After arriving in New York City, Astaire's father, hoping to find work in his trade, moved to Omaha, Nebraska and landed a job with the Storz Brewing Company. Astaire's mother dreamed of escaping Omaha by virtue of her children's talents after Adele early on revealed herself to be an instinctive dancer and singer. She envisioned a "brother-and-sister act", which was fairly common to vaudeville at the time. Although Astaire refused dance lessons at first, he easily mimicked his sister's step, and took up piano, accordion, and clarinet.
When their father became suddenly unemployed, the family moved to New York City to launch the show business career of the children. Adele and Astaire had a teasing rivalry but fortunately they quickly acknowledged their individual strengths — his being durability and hers greater overall talent. "Astaire" was a name taken by him and his sister in 1905, when they were taking instruction in dance, speaking, and singing in preparation for developing an act. Family legend attributes it to an uncle surnamed "L'Astaire".
Finally, their first act took shape and was called Juvenile Artists Presenting an Electric Musical Toe-Dancing Novelty. In it, Fred wore a top hat and tails in the first half and a lobster outfit in the second. The goofy act debuted in Keyport, New Jersey in a "tryout theater", and the local paper wrote, "the Astaires are the greatest child act in vaudeville."
After a short time, as a result of their father's salesmanship, Fred and Adele landed a major contract and they played the famed Orpheum circuit throughout the United States, including Omaha. Soon Adele grew to at least three inches taller than Fred and the pair began to look incongruous. The family decided to take a two-year break from show business, also to avoid trouble from the Gerry Society and the child labor laws of the time.
Their career resumed with mixed fortunes, though with increasing skill and polish, as they began to incorporate tap dancing into their routines. In this Astaire was inspired by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and John “Bubbles” Sublett. From vaudeville dancer Aurelio Coccia, they learned the tango, waltz, and other ballroom dances popularized by Vernon and Irene Castle.
Some sources state that the Astaire siblings appeared in a 1915 film entitled Fanchon, the Cricket, starring Mary Pickford, but the Astaires have consistently denied this.
While on the hunt for new music and dance ideas, Fred Astaire first met George Gershwin, who was working as a song plugger in Jerome H. Remick's, in 1916. Their chance meeting was to have profound consequences for the subsequent careers of both artists.
Astaire was always on the lookout for new steps he spotted on the circuit and was starting to demonstrate his ceaseless quest for novelty and perfection. Finally, they broke into Broadway with Over The Top (1917), a patriotic revue.
Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin, Jr. (16 April 1889 – 25 December 1977), Chaplin was born on 16 April 1889, in East Street, Walworth, London. His parents were both entertainers in the music hall tradition; his father being a vocalist and an actor and his mother, a singer and an actress. They separated before Charlie was three. He learned singing from his parents. The 1891 census shows that his mother, the actress Hannah Hill, lived with Charlie and his older half-brother Sydney on Barlow Street, Walworth. As a child, Charlie also lived with his mother in various addresses in and around Kennington Road in Lambeth, including 3 Pownall Terrace, Chester Street and 39 Methley Street. His maternal grandmother was half-Gypsy, a fact of which he was extremely proud, but also described as "the skeleton in our family cupboard". Chaplin's father, Charles Chaplin, Sr., was an alcoholic and had little contact with his son, though Chaplin and his half-brother briefly lived with their father and his mistress, Louise, at 287 Kennington Road where a plaque now commemorates the fact. The half-brothers lived there while their mentally ill mother resided at Cane Hill Asylum at Coulsdon. Chaplin's father's mistress sent the boy to Kennington Road School. His father died of alcoholism when Charlie was twelve in 1901. As of the 1901 Census, Charles resided at 94 Ferndale Road, Lambeth, with The Eight Lancashire Lads, led by John William Jackson (the 17 year old son of one of the founders).
A larynx condition ended the singing career of Chaplin's mother. Hannah's first crisis came in 1894 when she was performing at The Canteen, a theatre in Aldershot. The theatre was mainly frequented by rioters and soldiers. Hannah was badly injured by the objects the audience threw at her and she was booed off the stage. Backstage, she cried and argued with her manager. Meanwhile, the five-year old Chaplin went on stage alone and sang a well-known tune at that time, "Jack Jones".
After Chaplin's mother (who went by the stage name Lilly Harley) was again admitted to the Cane Hill Asylum, her son was left in the workhouse at Lambeth in south London, moving after several weeks to the Central London District School for paupers in Hanwell. The young Chaplin brothers forged a close relationship in order to survive. They gravitated to the Music Hall while still very young, and both of them proved to have considerable natural stage talent. Chaplin's early years of desperate poverty were a great influence on his characters. Themes in his films in later years would re-visit the scenes of his childhood deprivation in Lambeth.
Chaplin's mother died in 1928 in Hollywood, seven years after having been brought to the U.S. by her sons. Unknown to Charlie and Sydney until years later, they had a half-brother through their mother. The boy, Wheeler Dryden, was raised abroad by his father but later connected with the rest of the family and went to work for Chaplin at his Hollywood studio.
W.C. Fields (29 January 1880 – 25 December 1946), was born William Claude Dukenfield in Darby, Pennsylvania. His father, James Dukenfield, came from an English-Irish family and it is claimed they were descendants of the lords of the manor of Dukinfield, Cheshire although no proof has been located. Contrary to widely held belief there was never a Lord Dukinfield although some later members of the family were baronets. Coincidentally or otherwise, false claims of royal lineage were recurring themes in several of Fields' films.
Fields's mother, Kate Spangler Felton, was also of British descent. James Dukenfield arrived in the USA in 1857 from Ecclesall Bierlow in Sheffield, South Yorkshire with his father John (who was a comb maker), mother Ann and his siblings. James was identified as a "baker" in the 1860 U.S. census and a "huckster" in the 1870 census, an enterprise in which the young William later assisted.
Fields left home at age 11 (according to most biographies and documentaries) and entered vaudeville. By age 21 he was traveling as a juggling act ('The Eccentric Juggler'), and eventually introduced amusing asides and added increasing amounts of comedy into his act, becoming a headliner in both North America and Europe. In 1906 he made his Broadway debut in the musical comedy The Ham Tree.
Fields was well known for embellishing stories of his youth, but despite the legends he encouraged, the truth is that his home seems to have been a relatively happy one and his family supported his ambitions for the stage: his parents saw him off on the train for his first real stage tour as a teenager, and his father visited him in England while Fields was enjoying success in the music halls there.
Fields was known to his friends as "Bill". Edgar Bergen also called him "Bill" in the radio shows (Charlie McCarthy, of course, called him by other names). In Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, in which Fields played himself, his 'niece' called him "Uncle Bill", and in one scene introduced himself, "I'm W.C., uh, Bill Fields." In films in which he was portrayed as having a son, he sometimes named the character "Claude", after his own son. (Fields himself was also called "Claude" by friends sometimes.) In England he was sometimes billed as "Wm. C. Fields", presumably to avoid controversy due to "W.C." being the British abbreviation/euphemism for 'Water Closet', although it might be safely assumed that the earthy Fields was amused by the coincidence. His public use of initials instead of a first name was a commonplace formality of the era in which Fields grew up. That "W.C. Fields" more easily fit onto a marquee than "W. Dukenfield" undoubtedly was a factor in his choice of a stage name.
Cary Grant (18 January 1904 – 29 November 1986), Archibald Alec Leach was born in Horfield, Bristol, England in 1904 to Elsie Maria Kingdom and Elias Leach. An only child, he had a confused and unhappy childhood, attending Bishop Road Primary School. His father placed his mother in a mental institution when he was nine and his mother never overcame her depression after the death of a previous child. His father had told him that she had gone away on a "long holiday" and it was not until he was in his thirties that Leach discovered her still alive, living in an institutionalized care facility.
He was expelled from the Fairfield Grammar School in Bristol in 1918. He subsequently joined the "Bob Pender stage troupe" and travelled with the group to the United States as a stilt walker in 1920, on a two-year tour of the country. When the troupe returned to England, he decided to stay in the US and continue his stage career.
Still under his birth name, he performed on the stage at The Muny in St. Louis, Missouri, in such shows as Irene (1931); Music in May (1931); Nina Rosa (1931); Rio Rita (1931); Street Singer (1931); The Three Musketeers (1931); and Wonderful Night (1931).
Ustinov's mother, Nadia (Nadezhda) Leontievna Benois, was a painter and ballet designer of Russian, French and Italian ancestry. Her father Leon Benois was an imperial Russian architect and owner of Leonardo da Vinci's painting Madonna Benois. His brother Alexandre Benois was a stage designer who worked with Stravinsky and Diaghilev. Their paternal ancestor Jules-César Benois was a chef who had left France for St Petersburg during the French Revolution and became a chef to Tsar Paul.
Ustinov was educated at Westminster School and had a difficult childhood because of his parents' constant fighting. While at school he considered anglicizing his name to "Peter Austin" but was counselled against it by a fellow pupil who said that he should “Drop the ‘von’ but keep the ‘Ustinov’”. After training as an actor in his late teens, along with early attempts at playwriting, he made his stage début in 1938 at the Players' Theatre, becoming quickly established. He later wrote, "I was not irresistibly drawn to the drama. It was an escape road from the dismal rat race of school."