She helped make Fred Astaire a star!

From the New York Times crossword puzzle, August 18, 2015

48 Across  Half of a brother/sister dance duo

No, it isn’t who you think it is – in honor of her birthday, September 10, we dedicate this post to the woman who really helped launch his career – his sister, Adele.  Born in 1896 in Omaha, Nebraska, Adele was the older sister of Fred.  At the age of eight, her mother enrolled her in dance classes and then had Fred tag along to keep her company. He was soon intrigued with dancing, and the two began their partnership.

Their teacher suggested to their mother that the young duo had promise in a dancing career, but it would necessitate a move to New York City.  Off to New York they went, with their father staying in Omaha to work with occasional trips east to see his family.  The two were enrolled in the Alvienne School of Dance – the only children in their class.

By 1912, they were performing on Vaudeville and in 1917 they made their Broadway debut in “Over the Top”.  They continued to have tremendous success – J. M. Barrie sought Adele for the role of Peter Pan in his first production, but contractual obligations kept her out of the part.

Adele AstaireIt may come as a surprise to some that Adele was actually the more engaging of the two and was more involved with promoting their act while Fred stayed behind the scenes and worked on their routines.  Ever the perfectionist, Adele nicknamed him “Moaning Minnie”, but the two managed to work together seamlessly when performing.  In 1922, they collaborated with Gershwin brothers in Lady Be Good as well as Funny Face.

With Fred’s success in Hollywood, Adele briefly considered a career in films as well, but thought that it was not for her and admitted that she was somewhat intimidated by Fred’s success.

She subsequently retired from performing and married Lord Charles Cavendish.  After their marriage, they moved to Ireland and resided in Lismore castle.  Sadly, a daughter born to them died days after birth and twin boys later died within hours of each other.  After Lord Cavendish’s death, she married an American, Colonel Kingsman Douglas – an Air Force officer and later assistant director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

In 1971, both she and Fred were inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.  After the death of her second husband, she moved to Phoenix where she resided until her death in 1981.

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