Story of Vernon and Irene Castle The (1939)

Story of Vernon and Irene Castle The (1939)

Though somewhat fictionalized this drama was based on Mrs. Castle’s memoirs about the lives of her and her husband a famous trend-setting dance duo from the early 20th century. It is also a more serious story for a Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers pairing than their previous films and marks the beginning of a 10 year hiatus of their working together on-screen. Directed by H.C. Potter and adapted in part by Oscar Hammerstein II. Mrs. Castle received a Costume Design credit.

Vernon Castle (Fred Astaire) was British and began his show business career in New York as the pratfalling half of a comedy team with Lew Fields who plays himself in the film. Irene Foote (Ginger Rogers) is a woman he meets in New Rochelle while pursuing an actress who won’t give the poor comic “the time of day”. They spend the day together at the beach and at her parents where she lives with her brother (?) Walter Ash (Walter Brennan). Evidently she’s an amateur dancer so she performs for him in their living room. Though he’s unimpressed he politely watches several performances. While waiting with him at his return train station she witnesses his dancing skill. However when she and her girlfriends go to see his slapstick show she is disillusioned and tells him he’s wasting his talent. So over a period of several months the two work on dance routines while their relationship matures. After they are married they show Fields their routine. When he is uninterested in anything besides comedy acts they get an opportunity to go to France … for a job and their honeymoon. Walter goes with them.

However the Castles with Walter in tow find out they’ve arrived in Paris too early for their show so they struggle financially. Then they learn that Vernon was actually being hired for his slapstick skills in lieu of the couple for their dancing. In reality the show in Paris was having financial difficulties of their own and without their manservant Ash’s gambling abilities they would’ve starved while waiting for the show to open. In any case the Castles are “discovered” by agent Maggie Sutton (Edna May Oliver) who’d been working with an artist in the flat below theirs. She arranges for them to perform in a Paris nightclub and the rest is history. In real life it was ‘Bessie’ Marbury an agent of other well known persons who launched the Castles who later owned some nightclubs of their own. They become the rage in Europe and then across the United States on a whirlwind tour (32 cities in 28 days). Whatever dances they “invented” became the latest craze as did the things they wore did smoked etc. … even the ‘bob’ hairstyle she had.

*** SPOILERS ***

World War I is the event that interrupted their success. The British Castle enlisted becoming a pilot flying photography missions over enemy territory. While this went on for several years with one notable rendezvous in Paris the couple was apart until the United States entered the conflict. During the time Vernon was at war Irene began a film career in Hollywood. Vernon gets reassigned as a flight instructor for Americans in Texas but loses his life during a training flight in which he saves the life of one of his students.

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