Fred Astaire and Aiken

Fred Astaire will always be remembered as one of the most famous dancing movie stars of all time. During the height of his popularity in the 1930s and ‘40s, he spent much of his free time in Aiken. Although Astaire owned a house in Beverly Hills, he often wanted to escape the hectic life of a star and focus on his family in the quiet and relative anonymity of this small southern town.

Astaire was born Frederick Austerlitz in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1899 to German immigrants who came to the United States just a few years before his birth. His sister Adele showed talent at a young age for singing and dancing, and their mother, Johanna, dreamed of escaping the mundane life of Nebraska by promoting her children in a vaudeville dancing act. Although young Fred wouldn't take dancing lessons, he quickly learned the steps his sister showed him. The brother and sister adopted the stage name "Astaire" in 1905 at the start of their dancing career. By the next year, Fred and Adele were touted as the "greatest child act in vaudeville."

A Rising Star

In his travels across the country, Astaire met Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and was inspired to add a freestyle type of tap dance to his repertoire. Learning from another vaudeville performer, Astaire mastered the tango, waltz and various other dances that were popular at the time. By 1933, he signed a contract with RKO pictures and became a favorite dancing partner of Ginger Rogers, with whom he made 10 films. By the time he was 34 years old, Astaire—who was still single—had became a very popular Hollywood star.

It was then that Astaire married 25-year-old Phyllis Livingston Baker, a New York socialite whom he pursued for almost two years. They had two children, Fred, Jr. in 1936 and Ava in 1942. The family began coming to Aiken for much of the year, staying at the estate of Phyllis Astaire's aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Worthington Bull.

Establishing Roots in Aiken

A passionate golfer, Astaire found Aiken brimming with enthusiastic partners and well-established courses. Thoroughbred horse racing was another passion for him. In 1946, his horse Triplicate, partially trained in Aiken, won the Hollywood Gold Cup and San Juan Capistrano Handicap.

While Astaire played golf, raced horses and relaxed with his family, he also found creative time to work out new dance routines. Pictures in a 1940 issue of Life Magazine show a nimble Fred Astaire leaping high above a polo field and swaying along while watching himself dance on the screen of the Rosemary Movie Theater on Laurens Street. He was perhaps best known to locals for his early morning routine of lightly dancing down the post office steps after he picked up his mail, while a crowd of onlookers watched with delight.

Fred Astaire's career, in all, spanned a full 76 years during which he made 31 films. He continued to play golf and remained active well into his eighties. When Astaire died in 1987, his friend and fellow dancing star Gene Kelly said, "The history of dance on film begins with Astaire."

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Fred Astaire
and Aiken

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He was perhaps best known to locals for his early morning routine of lightly dancing down the post office steps after he picked up his mail, while a crowd of onlookers watched with delight.

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