Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
When I was kid, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films often used to be shown on the television on Sunday afternoons. Despite the fact that they were about thirty years old by that time, they were truly entrancing.
I loved the music, the dancing, the humour and most of all, Ginger Roger’s frocks.
But it was one of those wonderful dresses – the one you see above – that cause chaos when the pair was making the wonderful film Top Hat.
If Astaire / Rogers fans were to name their favorite movie,I’m sure that many would say that Top Hat was their absolute favourite. It has everything.
In his autobiography, Fred Astaire explains about the mechanics of making films that feature dancing and specifically, the problems with his partners’ dresses. He explains that every female dancer prefered to rehearse in what he referred to as ‘slacks’. This was fine because they gave his partners more freedom of movement, were comfortable and allowed the watching choreographers to see every move.
Ginger, like the others, prefered to rehearse in slacks. So much so that Fred relates that one day, she came onto the site in a dress and he and the choreographer didn’t realise who she was.
Fred wasn’t concerned with the styling of the dresses – as long as they looked good in the eventual scenes – but he was concerned about how they would flow during the dance. (We know that he was such a perfectionist when it came to creating dance routines). He would insist on full dress rehearsals before shooting.If the dress wasn’t available, then his partner would dance in a mock up.
One of the best scenes in Top Hat is the one where Fred and Ginger are dancing to the wonderful song.Cheek to Cheek. In the final rehearsals, Ginger wore one of these ‘prop dresses’because the actual gown wasn’t ready. He had seen drawings of the real dress and thought it looked perfect – flowing and elegant.
He asked Ginger (or ‘Gin’ as her called her) to wear the real dress for one final rehearsal but it still wasn’t ready. The dress was made up of fine feathers and they weren’t all sewn on yet. She told him that it wouldn’t be ready until the day of the final shooting. As Astaire says in his book,’that was that’.
The day wa soon upon them with no-one expecting what would eventually happen. It took Ginger about an hour to be fitted into the magnificent dress. First, they recorded the song. Then came the time film the dance sequence. Then it happened. Feathers that had been painstakingly sewn onto the dress started to detach themselves. As Fred says in the book ‘like a chicken that had been attacked by a coyote’. He says it was like a snowstorm.
The wardrobe lady said that it was only because the dress was being worn for the first time. She was sure it wouldn’t happen again. So they started to shoot the scene again. But again,the feathers took over. The cameraman stopped the filming, saying that there was no way he could carry on. Other people in the film studios heard about it and sightseers flocked in.
Eventually, the feathers stopped flying (more or less) but Fred and the choreographer devised a song especially for Ginger, sung to the tune of Cheek to Cheek.
Feathers — I hate feathers
And I hate them so that I can hardly speak
And I never find the happiness I seek
With those chicken feathers dancing
Cheek to Cheek
The scene is truly gorgeous. But watch closely and you will see stray feathers.
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