Picks and Pans Review: Fred Astaire: His Friends Talk

updated 12/05/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/05/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Sarah Giles

Don't expect any Goldman-esque let's-put-this-guy-in-perspective job. This is essentially a testimonial with more than 200 photographs—many of them unpublished and endearing, particularly those showing Astaire with his mother, his sister, Adele, his wife Phyllis, and his children, Ava and Fred Jr. Most of the talk by his friends is of the glowing-tribute variety. Katharine Hepburn says, "It was thrilling, thrilling, Freddy Astaire's talent. Extraordinary." Michael Jackson says, "What I can reflect on is the inspiration he afforded me personally, being privileged as was to see him work his magic." Sam Goldwyn Jr. says, "He is the only one who has ever totally mastered film." Rudolf Nureyev says, "He's there for eternity." Frank Sinatra says, "He could have been the classiest performer I have ever known in all my a years in show business." It's not all gush, though. Giles, Vanity Fair's editor-at-large, also elicited a lot of irreverent and insightful comments from people who knew him. Ginger Rogers recalls, "When you work with somebody all day long, for 10 movies, you become good friends, though he was as delighted not to see me over dinner as I was." Douglas Fairbanks Jr. says, "I always heard from the girls that he was not such a hot dance partner at parties." Fairbanks adds that Astaire "could be pretty crabby" and recalls that one day some acquaintances dropped in on the dancer unexpectedly and "he was so sharp with them that they left very soon after arriving." Literary agent Swifty Lazar says, "He could be quite irascible and difficult." Director Stanley Donen, who found Astaire "often crotchety," describes the dancer complaining that he was sinking into a patch of soggy grass during an outdoor scene in Funny Face: "He got very scruffy and said to me, 'I can't dance in that. Fix it.' I told him we'd do what we could. But how could we fix it? He said, 'I don't care! Put down wood and paint it green.' " (Doubleday, $30)

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