As Joseph Epstein points out in his discussion of one of the greatest names in the history of dance, movies and show business, the name itself is perfection, matching honest, unpretentious Fred with twinkling, shining, uplifting Astaire. Born Frederick Austerlitz in 1899, there was nothing in his background or childhood to suggest his destiny. His Austrian father worked in a small way in the boondocks of Omaha, Nebraska, and there was nobody notably musical or artistic anywhere in the family.
Like so many boys, little Frederick first entered a dance class in the wake of his older sister Adele, with whom he went on to form a successful stage partnership before she quit to marry Lord Charles Cavendish. Then he went to Hollywood. The legend that the studio report on