Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Great Plains Quarterly 33:1 (Winter 2013)


© 2013 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Modern theater historian Kathleen Riley has written an impressive, authoritative biography of siblings Adele and Fred Astaire, collectively the entertainment phenomenon that elevated dance “from a mathematics of movement to the status of art.” Starting out in 1905 as a child act in the grueling training ground of vaudeville, in 1917 they made the move to Broadway, where they reigned supreme for over a decade.

Fred Astaire is a star without rival. But amazingly, it was his effervescent older sister who, by all accounts, including Fred’s, was the one with the talent. Though not conventionally beautiful, she was a born clown and a gifted dancer, possessed of a certain star quality, “an energy and irresistibility memorialized by various revered men of letters as little short of a fifth force of nature.”