Monthly Archives: January 2016

One More Time With Fred Astaire!

After my recent blog post with my top 10 Fred Astaire dance sequences, I just had to do another post because I left too many great dance sequences out! So here goes: eight more examples from the master of the dance:

#1: Check out this from “The Bell of New York” (1952) starring Fred Astaire and Vera-Ellen. This scene will give you a sense of the precision of Fred Astaire because you will see a take and a re-take of the same dance in different costumes. Notice how perfectly in sync the two are.

#2: From “A Damsel in Distress” (1937), this is a precursor to the many-years-later scene from “Easter Parade” that I posted earlier. The combination of rhythm and timing with the drums and dance is astonishing:

#3: And then there’s the theme song and dance from “Top Hat” (1935): Need I say more?

#4: I had to add the famous “cheek to cheek” dance sequence with Ginger Rogers also from “Top Hat.” With feathers flying, you won’t find more elegance and grace than you’ll find in these five magical moments from Fred and Ginger:

#5: People forget how many hit songs Fred Astaire had on top of his masterful dancing. From “Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails” to “Cheek to Cheek,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “A Fine Romance,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “You’re Easy to Dance With,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” and more. When you play some of these songs for folks who have never heard of Fred Astaire, they know the songs because they have been used in so many movies, TV shows, or commercials over the years. Check out one of my favorites, “Pick Yourself Up” from “Swing Time” (1936). In fact, “Swing Time” has multiple hit songs including “The Way You Look Tonight” that I already gave you above.

Oh, and just so you know, you’ll get dancing in this clip of “Pick Yourself Up” as well. I had to keep with the spirit of things here, so here Fred is pretending to be a novice at dance in order to get to know his dance instructor (Ginger Rogers) better:

#6: And then there’s the famous “ceiling dance” from “Royal Wedding” of 1951. This was cutting edge for the day. My kids love this: “How does he dance upside down, daddy?”

#7: Here’s another sequence of pure beauty and elegance from “Holiday Inn,” (1942). Here Fred (“Ted Hanover”) is trying to steal Bing Crosby’s (“Jim Hardy”) girl. FYI – even though Bing loses this round, he does end up winning the girl in the end.

#8: Back to Fred and Rita, check out the speed and timing of “Shorty George” from “You Were Never Lovelier” (1942). Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth were truly amazing together!

I guess I better go now or else I’ll put up 100 more! In closing, I will say this: Thank you Fred Astaire for giving us so much talent and beauty that will be with us until the end of time… and beyond!



The Greatest Dance Sequence Ever Filmed

Those are the words of the great Fred Astaire speaking of this dance sequence performed by “the Nicholas Brothers” (Harold and Fayard Nicholas) with the inimitable Cab Calloway in the 1934 movie, “Stormy Weather.”

Watch this and you’ll see why the greatest ever (Fred Astaire) would call this “the greatest.” The athleticism and raw talent displayed is beyond words.

All I can say is, “Get ready!”


The Greatest Dancer Ever

There were many great dancers in Hollywood in years long past. Gene Kelly, Donald O’Conner, Danny Kaye, the Nicholas brothers (stay tuned for my next blog post that will feature these amazing brothers), Cyd Charisse, Ginger Rogers, Eleanor Powell, Ann Miller, Vera-Ellen, just to name a few, but in my opinion, no one had the entire package to compare with Fred Astaire. The man had grace, elegance, incredible rhythm, timing, athleticism, and straight up dancing skills in virtually every kind of dancing known to man. He appeared to glide instead of step. I, for one, am still not convinced he was touching the floor in some of his dance sequences with Ginger Rogers!

He also had the ability to bring the very best out of each of his dancing partners. No one could touch him when it came to dancing “cheek to cheek.” But his solos were even more impressive because he could get to places no man… or woman… could follow.

The man even walked cool!

At any rate, I have assembled 10 of my favorite dance scenes from Fred Astaire here for you to enjoy. But I recommend watching any and every movie Mr. Astaire was ever in… where he danced, of course!

In this first movie clip, Fred dances with the most beautiful woman to ever grace the silver screen, Rita Hayworth, in the 1941 classic, “You’ll Never Get Rich.” Astaire surprised folks when he wrote in his autobiography that Rita was his all-time favorite dance partner. Watch these first two clips and you’ll get a good sense why.

As far as pure beauty and elegance goes, here’s number 2 with Rita again, as promised. This is from “You Were Never Lovelier” (1942):

For number 3, take a look at this scene with the absolutely stunning and ridiculously talented Ginger Rogers, from my favorite Astaire/Rogers movie, “Swing Time” (1936). This is one of the all-time great couples dances. Jumping over fences without missing a beat? No big deal. Not for these two, anyway!:

My fourth pick is from another Astaire/Rogers movie, “Shall We Dance” (1937). This is his famous ”engine room” dance. Fred dances alone in this one. Try and count the number of spins Astaire does… I dare ya’! And tell me if you are not exhausted after just watching this incredible sequence! Keep in mind that Astaire took more than 40 takes for this scene! I think it was 46, as I recall! He was a perfectionist!

The least he could have done was to have broken a sweat, am I right?

Keep in mind as you watch this my fifth clip from “Easter Parade” (1948), starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, that Mr. Astaire came out of retirement to do it. Gene Kelly was originally cast for the movie, but was unable to shoot it due to an injury. Many wondered if Astaire would be up to the task at 49 years of age. And on top of that, many feared a romance between a man the age of Fred Astaire and the much-younger Judy Garland would lack credibility.

Needless to say Fred Astaire astounded as he always did. In this scene, he’s trying to get this young boy to give up an Easter bunny that Fred had his eye on for his girl. Note the incredible rhythm and timing in this scene. Not many people know that Astaire was a professional drummer from way back in his early years of performing with his sister Adele. He puts it to good use here along with an incredible combination of dance, drums, twirling both drum sticks and a cane, and, well, you’ll see:

My sixth clip is from one of Astaire’s most famous movies: ”Top Hat” (1935). The song is ”Isn’t This a Lovely Day (To Be Caught in the Rain).” You’ll notice here what is common to many of Astaire’s dance scenes. His dancing tells the story better than words. Notice the reluctant and even a touch angry Ginger Rogers, who to this point wanted nothing to do with Fred, is wooed throughout the song and dance until the end finds them all but tying the knot. They get closer, move away, closer, and then move away again. They never actually touch until about 3:40 into the dance. Very cool.

For my seventh clip consider this: It is one thing to be the best dancer in the world, but how about on roller skates! Check out this scene from “Shall We Dance” (1937) where Astaire and Rogers dance on roller skates like, well, they’re not on roller skates! Set to the major hit “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” you’ve got to see it to believe it:

On roller skates, people!

For clips 8 and 9, I’m going to take two scenes from the classic Christmas movie: “Holiday Inn” (1942), starring Fred, Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds, and Virginia Dale. In my #8, Fred’s character, ”Ted Hanover,” is drunk as a skunk on New Year’s Eve and dances with “Linda Mason,” played by Marjorie Reynolds. To say he nails it is an understatement. And check out his final fall when he passes out at the end of the dance. Talk about selling out totally for a part! If they didn’t have some serious padding on the floor there, I’m betting Fred had a headache the next day… and not from drinking!

For #9, “Ted Hanover” has to improvise his 4th of July dance sequence when “Linda Mason” doesn’t show. Another aspect of Astaire’s mastery comes to the fore when you see how his tapping becomes an integral part of the musical score itself. His taps complete the music.

And finally, it was between “Top Hat,” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” Puttin’ on the Ritz won by a coin toss:

Yes, folks, Fred Astaire, was and is simply the best!







The Church and Capital Punishment

Years ago, my wife and I were at a fundraiser for a candidate who was then running for President of the United States, and I struck up a conversation with a Catholic attorney who does great work for various pro-life causes. I’ll call him John. The conversation had hardly turned from small talk about family and children to pro-life matters when John made the claim, “Anyone who is pro-death penalty cannot make the claim to being pro-life because the two positions are oxymoronic.”

“Oh, boy!” I thought, “Here we go!”

I pointed out to John what too many Catholics simply do not know: The death penalty has always been, and always will be, upheld as a legitimate and potentially just punishment in Catholic Tradition as well as in Scripture.

This teaching cannot change.

Genesis 9:6 says, for example, “He who sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God created man in his own image.”

The Catchism of the Council of Trent teaches under the heading of “The Fifth Commandment:”

Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: “In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.”

And CCC 2267 declares:

Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

This latter statement in quotes, “… rare, if not practically non-existent,” is taken from Pope St. John Paul II’s Encyclical Letter, Evangelium Vitae, paragraph 56. This statement, along with the USCCB’s thought-provoking document on capital punishment of 1980, where the bishops declared their belief that the death penalty ought not to be carried out in the United States in our time, were the documents John used to say a person is not truly pro-life if he is, at the same time, pro-death penalty.

I respectfully disagreeed.

A Matter of Prudence

I pointed out to John that the Church, Pope St. John Paul II, and the American bishops, and now we can add Pope Francis as well, are not making dogmatic statements on the matter of the death penalty; rather, they are making prudential judgments. There is a significant difference between the two.

Catholics are free to debate the issue of when the death penalty should or should not be employed. In fact, then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, when he was Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, declared, in a document called, “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles,” 3:

Not all moral issues have the same weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father (John Paul II) on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

So again, the key here, as I said to my friend John, is to understand that capital punishment and the death penalty are not “non-negotiable” matters as abortion and euthanasia are. And we could speak of other “non-negotiables” as well.

Thus, a Catholic who supports the use of the death penalty against those convicted of capital crimes in modern times while opposing the murder of innocents does not somehow forfeit his “pro-life” position.


After what ended up being a very congenial discussion, it struck me how important it is that we never present the question of capital punishment as if there is a moral equivalency between it and, say, abortion, or any of the other “non-negotiables” in our moral theology. Capital punishment can be carried out justly against a murderer who has been justly convicted. Abortion, however, is always and in every situation grave sin and can never be justified in any sense.

The problems with presenting capital punishment as if it is a “non-negotiable” are manifold:

1. It sets up contradictions between Scripture and the teaching of the Church. This can never be.

2. It presents contradictions between Magisterial statements of the Church. This causes confusion among the faithful and can lead to skepticism toward other teachings of the Church.

3. It presents contradictions to those seeking full communion with the Catholic Church that may prevent them from further consideration of the legitimate claims of the Catholic Church.

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