Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
Cleveland Press August 11, 1967
HOLLYWOOD -- The stubble of a beard, a kerchief around his neck, a coarse shirt and a tweed jacket -- they are a far cry from the white tie and tails that once identified Fred Astaire.
But the pointed chin, the dancer's stance, the eyes smiling out of the thin face, the hands constantly in motion -- they are all unmistakably Astaire's.
Astaire, at 68, is making a movie musical, his first in 11 years. And even in that rough outfit he manages to look impeccable. The class and dignity are still there.
He is playing a full character role, that of the rascally Irishman Finian in "Finian's Rainbow."
"WELL, IT'S NOT REALLY MY FIRST character part " he explained slowly in that soft voice of his. "I've done bits and pieces of things in dialect. The Irish brogue is easy and fun to do."
The scene was Malibu Canyon, setting of many a movie western, now the place where Finian discovers Rainbow Valley. Most of the movie is being done outdoors, either there or on the back lot at Warner's. The sun was hot the temperature in the mid 80's and Astaire's costume was a wool tweed jacket and hat and corduroy trousers -- a warm outfit in which to act and dance.
"You get used to it," Astaire shrugged. "If you are dancing, it's strenuous and you get warm no matter what you wear."
"When I used to dance in full dress -- which I haven't done in years, thankfully -- I had to change four or five times a day. That stiff shirt front would start to disintegrate.
"My biggest worry is always ahead of time. You know, is it going to be good enough?
"I get more that way as the years go by. I can't worry about how others will like it. I want them to be pleased, of course, but I have to be pleased with a number myself."
HOLLYWOOD'S BEST AND BEST-KNOWN HOOFER is spoken of with affection by others on the set. They talk about what a nice guy he is and how hard he works. It balances the shy reluctance he has to talk about himself.
A photographer mentioned that Astaire had been at the set on Saturday and Sunday working alone. Asked about it, Astaire shrugged, admitted that he does come down to work out a dance.
"If I start a dance routine at the end of the week, I can't go home to get away from it all. I have to keep working or I lose it."
Astaire will be dancing without a partner, something he misses not at all. "Lifting a partner can make you throw a muscle," he pointed out philosophically.
"Of course, a dancer is like an athlete -- he's hurting all the time. If it isn't a muscle you're kicking your own shins.
ASTAIRE HAS NO REGULAR FITNESS PROGRAM calls exercising "the physical torture approach." Instead of pushups he just works out a few dance steps when he starts a job, gets back to work gradually to avoid sore muscles.
He looks as lean now as he has during any of his half-century in show business. He says he weighs 133 pounds, feels uncomfortable at 135 or more.
"Use to weigh 128 about 20 years ago, but at that weight I had holes in my cheeks."
The dancing for "Finian" promises to be a trifle different from typical Astaire dancing.
"We start out with kind of an Irish jig," he explained. "A lot of it comes out of the character of Finian, who is a hard-knocking dreamer.
"IN A LATER NUMBER I FIT a little rhythm into his dance, but that's after he's been in America and he's dancing with a group."
In the original version, Finian had no musical numbers.
In the movie he will have two songs -- "Look to the Rainbow," which he sings with Petula Clark who plays his daughter, and "When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich." In all he will have four dances, but that doesn't count his walking from here to there which is dancing in itself.
After the movie is made, this ageless hoofer will go to work on his fourth TV special, "A Song and Dance-In." Petula Clark and dancer Barry Chase will be his only guests.
"THIS WILL NOT BE A VARIETY SHOW. Not much dialog, just lots of musical numbers. I like to throw it in big, do a show the way I want it.
"I'd like to do tunes that are familiar but that I haven't done myself. In that first show I had to do a lot of the old stuff because people expected it. But that show really started with the number built around "St. James Infirmary," you know the one?"
And with that he sang a few bars of the song.
Astaire thinks little of modern dancing.... "Why can't it be nice, why does it have to be lewd?" As for the new music, he figures it won't last -- only the good stuff does.
Like Fred Astaire.