Cheek to Cheek


page originally published on 29 April 2010; latest edit: 21 June 2020



Cheek to Cheek (Irving Berlin)

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Top Hat (1935)


History – An excerpt from’s “Song of the Week” feature:

Fred Astaire-Hermes Pan-1b-sm“Cheek to Cheek” debuted in a blizzard of feathers in the 1935 RKO film Top Hat, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. In the film, Rogers wore a gown that was covered with ostrich feathers for the “Cheek to Cheek” dance number. Because of the labor required to hand sew each ostrich feather to the dress, Astaire, who normally approved his partner’s gowns and suggested modifications as needed during rehearsals, saw it for the first time at the dress rehearsal immediately prior to the shooting of the dance sequence. He was horrified by the way it shed feathers with every dance movement; as he and Rogers danced, feathers flew off the dress, getting into his nose and eyes and covering his black tuxedo and the dance floor. He later recalled, “It was like a chicken attacked by a coyote, I never saw so many feathers in my life.”

Hermes Pan, the choreographer for the film, said that Astaire became angry and shouted at Rogers, who had designed the gown in consultation with Bernard Newman, the dress designer for the film. She insisted that it was perfect for the number and demanded that she be permitted to wear it. In her autobiography Ginger: My Story, she related, “I was determined to wear this dress, come hell or high water. And why not? It moved beautifully. Obviously, no one in the cast or crew was willing to take sides, particularly not my side. This was all right with me. I’d had to stand alone before. At least my mother was there to support me in the confrontation with the entire front office, plus Fred Astaire and Mark Sandrich [the film director].” Her perceived intransigence caused dissension on the set, but after another night’s work by a team of seamstresses, the feather problem was largely resolved and the scene was shot the next day. When the rushes were screened, they were fine, but close examination of the film still reveals some loose feathers on the dance floor. The crisis was over, but a few hard feelings lingered. Pan and Astaire serenaded Rogers with a parody of the song:

Feathers – I hate feathers
And I hate them so that I can hardly speak
And I never find the happiness I seek
With those chicken feathers dancing
Cheek to Cheek

A few days later, in an effort to make it up to Rogers, Astaire gave her a small gold feather for her charm bracelet along with a note that said, “Dear Feathers, I love ya! Fred.” He did acknowledge that Rogers was right about the gown; the dance sequence became Astaire and Rogers’ most famous romantic duet.


Selected Recordings*

Ginger Rogers – 1935 (?)

A commenter at the Youtube posting says:

Ginger didn’t like the recording either. She recorded several songs and had written in the contract that if she didn’t like the masters they would be destroyed. She asked and they published the recordings in England. So needless to say it was a long time before she recorded anything else.



The Boswell Sisters — Recorded 8 Oct 1935 – The Boswell Sisters (v) Russ Case, Ed Wade (tpt) Will Bradley (tbn) Artie Shaw (cl, as) Martha Boswell (p)Carl Kress (g) Dick Cherwin (b) Stan King (d) New York


Ella Fitzgerald – released on the album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook1958


Rita Reys & Trio Pim Jacobs – 1959


Eva Cassidy – live at Blues Alley in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC – Lenny Williams on piano, recorded on the 2nd or 3rd of January 1996


Max Raabe & Palast Orchester – a February 2009 performance — from the DVD, Heute Nacht Oder Nie: Live in Berlin (2010)


* 29 April 2010: Though there are hundreds of versions of Cheek to Cheek by well-known artists, most of them are oddly absent from the video libraries I commonly use.

Update, 8 March 2015: A peek at the Second Hand Songs “versions” page for “Cheek to Cheek” tells me that the video situation has improved considerably over the past five years. I’ll try to add several more notable recordings ASAP.



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