Fred Astaire is dead; what hope have we got?

All good things must come to an end, which is a shame made palatable only because all bad things end as well.

The other day a friend called me in the early morning hours, knowing, I’m sure, that I’d likely be awake still and not at all mind if she’d been drinking a bit.

Out from my cell phone poured the pent up doubts of an early-30s woman with no immediate marriage in sight. A relationship she’d been counting on had ended, somewhat badly, but luckily, she got to see the Nots of the man before she tied the Knot of matrimony.

It didn’t entirely help.

“My eggs are dying!” she said, and I imagined “Cathy” stress-lines radiating out of her head as her biological clock’s alarm rang like an air-raid siren.

I told her it would be all right; my friend had learned a lot about freezing eggs, so there was no need to worry about genetic problems or infertility. There was plenty of time to find the right man, settle down and have that true love. Have hope.

“Fred Astaire is dead,” she said. “What hope have we got?”

I said I didn’t know.

She ended the call not long after, and I sat up a while longer, trying to figure if she’d meant it as a tangent or not. Eventually I realized I couldn’t even pretend to sleep and went on a YouTube binge.

I started watching the film “Blue Skies” with Fred Astaire, and by that I mean I was watching the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” sequence that includes, among other things, “the magical cane.”

He drops it and zoom! Right back into his hand like a magnet. Then he dances with a dozen more of him, as though they’re mirrors, but they’re not. Nowadays you’d do it with computer imagery, but this was ’46 and supposedly real, although you can’t see how.

The funny thing is, Astaire is supposed to be retiring, an old man at 47 in need of a cane (haw haw). He’s on his way out, you know; this is his farewell after four decades of showmanship.

But you see him do this thing, this marvelous bit of wonder, and the whole bit is really just him, just Astaire at his best.

(I’m not an expert but I didn’t like anything near so well except maybe the “Bojangles of Harlem” bit from “Swing Time”; who else but Astaire could do blackface without coming off as racist?).

Astaire was in most every way an incredible human being, 76 years of being arguably the best and most charismatic dancer ever, as well as almost universally liked. For his part, Astaire supposedly said Michael Jackson was the best dancer he’d ever seen, and that’s probably true. But Jackson, who got away with whiteface for a long time, was not so well-balanced, and as a dancer, supernatural at his best.

Astaire was an unbelievable man, but you believe he’s human. He’s ideal, but within reach.

I brought up my friend to another woman, she in her late 20s, and asked the same question.

“We’ve got the same chance as he had,” she answered, “without the tap-shoes.”

I said I hoped she was right.

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