screen couples: Fred Astaire & Eleanor Powell: Broadway Melody of 1940

“She ‘put ‘em down like a man’ no ricky-ticky-sissy stuff with Ellie. She really knocked out a tap dance in a class by herself. […] I had 29 dance partners… I could hold my own with 28 of them..I met my match with Ellie. No male dancer can keep up with her and it was apparent to me she should be featured in solos.”

Fred Astaire


Do you know, during the three weeks of rehearsal on that picture, it was always ‘Mr Astaire’ and ‘Miss Powell’. You would think we were two scientists in a laboratory we were so serious. It was Fred’s first picture after Ginger and people expected so much from us, well there really wasn’t much time for laughter. But we both liked to work hard, and our respect for each other was tremendous. Do you know that on Begin the Beguine we rehearsed for two solid weeks on just arm movements so they’d be right together. And I can remember one day, when we did a step in counter-rhythm – same rhythm, different steps – and he was so pleased he rushed over, lifted me in the air and said ‘Oh Ellie!’ and then he put me down and said ‘I do beg your pardon’ and I said ‘look we can’t go on like this, I’m Ellie, you’re Fred, we’re just two hoofers.’ And the ice was broken. Of course, the reason you work so hard is to make it look easy and both of us would always say, ‘Can we do it just one more time?’ We would still be there now, 1940 to 1981, if someone hadn’t been there to say, ‘Look it’s just fine, print it!’ But Mr Astaire, I still wish we could do it just one more time! Long live the King! - Eleanor Powell (x)


Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell in “Broadway Melody of 1940″

When Fred Astaire came over from RKO in 1938 MGM finally had a male dancer to partner with Eleanor Powell. This was the last of the Broadway Melody series though the movies aren’t connected by any continuous storyline. By 1940 MGM finally had all the parts of the musical puzzle put together.

Oliver Marsh and Joseph Ruttenberg handled the cinematography. Director Norman Taurog could keep the pace between musical numbers from faltering and set decorator Edwin B. Willis did one of the best jobs on any black and white movie. They topped it off with a great score by Cole Porter with: “I’ve Got My Eye on You”, “Between You and Me”, “I Concentrate on You and "Begin the Beguine”.

Frank Sinatra summed it up best in “That’s Entertainment” in 1974. “You know, you can wait around and hope, but I’ll tell you, you’ll never see the likes of this again.”

After watching a section of Broadway Melody of 1940, Cary Grant whispered to me, “Who do you think did Fred’s clothes?” Cary had just gone crazy over the white tuxedo that Fred wore. There was Cary, one of the great fashion figures in all of Hollywood, asking where Fred got his clothes. - Jack Haley Jr.