Graceful Facts About Adele Astaire, One Half Of The Astaire Dancing Duo

October 12, 2023 | Brendan Da Costa

Graceful Facts About Adele Astaire, One Half Of The Astaire Dancing Duo

Adele Astaire was a Broadway and vaudeville legend who gave up a career in the spotlight for a life of tragic disappointments.

1. She Danced Solo

Adele Astaire was the older—and lesser-known—sister of the vaudeville and Hollywood legend, Fred Astaire. While she never graced the screen with her elegant and swan-like movements, she did manage to dance her way into Lismore Castle. However, her post-vaudeville years were filled with personal tragedies and romantic disappointments that left her dancing solo.

B&W portrait of Adele Astaire looking at camera  - 1919Author Unknown, Wikimedia Commons

2. She Had Rhythm And Grace

Adele Marie Austerlitz was a force of rhythm and grace from the very beginning. She was born in September 1896 in the heartland of Omaha, Nebraska, three years before her more famous brother, Fred. By the time she could walk, it was obvious that she would leave an indelible mark on the world of dance.

Adele Astaire In 'The Band Wagon', 1931White Studio, N.Y., Wikimedia Commons

3. She Bonded With Her Brother

Watching her graceful movements, Adele’s parents made the decision to enroll her in dance lessons. At the same time, they decided to enroll her younger brother Fred as well, and the two developed a deep bond and synchronicity. Their time together as dance partners would not last forever, but their bond as siblings would endure the most tragic of hardships.

Fred & Adele Astaire publicity photograph - 1906.White Studio, N.Y., Wikimedia Commons

4. She Had A “Natural Ability”

With their “natural ability," both of the Astaire children stood out from the other kids. While the Astaires were not wealthy, they knew they could waltz and pirouette their way to success. With nothing but their hopes and dreams, the family uprooted their life in Omaha and moved to New York, enrolling Adele and Fred into the Alviene Master School of the Theatre and Academy of Cultural Arts.Adele Astaire in white dress is looking at side - 1918New York Times, Wikimedia Commons

5. She Became A Young Vaudevillian

Under the guiding hand of her new dance maestro Claude Alvienne, Adele embarked on a dazzling journey into the world of vaudeville. With Alvienne’s expert guidance and choreography, she conjured a dance bonanza unlike anyone had ever seen before that would leave audiences spellbound. At just nine years old, Adele was about to become a star.Adele Astaire with short hair is looking at side - 1931White Studio, Wikimedia Commons

6. Her Steps Were Electrifying

The innovative dance routine that Alvienne produced for Adele and Fred saw a stage intricately adorned with two colossal wedding cakes. The two little Astaires breathed life into the confectionery wonderland with their dance moves. Dressed as a diminutive bride and groom, they swept through a mesmerizing waltz atop the towering cakes, their nimble feet setting aglow tiny electric lights.

They put on a glorious performance—but they certainly weren't famous right out of the gates.

Adele And Fred Astaire In Lady Be Good! - 1924White Studio, Wikimedia Commons

7. She Outgrew Her Brother

Astaire and her brother performed their little routine on and off for a few years. At first, they struggled to strike a balance between their vaudeville career and regular school. Eventually, however, Adele outgrew her younger brother and became too tall for their bride/groom routine. They knew one thing, though. They were either going to make it together or not at all.

Fred Astaire - Studio publicity portrait for film You'll Never Get Rich (1941).White Studio, Wikimedia Commons

8. She Was “Gregarious”

As they grew older, Adele and Fred also grew apart. Even though their dance instructor created a more mature routine for them, the differences between the Astaire children became apparent off-stage. Adele developed a reputation for her colorful use of language, frankness and “lively, gregarious” personality as compared to her younger, more timid, little brother.

Fred And Adele Astaire smiling outside - 1900Bain News Service, Wikimedia Commons

9. She Was Never On Time

On stage, Adele and Fred delivered perfect performances, but the effort they put into it varied. As the more uptight of the two, Fred used to show up to the various theaters where they were performing hours in advance. Adele, on the other hand, usually waltzed into her dressing room mere minutes before their curtain call.Adele Astaire wearing coat and hat ,smiling outside - 1923Bain News Service, Wikimedia Commons

10. Her Brother Was A Moaner

Despite their radically different personalities, Adele and Fred made for great dance partners and forged a deep bond that would last their lifetimes. Adele’s nonchalance never bothered Fred and his uptight nature never annoyed Adele. Adele even gave Fred an affectionate nickname, “Moaning Minnie," for his tendency to fret and worry before their performances.Fred Astaire in black suit is looking at camera.oneredsf1 , Flickr

11. She Had Her Brother To Thank

Even if he was timid, Adele had her brother to thank for their breakout performance. After Fred placed an ad in Variety magazine, the dancing duo landed their first Broadway show. Critics and audiences alike fell in love with the young siblings with The New York Globe commenting that Adele was “a light, spritelike little creature” and complimented her “floating style”.Fred And Adele Astaire In 1919Bettman Archive, Wikimedia Commons

12. She Was More Than Just A Dancer

Adele and Fred brought something to the stage that audiences had never seen before. “Strictly speaking,” The New York Times wrote, “the Astaires are dancers. But they have more than one string to their fiddle. With them, dancing is [a] comedy of manners[...]” There was nothing comedic about the money they were banking though.Fred and Adele Astaire in Shadowland, April 1923.White Studio, Brewster Publications, Wikimedia Commons

13. She Was Endearing And Effervescent

By 1921, Adele and Fred had turned into Broadway fixtures. Their sell-out shows became must-see events in New York and wherever they toured. Accordingly, the money was pouring in and they were making around $750/week (around $10,000/week today) for their performances. 

It didn’t hurt that Adele increased their public profiles by endearing herself to reporters and critics with her effervescent personality.Adele And Fred Astaire On The Aquitania, 1923New York Daily News photo, Wikimedia Commons

14. They Had A Signature Move

At the culmination of their electrifying dance routines, Fred and Adele Astaire would stand side by side, their arms outstretched like they were clutching the handlebars of bicycles, ready to embark on a mesmerizing journey. As the orchestra serenaded them with a rhythmic cascade of "oompahs," the dynamic duo would commence their magical Runaround—a signature move that defined their careers.

The first session of the International Orchestra of FIJM - 1949Jeunesses Musicales International, Wikimedia Commons

15. She Was A Whirlwind Of Motion

With each step, their circles would expand, spiraling into a whirlwind of motion, a mesmerizing dance that transcended the ordinary. Finally, like ethereal apparitions, Adele and Fred would gracefully vanish into the wings, leaving their audiences breathless and longing for more. It was clear, however, that Adele was the real talent.

Fred Astaire wearing black suit is smiling and looking at side - 1942Columbia , Wikimedia Commons

16. She Had Comedic Timing

In the early days of their career, Fred heaped the credit for their success on Adele. He said that it was Adele’s “comedic timing and expressions” that made their routines so effective. Even the drama critic, Heywood Broun, agreed, calling Adele and Fred "the most graceful and charming young dancers in the world of musical comedy”.

But Adele was so much more than a dancer.

B&W portrait of Heywood Broun - 1935, Wikimedia Commons

17. She Had A “Squeaky” Voice

Even though audiences knew Adele as a dancer, she had other unique talents that endeared her to her fans. One of those talents was her singing. Over the course of her career, Adele developed a reputation for having an “adorably squeaky" soprano voice. Before long, however, she wouldn’t have anything “adorable” to sing about.Fred & Adele Astaire standing outside wearing coats and hats - circa 1900Bain News Service, Wikimedia Commons

18. She Was Friends With A Prince

Adele and Fred took their act overseas to the United Kingdom where they regaled royalty with their dance moves. The future King of England, the Prince of Wales, attended Adele’s and Fred’s show ten times and became close friends with them. In fact, there was rampant speculation that Adele was more than friends with the Prince.

Prince John Of The United Kingdom, The Lost Prince factsWikipedia

19. She Danced With A Prince

While performing in England and throughout the United Kingdom, Adele taught the Prince of Wales new dance moves. Nosey journalists even spotted the two dancing together at a club, looking particularly chummy. More might have happened if Adele’s father hadn’t unexpectedly passed away, forcing the dancing duo to return to the United States.Edward VIII factsWikipedia

20. She Returned To The Royals

After a few years back in New York, lighting up the Broadway stages with their electrifying dance moves, Adele and Fred returned to London. In between their rousing performances, they rekindled their friendship with the British royal family but, by then, there was no hope of a royal affair for Adele. But she could still get a castle if she really wanted one.Broadway-Theatre-Regina - 1941Wikimedia Commons, Picryl

21. Her Career Nearly Ended

Along with her brother, Adele returned to Broadway and more sold-out performances. But their hectic dance schedule had begun to take its toll on Adele. Slowly, she imagined a life beyond the stage. In the summer of 1927, however, her dance career nearly ended in a tragic accident. In fact, it’s a wonder that she survived it.

Fred Astaire wearing b&w shoes is dancing - 1955Studio publicity still, Wikimedia Commons

22. She Was In An Explosion

Adele had a nearly fatal accident. While cruising around Long Island, the engine of the motorboat she was in exploded. The catastrophic explosion sent searing hot oil flying into the air and most of it landed on Adele’s upper body. Badly burned, she had to put her career on hold until, thankfully, she made a full recovery.

Detroit Motor Boat  at water - circa 1900Library of Congress, Picryl

23. She Had A Funny Face

After making her recovery, Adele and Fred made a triumphant return to the stage. Once again, they took their act to London, premiering their hit show Funny Face. The media dubbed Adele’s return as “another outbreak of 'Astairia’” as audiences went wild for the dancing duo. But one fan, in particular, was doing cartwheels for Adele.

Funny Face 1927 posterUnknown Author , Wikimedia Commons

24. She Fell For A Lord

After their final London performance of Funny Face, Adele met the man of her dreams. No, not the Prince of Wales, but the dashing Lord Charles Cavendish. Even though he was nearly 10 years her junior, Adele and Cavendish hit it off and decided to travel together to Paris. Sadly, their whirlwind romance had to come to an end.

Adele Astaire with Lord Charles Cavendish - 1932Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

25. She Went Back To Broadway

Adele’s whirlwind romance didn’t seem like it was going to last. After Paris, Cavendish returned to the United Kingdom and Adele returned to New York. She continued performing alongside her brother with yet another Broadway favorite, The Band Wagon. But if there was anything that could break up the sister-brother duo, it was love.The Band Wagon (Musical) poster - 1931Unknown Author , Wikimedia Commons

26. Her Beau Crossed The Sea For Her

Not wanting to let her go, Cavendish moved his lavish life in the United Kingdom to the gritty streets of New York, just to be closer to Adele. The two picked up where their romance had left off in Paris but this time they were determined to make it work. At long last, Adele saw a life for herself off the stage and outside of the glaring spotlight.Adele Astaire in the paddock at Aintree Racecourse, England, March 23rd 1934.Central Press, Getty Images

27. She Never Really Liked The Theater

With a man in her arms (who wasn’t her brother and dancing partner), Adele made a shocking confession. Even though she was, unquestionably, the best female dancer in the world, her heart had never been in it. The theater life, she said, had always been “an acquired taste…like olives”. She was now craving a new dish—a Cavendish, to be exact.

Betty Compton, Adele Astaire and Gertrude McDonald - 1927Hulton Archive , Getty Images

28. She Wanted To Seal The Deal

Now that she had fallen in love—and with a British lord, no less—Adele began to imagine a life outside of vaudeville theater. As the two continued their courtship, it became obvious to Adele that she wanted to be with Cavendish forever. She saw no point in waiting for Cavendish to make a move so she decided to seal the deal herself.Exterior View Of The Fischer Vaudeville Theater - 1905California Historical Society, Picryl

29. She Got Down On One Knee

Ever since she was young, Adele had always been brash and forward thinking. She knew what she wanted and she went for it—and she wanted Cavendish. At the famous speakeasy, 21, Adele did something that was unprecedented for the time. She got down on one knee and proposed to Cavendish. Needless to say, Cavendish accepted.

American dancer and actress Adele Cavendish - 1943Keystone ,Getty Images

30. She Took Her Final Bow

With her new engagement secured, Adele looked forward to a life post-Broadway. On the beautiful evening of March 5, 1932, under the glimmering lights of Chicago, Adele Astaire took her final bow as a vaudevillian for one last performance of The Band Wagon. It marked the end of her mesmerizing 27-year dance partnership with her brother.1953 - Fred Astaire in The Band WagonMikel Agirregabiria ,Flickr

31. She Was One Of A Kind

The world didn’t quite know what to make of Adele’s early retirement. As the curtains fell on her emotional final performance, the American drama critic Ashton Stevens somberly proclaimed her exit from the theatrical world. "Heaven,” he lamented, “doesn't send every generation an Adele Astaire". Sadly, they would never get her back.

And it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Photograph of Ashton Stevens - 1920Chicago Herald and Examiner, Wikimedia Commons

32. She Broke Up The Band

With a heavy heart but a head full of memories, Adele, accompanied by her mother, embarked on the RMS Majestic bound for London and her new life. Meanwhile, her brother and decades-long dance partner, Fred, remained on American soil to craft his enduring legacy. Thus, after nearly three decades, the Astaire siblings parted ways.RMS Majestic in dock at Southampton -, Wikimedia Commons

33. She Played Backgammon With Churchill

While aboard the RMS Majestic, Adele found herself rekindling one of her extraordinary friendships with none other than Winston Churchill. Their camaraderie flourished as they engaged in spirited (if a little aggressive) games of backgammon. While at sea, Adele had no way of knowing just how much her fans missed her—and what they’d do to get her back.Winston Churchill wearing suit is looking at camera - 1941Yousuf Karsh, Wikimedia Commons

34. She Slipped Away In Secret

As the RMS Majestic pulled into port, a storm of reporters swarmed the pier, more eager than ever to get a photograph and quote from the recently-retired dancer. In this tumultuous sea of fame, Churchill emerged as Adele’s savior. With unwavering determination, Churchill distracted the feisty reporters while Adele and her mother slipped away, preserving her newly discovered privacy.

Winston And The KingGetty Images

35. She Left A Lasting First Impression

Shortly after her arrival, Adele and Cavendish decided that it was time for her to meet her future in-laws. Her first impression left the stiff upper-lipped Cavendish family reeling. Upon entering the room in which they had been waiting to greet her, Adele cartwheeled her way across the carpet to the utter amazement (or horror) of her future mother-in-law.

Duchess Of Devonshire wearing black dress is looking at side.Bain News Service, Wikimedia Commons

36. She Had To Put Off Her Wedding

Despite their awkward initial meeting, Adele and the rest of the Cavendish clan became quite close and the wedding plans proceeded as scheduled. The universe, however, tried to prevent Adele from entering what would turn out to be a doomed marriage. She and Cavendish had to postpone the wedding when he landed in the hospital for appendicitis.9Th Duke Of Devonshire With His ChildrenUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

37. She Had To Fix The Plumbing

On May 9, 1932, Adele and Cavendish finally tied the knot. They moved into the imposing Lismore Castle in Ireland but, despite its grandeur, it lacked the kind of sophistication to which Adele had become accustomed, such as modern toilets. She paid out of pocket herself to update the Cavendish family estate, calling the money her dowry.Lismore Castle - 2007Raúl Corral, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

38. She Still Looked Out For Her Brother

As Adele struggled to adjust to her new life with Canvedish, so too was her brother, Fred, struggling to adjust to his new dance partners. While she didn’t miss dancing and performing, Adele certainly missed her brother. Right before his first performance since she had retired, Adele sent Fred a teasing telegram that read, “Now Minnie, don’t forget to moan”.Fred Astaire in black suit and hat is talking on the phone.Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

39. She Lost Her Baby

Behind the stone walls of Lismore Castle, Adele’s apparently happy post-retirement life was not what it seemed. Just one year into her marriage, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Tragically, however, the birth had been premature and her daughter did not survive. It was only the beginning of the darkest period in her life.

Louise Margaret Hospital - 1910Wikimedia Commons, Picryl

40. She Suffered A “Twin” Tragedy

Two years after losing her first child, Adele tried once again to start a family. This time, she became pregnant with twins. If she had dreams of raising a dancing duo like herself and her brother, however, those quickly faded to a nightmare. She gave birth to two stillborn boys. Her husband wasn’t even able to comfort her.

English Mission HospitalWikimedia Commons, Picryl

41. She Was All Alone

Adele loved Cavendish dearly—but Cavendish loved the bottle even more. Fueled by the loss of their children, Cavendish’s addiction worsened. As his health deteriorated, he spent ever more time away from Adele, seeking treatment in German spas, nursing homes and hospitals. For the first time in her life, Adele was all alone.

Lismore Castle -, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

42. She Never Returned To Show Business

As Adele’s life fell to pieces, her brother’s reached new heights. Fred had successfully made the transition from Broadway to Hollywood but Tinseltown thought his act was missing something—or someone. David Selznick and other Hollywood heavyweights tried to lure Adele back into show business but she refused each offer.David O. Selznick wearing suit is looking at side - 1941New York World Telegram, Wikimedia Commons

43. She Joined The Red Cross

After suffering yet another failed pregnancy and with a husband consumed by his addiction, Adele found solace elsewhere. In need of something and someone to care for, Adele joined the American Red Cross. To help boost the morale of the injured troops and those fighting on the frontline of WWII, Adele signed “up to 130 letters” a week.Wounded soldiers being wheeled about the grounds of the American Red Cross - 1918Imperial War Museum, UK, Picryl

44. She Lost Her Husband

After years of struggle and hardship, Adele’s love story with Cavendish came to a tragic end. At just 38 years old and after 12 years of marriage, Cavendish succumbed to complications arising from his destructive addiction. The sad—but not altogether unexpected—turn of events left Adele destitute and desperate. She needed someone to save her.Adele Astaire looking at front and smiling  - 1973Ron Galella , Getty Images

45. She Married A Spy

With nothing left to lose, Adele embarked on a new chapter of her life—one that would finally bring her some measure of happiness. Following a brief courtship, she married her old American comrade from her WWII days, Kingman Douglass. With a colorful past as a shrewd investment banker and top spy at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Douglass provided Adele with excitement.Photograph of an American Pilot, Kingman Douglass, in France, ca. 03/1918National Archives at College Park, Wikimedia Commons

46. She Kept The Castle

Even though she had remarried, Adele still adored the Cavendish family and considered them to be a part of her life. Fortunately, the Cavendish clan felt the same way for her. So, when Adele asked if she could continue on at Lismore Castle, the Cavendish family agreed that she could stay there for three months of the year.

Lismore Castle Entrance - 2013Gabriela Avram, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

47. She Finally Found Happiness

Following her own tragic losses, Adele would have been happy to get children any way she could. Through her new marriage to Douglass, she became the stepmother to three healthy boys. Thus ensued an idyllic period in Adele’s life that spanned New York, Virginia, Lismore Castle and even a vacation home in Round Hill, Jamaica.

Adele Astaire - 1972Ron Galella , Getty Images

48. Her Husband Had Back-to-Back Accidents

Tragedy struck once—or, actually, twice—again at the life that Adele had carefully constructed. In the tumultuous year of 1968, fate delivered a series of cruel blows. First, her second husband, Douglass, was struck by a speeding bus, leaving him with grievous injuries. Then, tragedy struck again when Douglass became involved in a car accident, further afflicting his battered body.

These relentless trials culminated in a devastating blow in 1971 when a merciless brain hemorrhage claimed his life.Lismore castleAlison Killilea, Flickr

49. She Clung To Her Old Memories

Adele, left to navigate the storm of grief, sought solace in the arid embrace of the Phoenix, Arizona region. However, the echoes of her past beckoned her across the vast Atlantic to the castle in Ireland, a place that had once been a sanctuary shared with her first husband. From 1968 until 1979, she clung to this cherished refuge during the summer months.Approach To Lismore Castle - 2010Mac McCarron, CC BY-SA 2.0 ,Wikimedia Commons

50. She Had A Mouth Like A Sailor

Renowned for her indomitable spirit, Adele defied the ravages of time. Even well into her late seventies, the vibrant rhythm of life coursed through her veins, as she took to the streets each morning for a rigorous jog. A force of nature, she rebounded from illnesses with a tenacity that defied adversity and unapologetically shared her opinions in “Marine-type” English.

Adele Astaire taking a photo with camera - 1972Ron Galella , Getty Images

51. She Remained Close To Her Brother

Throughout it all, Adele remained inextricably bound to her brother, Fred. Their unbreakable bond transcended distance, with letters, packages, and long-distance phone calls bridging the miles between them. Their conversations often wandered into the realm of their beloved soap operas, sustaining the enduring connection that had defined their lives.Publicity photograph of Fred Astaire and Adele Astaire in 1921.Unknown Author , Wikimedia Commons

52. She Exited Stage Right

On the fateful day of January 25, 1981, the world lost its greatest dancer and a Broadway luminary as Adele drew her final breath. She had reached the venerable age of 84, her complicated life a symphony of grace and rhythm. Sadly, her beloved brother Fred passed away six years later.

Adele Astaire wearing dress is looking down and talking  - 1973Ron Galella ,Getty Images

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