Charm is elegance made casual, with emphasis on the casual. Charm mustn't seem too studied, forced, overdone. As Fred Astaire knew in his light bones, charm is bright, breezy, pleasing in and of itself. Charm knows when to turn itself off, when to depart, which is why it is invariably wanted back. Charm puts things interestingly, amusingly, surprisingly, sometimes originally, but never heavily, never too insistently. ...

"So many traditions of charm are European or Asian in their provenance. English charm, French charm, Italian charm are perhaps the chief variants. ... Americans can be amusing, hilarious, winning, immensely attractive, yet seldom full-out charming. ... Charm tends to the aristocratic, and American charm, in the nature of the case, doesn't quite qualify. When it attempts an aristocratic tinge, it comes off as fake English or stuffily European. American charm, to be truly American, has somehow to combine the aristocratic with the democratic, while straining out all traces of snobbery. ...

"American charm, at least as on exhibit in the movies, was best portrayed by Fred Astaire. Although he dressed English-aristocratic, in his movies Astaire always bore boy-next-door American names such as Pete Peters or Huck Haines. In most of Astaire's movies, his manner was sometimes just slightly big city wise-guy, but also gee-whiz small town. ... Once he is on the dance floor--just him and the night and the music--his charm kicks in, the girl is his, the movie's over, you walk out of the theater (or, more likely nowadays, rise from your couch before the television set), and, humming the flick's final song, wonder why in the hell it wasn't given to you to be able to move as lightly, as wonderfully, as absolutely charmingly as Fred Astaire."

Joseph Epstein, Fred Astaire, Yale, Copyright 2008, pp. 53-60


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