When Joan Leslie was a child, she’d watch enraptured as Fred Astaire swooped and glided across the flickering screen.
“I’d go home and practice those dances with my sister, never dreaming that I’d ever meet him — let alone dance with him,” Leslie recalled, still a little star-struck, at a tribute last week to celebrate Astaire’s 100th birthday.
Leslie was 17 years old when she paired with Astaire in “The Sky’s the Limit” (1943), and the clip was shown along with 16 others to a packed house at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences on Friday.
“He spun me around, just like he did with Ginger Rogers,” she said, describing her audition. “Well, I was in heaven.”
Leslie remembered Astaire turning to Bing Crosby, who happened to be in the room, and saying, “Oh yes, she can dance.”
Both Ann Miller, who danced with Astaire in “Easter Parade” (1948), and Cyd Charisse, his partner in “The Band Wagon” (1953), referred to Astaire’s sensitivity about his height.
When they first met, Astaire sidled up to Charisse without a word. “He was trying to see if I was too tall to dance with him,” she said.
“I was too tall for him,” Miller insisted. “How I got that part I’ll never know.”
Other memories were provided by Astaire’s widow, Robyn; emcee John Forsyth; John Irvin, who directed Astaire’s last film, “Ghost Story” (1982); George Sidney, helmer of “Ziegfeld Follies” (1946); and Bud Yorkin, who created the triple Emmy-winning TV special “An Evening with Fred Astaire” in 1958.