Monday is “Grab Bag” day here at Entertainment Legends Revealed, with each Monday featuring a different area of the world of arts and entertainment (that is not featured on the other four days of the week, that is). They’ll eventually repeat, but for now, we’re still on the initial installments of each of the various “Grab Bag” legends!
This is the second in a series of examinations of legends related to the world of dancing and whether they are true or false.
This week is specifically about ballroom dancing!
DANCING LEGEND: Fred Astaire’s will stipulates that he never be portrayed in a film.
STATUS: Oddly True
Fred Astaire is likely the most famous ballroom dancer of the 20th Century, although he was a lot more than just a dancer. The American Film Institute named him the fifth Greatest Male Star of All Time (somehow eight spots higher than John Wayne, which really doesn’t make any sense, but whatever).
Astaire is probably best known for his musical films, especially those where he danced with his dance partner of TEN films, Ginger Rogers.
Some of the hit films they did together include…
The Gay Divorcee…
and Top Hat…
And of course, no one can forget Astaire’s famous “dancing on the ceiling” routine in Royal Wedding…
For a man who was so famous on the silver screen, Astaire made a curious demand upon his death in 1987. In the decade or so leading up to his death, Astaire had been turning down requests for “official” film versions of his life, and upon his death, Astaire went one better.
In his will, Astaire stipulated that he never been portrayed in a film.
He felt that he should be judged by his life, and his life only, and not what some filmmaker may wish to say about his life in a film.
Oddly enough, in 1997, his widow, Robin, allowed Dirt Devil to use digital technology to make it appear as though Astaire was dancing with a Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner.
Astaire’s daughter was aghast – she stated that she was ”saddened that after Fred’s wonderful career, he was sold to the devil” (as you might imagine, Astaire’s daughter is not a fan of her step-mother – a woman that I am pretty sure is younger than her).
While I believed the whole “will” part, I figured that SOME film must have just said, “Screw it, let’s see them sue us,” but surprisingly enough, I have not found any film feature Astaire as a character.
You know who this really hurt (and she – or her people – has said as much)?
You can’t very well do a Ginger Rogers bio-pic if you have no Fred Astaire in it, right?
Meanwhile, when she was given a tribute in the early 90s (she died in 1995), Astaire’s widow would not even clear the use of Astaire/Rogers footage for the tribute!
This is a weird, weird situation.
DANCING LEGEND: Jim Thorpe was a ballroom champion dancer.
Awhile back, I wrote about the fact that, unbeknown to most of his biographers for decades before it was discovered, Jim Thorpe had played professional basketball for awhile in the 1920s.
Jim Thorpe was really one of the greatest athletes of the 20th Century.
A star of track and field (and Olympic Gold Medalist), Thorpe also played professional baseball, basketball AND football!!!
However, amusingly enough, Thorpe’s athletic dominance was not just reserved for competitive sports, he also dominated in, of all places, the ballroom!!
While there’s certainly a chance that Thorpe took ballroom dance in an attempt to help his footwork (football players have been known to take dance classes for that very reason, even as long ago as the 1920s, Knute Rockne had his players taking dance lessons, so it’s certainly a possibility), for whatever reason he danced, Thorpe was an excellent dancer.
And in fact, in 1912, he was the inter-collegiate ballroom dancing CHAMPION!
That same year, Thorpe won the Gold Medal in the Pentathlon and the Decathlon.
I wonder if the former victory helped in the latter?
DANCING LEGEND: Cyd Charisse’s legs were insured for a million bucks each.
Cyd Charisse (born Tula Elice Finklea) sadly passed away last year.
The gorgeous dancer with the beautiful long legs was a screen starlet for a number of years.
Charisse danced with Fred Astaire in a few films, including…
and Silk Stockings…
She also danced with Gene Kelly in some films, including, perhaps most memorably, Singin’ in the Rain…
So she had the rare treat of dancing with two of the most notable ballroom dancers of the 20th Century, even though her background before this time was strictly ballet.
When Charisse passed away, a number of obituaries about her made reference to her legs, stating that MGM insured them for a million dollars each.
While it’s certainly a nice hook, I don’t believe it.
Charisse had said for years before her death in interviews that it was not true, that it was just a matter of MGM’s publicity machine coming up with an interesting hook (and clearly, it WAS an interesting hook, if people are still talking about it today).
MGM internal documents about Charisse during the time make no mention of such an insurance policy.
The amount of the insurance policy changes from telling to telling (I’ve seen between two and five million for the pair).
And, obviously, no one has ever found the supposed policy.
So I’m going with a “false” on this one. If anyone ever does find proof going the other way, I’d gladly change my answer!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com