b. Adele Marie Austerlitz, 10 September 1897, Omaha, Nebraska, USA, d. 25 January 1981, Tucson, Arizona, USA. Astaire’s father, who went to America from Austria, met and married a woman whose parents were from Alsace. Adele was their first child and they also had a son. The children were very young when their mother took them east to begin a career in vaudeville. They quickly found work, making their debut in 1905 in Keyport, New Jersey. They changed their unwieldy family name to Astaire (they had an uncle named L’Astaire), and thereafter were billed as ‘Fred and Adele Astaire’. Both Adele and Fred Astaire took tuition from early Broadway dance director, Ned Wayburn. They made their Broadway debut in Over The Top (1917) and then were in The Passing Show Of 1918. Although Adele was the star of their duo, it was her brother who showed most interest in learning new steps and routines and was already displaying the drive for perfection that would take him to the top. During the 20s and early 30s the duo danced to great acclaim in New York and London, their shows including Lady, Be Good! (1924), Funny Face (1927) and The Band Wagon (1931).
In 1932 Adele met Charles Cavendish, younger son of the Duke of Devonshire, and the couple married and she retired from showbusiness to live at Lismore Castle in Ireland. When she was widowed in 1944 she returned to the USA, eventually settling in Arizona. The Astaires had dabbled in motion pictures, perhaps as early as 1915 (although confirmation of their role that year in Fanchon The Cricket, a Mary Pickford feature, is barely supported by the flickering remains). They did, however, make a screen test for a proposed film version of Funny Face and this resulted in an offhand summary of Adele as ‘lively’, which was vastly better than the infamous dismissal of her brother that ends: ‘Can dance a little.’ Although Fred’s subsequent career overshadowed the time spent with his sister, that this partnership lasted for more than a quarter of a century suggests that at the very least Adele’s role was important in his success. Her engaging singing voice can be heard on several compilation albums, including Avid Records’ Fascinating Rhythm, and Volume 2 of Pearl Records’ The Ultimate George Gershwin.