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Lady Charles Cavendish (September 10, 1896 -January 25, 1981), better known as Adele Astaire was an American dancer and entertainer. She was Fred Astaire's elder sister. Her birthdate was often given as 1897 or 1898, but the 1900 U.S. census shows her correct birthdate to be 1896.
She was born Adele Marie Austerlitz in Omaha, Nebraska to an Austrian Roman Catholic named Frederick Austerlitz (September 1868 - 1924), a brewer from Vienna, and his wife, the former Joanna Gelius (December 1878 - 1975), a Lutheran who was born in the USA of German descent. She became an Episcopalian like her younger brother.
When she was five years old she had a successful vaudeville act with her younger brother Fred Astaire that developed into a celebrated adult stage career on Broadway and on the London stage. She was, in fact, the bigger star of the two during their time performing together, and was a special favourite of Britain's royalty.
On May 9, 1932, after a successful stint with Fred in The Band Wagon on Broadway, she retired from the stage to marry Lord Charles Arthur Francis Cavendish (August 29, 1905 - March 23, 1944), the second son of the 9th Duke of Devonshire, and moved to Ireland, where they lived at Lismore Castle. She had three children, a daughter (in 1933) and twin sons (in 1935), all of whom died soon after birth. Adele Cavendish married, on April 20, 1947, as her second husband, Col. Kingman Douglass, an American investment banker and Air Force officer who was an assistant director of the Central Intelligence Agency; he died in 1971.
After Fred's success in Hollywood, Adele gave serious consideration in 1935 to making a musical film there - visiting Hollywood and appearing in January 1936 on the Music Variety Show - but admitted to feeling intimidated by her brother's reputation. During their partnership Fred, whose perfectionism earned him the nickname "Moaning Minnie" from her, had always been the dominant creative force. In 1937 she began filming in England with Jack Buchanan and Maurice Chevalier, but withdrew after two days. She later recalled: "Oh boy, if my brother Fred sees this--I'm gone". There is no known film record of Adele performing (aside from a clip lasting a few seconds) but she made eight recordings, all duets with Fred.
Mercedes de Acosta claimed to have a brief lesbian relationship with Adele, but, if true, it is believed that it was more of a bisexual 'fling' than her orientation, as no other reports of such relationships have ever surfaced. There is no denying her delightfully ribald personality. According to the memoirs of Richard McKenzie (husband of Fred's daughter, Ava), Adele, aka Dellie, was playing Scrabble with her brother when he noticed that she had started a word with the letters C-U-N. He protested at what appeared to be an emerging vulgarity, though Adele later told Ava, "I could have been spelling anything! Like cunnilingus."
She died in Tucson, Arizona from natural causes at the age of 84.
Adele Astaire, 1927.
Fred and Adele in Stop Flirting, 1923.