“Fred and Ginger” — shorthand for dancing. “He gives her class. She gives him sex,” quipped Katharine Hepburn. Paramount dismissed Astaire with “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Slightly balding. Also dances.” So he went to RKO, where he clicked with actress Rogers in 1933’s “Flying Down to Rio.”
The duo shot to superstardom in their nine subsequent films, injecting Depression-era America with carefree ballroom and tap-dance numbers set to sophisticated songs by the best writers (Gershwin, Berlin, Kern) and danced on gorgeous sets.
Rogers liked to say that she did everything Fred did but backwards and in heels. Astaire’s astonishing technical skill and work ethic translated as silky ease onscreen, and his choreography work, often with Hermes Pan, was unmatched — until Gene Kelly came along.