Vernon Castle Blythe (b. Vernon Blyth, 2 May 1887, England, d. 1918) and Irene Foote (b. 1893, d. 1969) were the leading dance team pre-World War I. Influential as dancers and trend-setters in their way of life, fashions and coiffures, they were responsible for bringing an air of spontaneity to formal dancing (pre-empting the ‘roaring 20s’ 15 years early, in fact). Vernon was on Broadway in his teens and appeared in Victor Herbert’s Old Dutch, where nine-year-old Helen Hayes made her debut. He and Irene met and teamed up in 1911 and had their first big success in Paris the following year, introducing various dancers including the Bunny Hug, Grizzly Bear, Turkey Trot, Maxixe, Fox Trot and the One-Step, later re christened the Castle Walk. In 1914 alone they earned $31, 000 on one-night appearances, starred on Broadway in Sunshine Girl and Irving Berlin’s Watch Your Step, opened their own Sans Souci nightclub in Manhattan’s Times Square, plus a chain of Castle House dance studios, and started work on their only joint film appearance, The Whirl Of Life. When Vernon, an Englishman, volunteered for the Royal Canadian Air Force, Irene co-starred with Vivienne Segal on Broadway in Miss 1917 and appeared in several films, including Patria (1917), The Hillcrest Mystery (1918), The Invisible Bond (1919), Broadway Bride (1921) and No Trespassing (1922).
With a fine combat record, Vernon was promoted to Captain and returned as an instructor, but was then killed in a training accident in Texas in 1918. Irene went into vaudeville but retired in the 30s, returning to create another dance, the World’s Fair Hop, at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. The Castles had been a great influence on the young Fred Astaire, so it was only logical that he, with Ginger Rogers, should recreate their lives in The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle (1939). Irene, now Mrs. McLaughlin, an early animal rights campaigner, finally retired to her pet sanctuary, Orphans Of The Storm, in Lake Forest, Illinois, where she died in 1969.