December 13, 2021 4:16 pm
Jack Horner was a Thoroughbred racehorse who won the Grand National in 1926. Sadly, he suffered an injury, meaning he was unable to compete again. News of this reached Fred a little too late, as he had already backed Jack Horner to win the Grand National in 1927.
December 12, 2021 9:26 am
When this letter was written, the 1936 presidential election was taking place in America. Fred Astaire refers to the Democrat leader, Franklin D. Roosevelt, as “trotting in” to be re-elected. The language in the letter reveals Fred’s passion for racing. Fred’s prediction was right, the election was a landslide victory for Roosevelt.
December 11, 2021 10:45 am
Fred liked to bet on horses and was often lucky on the track. Jack referred to Fred as “Cash Astaire the Big Punter”. This letter shows that despite his success, Fred still worried about his finances. He uses slang to talk about money. A ‘monkey’ is £500 and a ‘pony’ is £25.
December 10, 2021 11:16 am
Jack Leach was not only Fred’s trainer and friend, but also something of a choreographer. This letter suggests that Fred’s ‘dancing on a piano’ scene in ‘Let’s Dance’ was an idea put forward by Jack 12 years previously.
See it here.
December 9, 2021 12:40 pm
Dance routines can be difficult at the best of times. ‘Damsel in Distress’ has the added obstacles of moving floors, funhouse mirrors and slides in the routine which put Fred’s dance skills to the test.
Watch the routine here.
Fred’s schedule was consistently full, but he always made time to reply to Jack. “I wish I was in Newmarket” is a testament to Fred’s love of horseracing. Jack Leach mentions that Fred loved the town, writing in his book that “I think he enjoyed himself very much at Newmarket, as he often came down even when there was no racing.”
December 8, 2021 4:00 pm
Seabiscuit, who Fred compares to his own horse Crosswire, was an American racehorse who had 33 wins in his career. In 1938, he was voted American Horse of the Year and went onto win over $400,000 in earnings. At the time, America was just coming out of the Great Depression so his success was a huge victory for the whole country. The film, Seabiscuit, came out in 2003 to honour and tell his story.
December 7, 2021 10:06 am
Sylvia Fairbanks, as she was known at the time, was a model and theatre performer who married the actor, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in 1936. They were married until Douglas tragically passed away from a heart attack on 12th December 1939. Upon inheriting Douglas’ estate, Sylvia co-founded the British Distressed Areas Fund, a charity set up to clothe, feed and provide medical aid to refugees in the war.
December 6, 2021 4:38 pm
The 1939 Grand National took place on 24th March at the Aintree Racecourse. Both War Vessel and Blue Shirt were favourites to win. Unfortunately neither horse finished the race, which came as a disappointment to spectators. A glass bottle with Blue Shirt’s name inside washed up on the shore in Ireland, which was seen by many as a sign that he would win. Instead, Workman won the Grand National that year. Ridden by Jockey Tim Hyde, he was the first Irish trained, owned, bred and ridden horse to win the race.
December 5, 2021 1:38 pm
The St Leger Stakes is an annual flat race held at Doncaster for three year-old Thoroughbred horses. Neither Sam Pharice or Blue Peter ran as the race was cancelled due to the start of World War II. Blue Peter had four other major wins that year, including the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. Blue Peter’s successes made him a local hero in Newmarket and the community honoured him by fundraising and naming a spitfire after him. A section of the plane can be seen on display at NHRM.
December 5, 2021 10:34 am
Five days before this letter was written, tensions were beginning to escalate in Europe as Germany invaded the Netherlands and Belgium in what was known as ‘Case Yellow’.
Fred was struggling to find roles as production shifted to focus on war films. The UK government ordered cinemas to close in 1939 as they believed that entertainment was not essential to the war effort. Later, they realised that cinemas were an asset to lift spirits and show propaganda. This led to a boom in film production. Attendance in cinemas was at an all time high towards the end of the war. Fortunately for Fred his break in filming did not last for long as he was able to secure a role in ‘You’ll Never Get Rich’.