Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Babbitt and a Bromide

Played with Photoshop at work last night…
This one is the only gif I’m almost completely happy with.
I still have much to learn. :)
Gene Kelly signing in on ‘What’s My Line?’


“A babbit met a bromide on the avenue one day, and held a conversation in their own peculiar way,” sings Fred Astaire along with Gene Kelly in the only instance where they actually dance together. Both would later appear in documentaries as well as an airline commercial together near the end of their lifetimes. The song “The Babbitt and the Bromide” is a symbol of the differences of what many argue the two greatest dancers of all time. It is hardly possible to surf the internet about these two without finding some opinionated people arguing exactly who is best and some who simply appreciate both sides so they are stuck in the middle. There is hardly room for an argument that they were not good at what they did though. The two may have had differing philosophies about what dance is and how it should be preformed; however certain aspects of their careers such as the movies they starred in are very much the same.


Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly have different background stories on how they became involved in cinema. Fred Astaire started off performing with his sister Adele Astaire and gained high popularity while working with her. When his sister left the act to be married he expanded himself and found success in Broadway at age eighteen, which then led him into films. Gene Kelly, on the other hand, grew up dancing with his brother in cheap clubs, created a dance studio, then entered Broadway at age thirty where he did a few shows before being recognized as an incredible talent in Pal Joey by Judy Garland, which then led her to ask him to star as her romantic lead in For Me and My Gal. Fred Astaire played more sophisticated roles while Gene performed with more charisma as the all American male. Gene seemed to push the envelope while Fred appeared to relax a bit more. Fred’s motions implied that no one could come close to emulating him while Gene Kelly’s movement suggested that he was more human and attainable.

Despite their differences, the two often would have the same dancing partners. Both actors thrived with the same dancers. The successfully paired stars that were easy to dance with for the two dancers are as follows: Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland, Cyd Charisse, and Leslie Caron. Fred Astaire propelled a few careers as well as Gene Kelly who gave Judy Garland a boost when her popularity was waning. Gene Kelly also served to jump start a number of unknown performers careers, an example is Leslie Caron whom Gene introduced to American audiences, and she would later perform with other great artists like Fred. Judy Garland worked with Gene Kelly three times and it would have been four if Kelly had not broken his ankle before the filming of Easter Parade, and Kelly called Fred Astaire to take the part. The way they felt about their singing was the same as well, they were at times apologetic for the way they talk sang. These two dancing giants were perfectionists when it came to rehearsal and were critical of their own acting. It would be easy to state that both grew up loving to dance but even though both were involved with dance from a young age, both thought dancing was a girlish activity to take up.

Gene Kelly fought to demonstrate that dancing was a manly sport because it used some of the same moves used in sports. In order to try to prove his point he had popular sports players such as Sugar Ray and Mickey Mantle come in for a television special Dancing is a Man’s Sport where they danced and demonstrated moves they did while playing their sport that could be used to create a dance. MGM tried to prevent Kelly from doing his trademark stunts without a stunt man but Kelly always managed to do his own stunts which sometimes were quite daring as he had no equipment while jumping and swinging from architecture. He chose movies that would help the image of dance by including sports like in his role in Take Me Out to the Ballgame, that included a swimming scene with the famous swimmer Esther Williams. A healthy lifestyle with athleticism and muscle was what Kelly promoted. This is a stark contrast to Fred Astaire which had to keep his underweight figure in order to be able to perform so light on his feet. Astaire made his name synonymous with class and the only stunts he performed were usually created by playing with modern technology, for example when Fred Astaire dances on the ceiling in Royal Wedding, that was created with modern technology. When Fred debuted on Broadway and the big screen there were no complex expectations, the only thing expected was a simple show. However when Gene Kelly came onto the Broadway stage it became more intensely about incorporating comedy and scantily dressed showgirls into the numbers so Gene Kelly incorporated comedy, acting, dancing, singing, and choreography all through his extensive career. Gene wanted to spread different forms of dance into popular culture, especially ballet while Fred pretty much stuck to his jazz and tap. Their personas were vastly contrasting and the way they executed their style was different as well as Cyd Charisse indicated because she said her husband could whether she had worked with Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly that day because with Gene she would come home with bruises and scratches but with Fred she would arrive home in perfect condition.

There is no doubt that these are two of the greatest dancers in show business. When coming up with a list of incredible dancers these two should be the top two. Some may debate who comes first but it is all a matter of personal style choice. Astaire is the epitomy of style, grace, class, and sophistication while Kelly is the all American, athletic, energetic, happy go lucky daredevil. There is no lack of charm and merit in either of them. One was soft spoken and the other was outspoken, and there was no end to the way they charmed the audience. Although Astaire is usually the one attributed to good classy dancing, Gene Kelly was an innovator for dance, especially modern dance. Fred helped create a stereotype on what good dancing is but Gene Kelly sets that stereotype free. Gene Kelly has inspired people for generations to hop off their furniture and experiment as he did. Kelly could make an umbrella, a normal gesture, a mop, or a newspaper a dynamic tool in a spectacular number. Either way Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly are legends that continue to encourage and inspire future generations in the field of dance.

Credit for the gifs is It's always fair weather and thomasdestry's fred astaire things or something like that.

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