By Kathleen Riley
Oxford University Press, $27.95, 241 pages
Kathleen Riley’s The Astaires: Fred and Adele chronicles the career of Fred Astaire and his sister and early partner Adele, before he was immortalized on the silver screen. Although Fred Astaire is a household name, his early career as a child star and the partner of his more famous sister Adele is now almost eclipsed. Riley, in this authoritative and accessible book, brings this stage of the Astaire’s career back to the limelight. Riley gives details of the early family life of the Astaires without crossing the line to gossip, making a point that their mother Ann was not a stage mother in the way we usually imagine. Riley also gives a detailed, but not overly labored recitation of the Astaires’ early acts and time in vaudeville.
The book is most successful in illuminating the personality of Adele, who is now much less well known than her brother, and how their starkly different personalities worked to balance each other on stage and off. This book does only cover the period from childhood to Adele’s marriage and retirement from the stage, so readers interested in accounts of Fred’s later movie career will have to look to one of the many other sources, but this is a fascinating, detailed but not overly academic look into one of the most famous duos of the early 20th century.