May 10, 2008


by Patrick Phillips

The truth is
that I fall in love

so easily because
it's easy. It happens

a dozen times some days.           lovely women in the world,
I've lived whole lives,                 but because each time,

had children,                            dying in their arms
grown old, and died                  I call your name.

in the arms of other women
in no more time

than it takes the 2-train
to get from City Hall

to Brooklyn,
which always brings me

back to you:
the only one

I fall in love with
at least once every day—

not because
there are no other

"Falling" by Patrick Phillips, from Boy. © University of Georgia Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission (buy now)

It's the birthday of Fred Astaire, born Frederick Austerlitz, in Omaha, Nebraska (1899). He made dancing look effortless on screen and stage, and the writer John O'Hara called him the "living symbol of all that is the best of show business."

He started dancing when he was four, and when he was six, he formed an act with his sister, Adele, that became a popular vaudeville attraction on Broadway. When Adele retired in 1932, Astaire made a screen test. The movie executive wrote, "Can't act, can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little." Still, Astaire got a part in Dancing Lady (1933). It starred Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and the Three Stooges.

He's famous for the movies he made with his dancing partner Ginger Rogers: classics like The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat (1935), and Swing Time (1936). They rubbed off on each another. People said she gave him sex appeal, and he gave her class. Their only on-screen kiss came in the movie Carefree (1938), in a dream sequence.

He was a perfectionist who sometimes worked 18 hours a day. He said, "The only way I know to get a good show is to practice, sweat, rehearse, and worry." He demanded the same of his partners. One scene in Swing Time took 47 takes to film, and by the end, Ginger's feet were bleeding. In the film, she says, "I've danced with you. I'm never going to dance again."

In one routine, Astaire had to toss an umbrella across a room, into an umbrella stand. He said, "I did it 45 times, and it always hit the edge. So I said, 'That's it! Tomorrow morning, first thing, I'm coming back, and I'm going to get [it] … I came back next morning fresh as a daisy, and that umbrella went into the stand on the first take."

He kept dancing until late in his life. At age 50, he said, "How do I keep going? What do I do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I don't eat health foods. I never dance unless I have to. I don't work out in a gym. Vitamin pills? Never! Who needs 'em?" He said, "Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you've got to start young."

He said, "The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it's considered to be your style."

It's the birthday of Karl Barth, (books by this author) born in Basel, Switzerland (1886), one of the most influential theologians of this century. He said, "Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God."

It's the birthday of Spanish novelist Benito Pérez Galdós, (books by this author) born in Las Palmas, Grand Canary Island (1843). He was called the greatest Spanish novelist since Miguel de Cervantes. He wrote 77 novels and 21 plays.

It's the birthday of British romance writer Barbara Taylor Bradford, (books by this author) born in Leeds, England (1933). She writes books about strong women driven by work and by love. Her first novel, A Woman of Substance (1979), sold over 19 million copies. It's a rags-to-riches story about Emma Harte, who builds a clothing store empire and gets revenge on the family of a man who seduced and abandoned her when she was a girl. She said, "If anyone asks me whether I like being a popular writer, I ask them whether they think I'd rather be an unpopular writer."

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