In the new AFI's Years John "Lucky" Garnett Fred Astaire is a gambler and dancer. He is set to marry Margaret Betty Furness , but his friends hold him up quibbling about a minor alteration to his suit, so that he is late for the wedding. Margaret's father phones to call off the wedding, but Lucky doesn't get that message. His friends bet him that he will not be getting married, and he agrees to the bet. He and his friend "Pop" Cardetti Victor Moore try to buy train tickets, but his friends take his money — because he lost the bet.
So they hitch the first freight train to New York. Broke, they wander around the city. Lucky meets Penny Ginger Rogers , a dance school instructor, when he asks for change for a quarter. It's his lucky quarter and Pop feels bad that Lucky lost it. They attempt to get it back, but Penny is in no mood to deal with them. When she drops her things, Pop sneaks the quarter out of her purse, and she thinks Lucky did it.
They follow Penny to her work. To be able to apologize, he has to take a dancing lesson from her. She's still furious at him. After a disastrous lesson, Penny tells him to "save his money" since he will never learn to dance. Her boss, Mr. Gordon Eric Blore , overhears her comment and fires her.
Lucky dances with Penny to "prove" how much she's taught him. Not only does Mr. Gordon give Penny her job back, he sets up an audition with the owner of a local venue. They check into the same hotel where Penny is staying. Lucky does not have a tuxedo to wear to the audition. He tries to get a tuxedo off a drunk man, but he ends up losing his own clothes instead. He explained this extraordinary versatility—he once danced for more than an hour before a dancing class without repeating a step—by insisting that his feet responded directly to the music, his head having nothing to do with it.
His body lay in state at an armory in Harlem; schools were closed, thousands lined the streets waiting for a glimpse of his bier, and he was eulogized by politicians, black and white—perhaps more lavishly than any other African American of his time. The much-loved performer brought his show great publicity when in his sixties, he danced his way backwards down Broadway from Columbus Circle to 44th Street.
Robinson had spoken out against being stereotyped by Hollywood and in he went back there to star opposite Lena Horne and Cab Calloway in the quality film musical, Stormy Weather.
Robinson was dogged by lifelong personal demons, enhanced by having to endure the indignities of racism that, despite his great success, still limited his opportunities. A favorite Robinson anecdote is that he seated himself in a restaurant and a customer objected to his presence. A notorious gambler and a high liver but with a big heart, he was a soft touch for anyone down on their luck or with a good story.
During his lifetime Robinson spent a fortune but his generosity was not totally wasted and his haunting memories of surviving on the streets as a child never left him.
In , while in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, he saw two children risk speeding traffic to cross a street because there was no stoplight at the intersection. Robinson went to the city and provided the money to have a safety traffic light installed. Astaire bursts forth, dancing. What follows, though, is no traditional blackface number. For another, after the chorus dances in alternating black and white costumes as if to make a point about race, Astaire builds rhythmic complexity to peak upon peak of glory in the last three minutes.
Here Astaire is subverting racist caricature to celebrate the black tradition of tap dance. In fact, there were black tap dancers whom Astaire admired much more than Robinson: notably John W. Bubbles, whom he found truly great.
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