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Adele, Lady Charles Cavendish (born Adele Marie Austerlitz; September 10, 1896 – January 25, 1981), was an American dancer, stage actress and singer. She was Fred Astaire's elder sister, and his partner in a 27-year career in vaudeville and theater, beginning when he was five and she was eight.

Adele Astaire
Adele Astaire in 1919.jpg
Adele Astaire, 1919
Adele Marie Austerlitz

(1896-09-10)September 10, 1896
DiedJanuary 25, 1981(1981-01-25) (aged 84)
OccupationDancer, entertainer
Lord Charles Cavendish
(m. 1932; died 1944)

Kingman Douglass
(m. 1947; died 1971)
RelativesFred Astaire (brother)


Early life and vaudeville (1896—1917)Edit

Adele and her brother Fred in 1906

Adele Marie Austerlitz was born on September 10, 1896, in Omaha, Nebraska.[1] Her parents were Johanna "Ann" Geilus, an American-born Lutheran of German descent, and Frederic "Fritz" Austerlitz, an Austrian-born Roman Catholic of Jewish descent.[2] Adele's younger brother, Fred, was born two years after her.[1]

When Adele was eight and Fred was five, a teacher's suggestion that the two children might have a stage career if trained for it prompted the family to move from Omaha to New York, though the father returned to Omaha to work. Adele, Fred and their mother lived in a boardinghouse, and the children began attending the Alviene Master School of the Theatre and Academy of Cultural Arts.[3] They adopted the more American-sounding name 'Astaire' after trying several variations on the original family surname.[4]

In 1905, Adele Astaire began a successful vaudeville act with Fred.[5] Claude Alvienne helped them create a brother and sister act.[6] Their mother homeschooled the siblings herself most of the time, aside from a brief stint in New Jersey, when Adele and Fred were enrolled in regular school for a year. The adolescent Adele had grown so tall at the time that her smaller, younger brother – still catching up in height – looked silly dancing with her.[7]

As they grew older, the contrasting personalities of the siblings grew more distinct. Astaire was a "perennial live wire": lively, talented, and known for her raw frankness – along with her colourful swearing. Fred, the hardworking perfectionist, was quieter and constantly anxious about all the details of their day-to-day work.[8] While Fred might come to a venue two hours early to finish preparing for their show, Adele was more likely to arrive only a handful of minutes before she was due onstage.[9]

Broadway career (1917—1932)Edit

Adele with her brother Fred Astaire in 1921

After 1917, they developed it into a celebrated adult career on Broadway[10] and, beginning in 1923, on the London stage.[11] Peter Pan creator J. M. Barrie asked Astaire to play his creation; contractual reasons forced her to turn down the part.[12]

Astaire became an Episcopalian, like her younger brother.[citation needed]

Back in New York the duo appeared in Jerome Kern's The Bunch and Judy (1922),[13] and then the Gershwin brothers' first Broadway collaboration Lady, Be Good!, followed by their Funny Face. Both were hits in America and in London.[14]

After Fred's success in Hollywood, Astaire gave consideration in 1935 to making a film, but ultimately declined the opportunity.[15]

She sang and recorded duets with Fred, George Vollaire and Bernard Clifton.[16]

Retirement and first marriage (1932—1946)Edit

While performing in England in 1927, Astaire had met Lord Charles Cavendish, the second son of His Grace The 9th Duke of Devonshire. When Charles visited her in the United States in 1929 the pair began courting.[17]

On March 5, 1932, after a successful stint with Fred in the revue The Band Wagon on Broadway, Astaire retired from the stage.[18]

On May 9 of that year, Astaire married Lord Charles Cavendish,[19] receiving the courtesy title of "Lady Charles".[20] They moved to County Waterford in Ireland, where they lived at Lismore Castle.[21] She had three children: a daughter in 1933 and twin sons in 1935, all of whom died soon after birth.[22]

She visited Hollywood and appeared in January 1936 on the Music Variety Show, but she admitted to feeling intimidated by her brother's reputation. During their partnership, Fred, whose perfectionism earned him the nickname "Moaning Minnie" from her, had always been the dominant creative force. In 1937 Astaire began filming in England with Jack Buchanan and Maurice Chevalier but withdrew after two days. She later recalled: "Oh boy, if my brother Fred sees this—I'm gone". There is no known film record of Adele performing (aside from a clip lasting a few seconds), but she made eight audio recordings.[citation needed]

During World War II, Astaire worked in London at the Red Cross's Rainbow Corner canteen. She wrote letters home for soldiers, writing and posting up to 130 letters in a single week. She took shifts at the information desk, danced with GIs, and helped the men shop for necessities while in London. When the Blitz began, she increased her work hours and served at the Rainbow Corner seven days per week.[23]

Her husband died in 1944, aged 38, of long-term alcoholism.[24] Following his death, she turned down an offer from Irving Berlin to return to the stage in Annie Get Your Gun.[25]

Kingman Douglas March 1918

Second marriage and return to United States (1947—1980)Edit

On April 28, 1947, Astaire married her second husband,Kingman Douglass, an American investment banker and Air Force officer who became an Assistant Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.[26] Although Astaire was no longer Lady Cavendish, she received financial support from the Cavendish family in Ireland upon news of her engagement, and she was also given permission to continue spending three months a year at Lismore Castle – provided that she contributed towards the upkeep of the property.[27]

Douglass died in 1971. Afterwards, Astaire lived in Phoenix, Arizona, and continued, until 1979, to summer at the castle in Ireland she had shared with her first husband.[26]

Unlike her brother, Astaire was extremely gregarious and took great delight in shocking friends and strangers alike.[citation needed] Even when in later years beset by illness, she had enormous recuperative powers, and, according to her stepson Kingman Douglass Jr., Astaire "soon would be up and in Marine-type English telling what she thought of the world."[26]

In 1972, Adele and Fred Astaire were both inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.[28][29]

Death and legacyEdit

Astaire died on January 25, 1981, in Scottsdale Memorial Hospital, Scottsdale, Arizona, after suffering a stroke.[30][31] She was 84. Some of her ashes were scattered in Ireland, by Lismore Castle and the graves of her children and first husband, while the rest were buried by Ann Astaire's grave in Chatsworth, California.[32]

Built in 1905, the Gottlieb Storz House in Omaha includes the "Adele and Fred Astaire Ballroom" on the top floor, which is the only memorial to the siblings' roots in Omaha.[33]



  1. ^ a b Riley 2012, p. 18.
  2. ^ Riley 2012, pp. 16-18.
  3. ^ Riley 2012, pp. 20-22.
  4. ^ Riley 2012, p. 25.
  5. ^ Riley 2012, p. 26.
  6. ^ Epstein 2008, p. 5.
  7. ^ Epstein 2008, p. 4.
  8. ^ Epstein 2008, pp. 7-8.
  9. ^ Fred Astaire 1951, p. 26.
  10. ^ Riley 2012, p. 52.
  11. ^ Riley 2012, p. 79.
  12. ^ Riley 2012, p. 87.
  13. ^ Riley 2012, p. 76.
  14. ^ Riley 2012, pp. 98-119.
  15. ^ Riley 2012, p. 180.
  16. ^ Rust & Debus 1973, p. 11.
  17. ^ Adele Astaire Comes Home 1951, pp. 34 & 36.
  18. ^ Riley 2012, p. 146.
  19. ^ Riley 2012, p. 152.
  20. ^ Adele Astaire Comes Home 1951, pp. 35-36.
  21. ^ Riley 2012, p. 153.
  22. ^ Riley 2012, pp. 169 & 180.
  23. ^ Adele Astaire Comes Home 1951, pp. 36-37.
  24. ^ Riley 2012, pp. 183-184.
  25. ^ Riley & 2012 185.
  26. ^ a b c Gaiter 1981.
  27. ^ Levinson 2009, p. 155.
  28. ^ Riley 2012, p. 189.
  29. ^ Levinson 2009, pp. 362-363.
  30. ^ The Milwaukee Sentinel 1981.
  31. ^ Ocala Star-Banner 1981.
  32. ^ Riley 2012, pp. 188-189.
  33. ^ Laukaitis 2011.


Further readingEdit

  • R. McKenzie, Turn Left at the Black Cow (Roberts Reinhardt Publishers, 1997) ISBN 1-57098-205-8
  • John Mueller, Astaire Dancing – The Musical Films of Fred Astaire (Knopf, 1985) ISBN 0-394-51654-0
  • The Astaire Family Papers, The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts
  • Kathleen Riley, The Astaires: Fred & Adele (Oxford University Press, 2012) ISBN 0199738416
  • Perikles Monioudis, Frederick, (dtv hardcover, 2016) (novel in German), ISBN 978-3-423-28079-2

External linksEdit