Saturday evening at the FAWC (Fred Astaire World Championships) 2014 Dance Competition in Las Vegas, the suspense rose as our (now, former) President/CEO, Jack Rothweiler, began introducing his surprise guest to the audience. He mentioned the Fred Astaire TV Specials, talked of his first meeting with this guest and their conversation of four-plus hours. Still, he gave no name. Everyone sat, listening and wondering, ‘who is this woman we’re about to meet’?! A lovely, familiar Hollywood face filled the screen behind Jack and a voice began describing Barrie Chase’s path to stardom. We saw head shots and on-the-set candids, and then in she walked – Barrie Chase herself! The crowd stood, applauding, straining to see her. Here among them was Astaire’s favorite dance partner, in his own words. What a treat to see her settle on stage for an informal chat with Jean Marc Casanave, the grandson of Astaire’s original dance studio business partner, Charles L. Casanave!
Though born in New York City, Barrie Chase grew up in Los Angeles. She studied ballet from age three while also becoming a serious swimmer and equestrian. Her love of horses was a second bond she shared with Astaire. A talent scout discovered her around age 20, and she began dancing for Igor Dega’s popular nightclub acts. In May 1954, Barrie graced the cover of Focus magazine. Well on her way to a promising career as a Jack Cole dancer and working as Cole’s assistant on Les Girls in 1957, she caught the attention of Astaire through a dance studio door.
At Astaire’s request, Cole canceled Chase’s contract so she could dance with him in Silk Stockings. Soon after, she became Fred’s partner on An Evening with Fred Astaire – a show that went on to win nine Prime-time Emmy Awards. Barrie also co-starred with Astaire in four of his TV specials from 1958-68. Barrie Chase is renowned as the last person to achieve stardom as a dancer during a period of 20 years until Debbie Allen hit the limelight in 1980. Barrie has nearly 40 film credits and numerous TV appearances including Bonanza, Cape Fear, and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. In 1964, she danced with Astaire for Bob Hope’s Chrysler TV Theater. They partnered for the last time on an NBC special in 1968.
At FAWC, Barrie was vibrant as she responded to Jean Marc’s question, “What were rehearsals with Fred like?”, Barrie didn’t hold back. She tossed her famous copper hair at him in disbelief. “Oh, Gawd, what is rehearsal like? It’s a lot of WORK! You work ‘til you drop, right?” She turned to her audience, jam-packed with applauding, appreciative dancers. “And then you keep on working! If you want to be good, that’s what you do!”
Barrie went on to speak about her life with Jack Cole, Bob Fosse, Gwen Verdon and Hermes Pan. She spoke of how much she learned from Astaire and, though she described his legendary perfectionism as “difficult” at times, said rehearsals with him were “the best she experienced.” When Jean-Marc complimented her as Fred’s choice after a mere glimpse through a door, Barrie’s wit took center stage again: “Well, I was the only girl – it wasn’t too hard!”
When asked what her favorite part of the FAWC event had been, she openly replied, “I don’t have a favorite anything. I’m just not a ‘favorites’ person.” She continued to say, “I guess if I had to pick a favorite thing about it, it was simply that I had the opportunity to attend.” She expressed her gratitude for being invited to the National event, giving her the chance to help make Fred Astaire “a little more real to people.” A unique gift to all who follow his lead, though not quite in the same way she did.
Barrie is the first to admit she’s lived a charmed life but manages to stay incredibly down-to-earth. As her time with us at the FAWC ended, she spoke softly saying “I was really, really, really lucky (and I know that) to be working with such an incredibly talented, magical person. I think it’s interesting that tonight [the theme] is Magic because Fred was truly magical.”
Many FAWC attendees eagerly waited to have their photo taken with the star and Barrie happily obliged. After the event Barrie shared, “A lot of people came up afterwards and thanked me for sharing stories they’ve never heard about Fred Astaire. Everyone was so kind to me. It felt good and was all very positive. I thought all the dancers were terrific.”
NOTE: Born on October 20, 1933, Barrie Chase was Fred Astaire’s last dance partner. In the mid-1950’s, while she was working as Jack Cole’s assistant choreographer at MGM, Fred Astaire asked her to be his dancing partner on his “An Evening with Fred Astaire” TV show. On working with Fred Astaire, Barrie offers, “Dancing with Fred Astaire and not learning anything from him would be the same as working with Michelangelo and saying you’re becoming pretty good as a stone chiseler.”
This story was reprinted from the Autumn 2014 issue of inSTEP Magazine, Fred Astaire Dance Studios’ quarterly student publication. To view the interview with Barrie Chase and Charles Casanave, click here. For more info on FADS’ inSTEP Magazine, look for the current issue at your local FADS studio, or visit our Facebook page.