Berlin wrote songs for a number of Astaire films of the period: Top Hat, Follow the Fleet, On the Avenue, Carefree. The two men became close personal friends for the rest of their lives. But the choice of Astaire as a Hollywood leading man is, at first glance, puzzling. Certainly, he was an extraordinary dancer, and songwriters appreciated his accuracy and clarity when singing their songs, even if his voice was reedy and thin. But a leading man? Essentially, Astaire epitomized what Berlin and other Jews strove to achieve. He was debonair, polished, sophisticated. His screen persona was that of a raffish, outspoken fellow, not obviously attractive, whose audacity and romanticism and wit in the end won out. It didn’t hurt that he could dance. But even his dance—so smooth and elegant—was done mostly to jazz. Unlike a Gene Kelly, who was athletic, handsome, and sexy, Astaire got by on style. Kelly was American whereas Astaire was continental. In short, Astaire was someone the immigrant might himself become. It was almost like Astaire was himself Jewish beneath the relaxed urbanity. In a film like Top Hat he is audacious, rude, clever, funny, and articulate, relying mostly on good intentions and charm to win over the girl—and the audience. He is the antithesis of a Clark Gable or a Gary Cooper; Astaire is all clever and chatty, balding, small, and thin. No rugged individualist he. And yet his romantic nature and persistence win all. Astaire only got on his knees to execute a dazzling dance move, never as an act of submission. His characters were largely wealthy, self-assured, and worldly. He danced with sophistication and class. In his famous pairings with Ginger Rogers, the primary dance numbers had the couple dressed to the nines, swirling on equally polished floors to the strains of deeply moving romantic ballads.
Stuart J. Hecht (Transposing Broadway (Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History))