February 16, 2013

"In 1959 Fred Astaire hired renowned makeup artist John Chambers to work on his television special, Another Evening with Fred Astaire."

"The assignment? Turn Fred Astaire into Alfred E. Neuman. The results were predictably strange."



As they say... The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

I can't imagine such a long dance routine on network TV, even with a visual gag. I can't imagine a visual gag going on and on like that. People must have been so much more patient back then. Or much more in love with the idea of themselves as appreciating elevated culture. And yet it was not so elevated, what with the Alfred E. Neuman gag.

And that deadly modern dance. The woman swanning around while men in tuxedos behaved as if they were a single entity and that entity was a pulsating sexual organ. And all in such exquisite taste! Then Neuman/Astaire performs alone, lasts longer than all the rest of them, but in the end, he too loses his erection.

Moral: The ugliest guy might be the best performer.

Did I get that right?

28 comments:

Chip S. said...

Did I get that right?

No. It's obviously a marxist critique of the oppression of workers by the plutocrats who invented the Cold War in order to herd the sheeple into their pathetic little suburban boxes.

How did you miss that?

Expat(ish) said...

I just swore to wear red socks the next time I'm at a black tie event.

Did I miss a bigger lesson?

-XC

bagoh20 said...

Are the dogs really interfering that much?

St. George said...

He's dancing with Barrie Chase who was also in "Kiss Me, Kate" and "Silk Stockings."

Here is Fred at his best with Cyd Charisse in "The Band Wagon"and wooing her with Cole Porter's 'All of You' from the film "Silk Stockings."

betamax3000 said...

""There was dancing now on the TV in the garden; old men pushing young girls backward in eternal graceless circles..."

This sentence works everywhere.

betamax3000 said...

Re: "but in the end, he too loses his erection."

No matter how talented he may be, no one wants to watch a male dancer for longer than four hours.

EMD said...

I knew James Lileks. James Lileks was a friend of mine. Professor, you're no James Lileks.

ricpic said...

The lack of camera franticness "back then" was a distinct advantage from the viewer's perspective.

Kelly said...

I guess Americans had a longer attention span back in the day. There was a pretty good Fred Astaire/Michael Jackson video mash up set to Smooth Operator. I think it's been removed now. Amazing how much of Jackson's loose limbed dancing is taken from Astaire

EDH said...

Moral: The ugliest guy might be the best performer.

"What, me worry?"

Words to live by.

edutcher said...

I would dispute the word predictably.

Ann Althouse said...

I can't imagine such a long dance routine on network TV, even with a visual gag. I can't imagine a visual gag going on and on like that. People must have been so much more patient back then.

It was called professionalism, craftsmanship, pride, and talent.

You don't see it anymore.

Lovernios said...

Thanks, St. George. Those were awesome clips. Times have changed. I remember those movies from my childhood. We watched them because my parents loved those movies, the music, the dancing. So even though they weren't "my generation's" culture, we were exposed to them and they became familiar. Now that I look back I can truly appreciate the grace and beauty of the dancers, the effort and work it must have taken to make them seem so easy.

kentuckyliz said...

She sure was showing a lot of vag.

Hoor.

The Godfather said...

Ann, you're SO YOUNG if this all mysterious to you. Long dance routines were commonplace in movies and TV in the '40's and '50's. So were long performances by piano and violin virtousi (if that's the right plural). I suppose a lot of it was the middle class, coming out of the Depression and the War, aspiring to mimic their betters. The culturati look down on them.

I don't.

sean said...

I think Prof. Althouse is a little off base. Is this clip really that different from, or longer than, the video for Madonna's "Material Girl"?

Ann Althouse said...

"Is this clip really that different from, or longer than, the video for Madonna's "Material Girl"?"

The question should be whether it's longer than Marilyn Monroe's "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," and the answer is it's a couple minutes longer.

"Ann, you're SO YOUNG if this all mysterious to you. Long dance routines were commonplace in movies and TV in the '40's and '50's."

Well, I do know that. My point is these things are excruciatingly long as seen today, within the context of present-day pacing.

I find these old TV variety shows so strange, even though I also remember them.

Regular shows like Ed Sullivan or The Tonight Show would have a opera singer do an aria or a violinist go through some classical piece.

It was deadly, but we knew no better.

St. George said...

Superdeadly shit.

"Begin the Beguine" as danced by Astaire and Eleanor Powell.

Even worse, it's in black 'n' white.

Pure misery.

sean said...

I don't follow. "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" is from before I was born; "Material Girl" is from my generation.

If we're just talking length, as opposed to gender relations, is this clip longer than a typical competitive figure skating routine or a typical pas de deux at the ballet?

wyo sis said...

I've noticed the shortening of attention spans. The pacing on TV shows from the 50's and 60's is much slower. We've become an instant consumption society. I'm not knocking it, but there is something to be said for slowing things down and enjoying the moment.
My grandfather loved TV variety shows he really appreciated people who could perform skillfully. His generation (born in 1900) had seen a lot. It might have been striving or it might have been recognition of what goes into building things and doing things well. What looks odd to one generation is not at all odd to another. Not better or worse, just appreciated differently.

Clyde said...

I'm surprised it was in color that far back. My family didn't have a color TV until the early '70s. I remember watching Neil Armstrong walking on the Moon in glorious black-and-white.

William said...

It's not weird enough to be surreal, and irony wasn't invented yet. Maybe it's a kind of parody of the dance sequence in The Band Wagon where Astaire played the hard boiled detective.....Well, Astaire choreographed dance sequences that are part of our common memory so he's entitled to strike out occasionally.

Penny said...

The first thing that popped out at me were Ms.Chase's low heeled shoes. She was a dancer who didn't take her moneymakers for granted.

I wonder what today's dancers with their five inch heels think will happen as they get a little older?

Bet a good number think their feet will eventually be a job for their plastic surgeon. Poor babies.

Darrell said...

The first thing that popped out at me were Ms.Chase's low heeled shoes. She was a dancer who didn't take her moneymakers for granted.

She (Barrie Chase--one of the regular dancers on the show) came from ballet. You might find that she can lay claim to the ballet flat-type street shoes that are so popular today. You may also find that a lot of dancers were having shoes like that made when they were doing modern/jazz dancing. When they weren't doing it barefoot, that is.

Darrell said...

Fred Astaire didn't like picking favorites, but Barrie Chase was one of his two dance partners that he declared were his favorites to work with. Rita Hayworth was the other. The reason he gave was that they were both on the same frequency as he was--he could try a move on them and they would just naturally go with it--or vice versa. They could--and did--self-choreograph certain dance numbers with just a single run through with the music before filming.

janetrae said...

Google "Terry Teachout middle-brow culture". Mr. Teachout is the drama critic for the Wall Street Journal, and mourns the passing of an America where this lengthy tango (is it really much more than that) would have been appreciated.

janetrae said...

Google "Terry Teachout middle-brow culture". Mr. Teachout is the drama critic for the Wall Street Journal, and mourns the passing of an America where this lengthy tango (is it really much more than that) would have been appreciated.

William R. Hamblen said...

Why is the aspect ratio messed up on so many embedded videos? This one is squashed.

sean said...

Speaking of attention spans, Supreme Court decisions sure have expanded, haven't they? I just re-read Schenck v. U.S. Holmes's audience wasn't expected to digest more than six paragraphs, whereas today the opinion would probably begin with a couple pages tracing the history of WWI, then a couple more pages on the history of the First Amendment, before even settling into actual analysis. (See Hamdi for a typical example.) An objective observer would conclude that modern attention spans are much, much longer.