Obituary: Lucille Bremer

A red-headed beauty and distinguished dancer, Lucille Bremer partnered Fred Astaire in three of his finest routines, and for this reason will always be remembered fondly by lovers of the film musical, but her brief career in Hollywood is proof that stars are indeed born, not made. Bremer had the weight of the biggest studio in Hollywood behind her and was mistress to one of its most powerful producers but when she was not dancing her personality had a remote, aloof quality that did not endear her to audiences.

Born in Amsterdam, New York, she started dancing lessons when seven years old and at 12 danced with the Philadelphia Opera Company. She made her New York debut as a Rockette in the famed chorus line at Radio City Music Hall, then played in night-clubs and Broadway shows, including in the chorus of Panama Hattie (1940) and as replacement ingenue in Lady in the Dark (1941). She was appearing at the Versailles night-club when she was spotted by the producer Arthur Freed. "The moment I saw her," said Freed later, "I realised she had the elegance of Marilyn Miller. I took her to MGM and she did a scene from Dark Victory for her test. After seeing only a minute and a half of it, Louis B. Mayer, head of the studio, said, `She's going to be very, very big.' "

Bremer was first given extensive training by the studio's dramatic coach, Lillian Burns, then cast in the prime role of Judy Garland's older sister in Meet Me in St Louis (1944). As the prim, socially conscious Rose, whose hope for a long- distance proposal by telephone forms the basis of the film's first episode, Bremer was a perfect foil for Garland, admonishing her for being too forward with boys lest the bloom wear off, to which Garland drily replies, "Personally, I think I have too much bloom."

Bremer then partnered Astaire in Ziegfeld Follies (started in 1944 but released in 1946), performing with him two magnificent numbers which are today as moving and exhilarating as ever. Both are stories in dance, an extension of the form Astaire had pioneered with Ginger Rogers when they performed "Let's Face the Music and Dance" in Follow the Fleet. In the first, Astaire is a gentleman thief who crashes a society party only to fall in love with his victim. After singing to her on a starlit terrace, he takes her in his arms and they glide into a langorous pas de deux to the sweeping strains of the gorgeous "This Heart of Mine" (by Harry Warren and Arthur Freed), twirling effortlessly as the floor revolves beneath them.

The second number, built around Douglas Furber and Philip Braham's "Limehouse Blues", is a 13-minute tour de force, its centrepiece a Chinese fantasy dreamed by a young man as he lies dying, the innocent victim of a shooting in Limehouse, east London. In an exotic set of orange, red and yellow (conceived by Irene Sharaff), Astaire and Bremer perform an intricate dance involving syncopated leaps, twirls and precise manipulation of fans which open, close and criss-cross as the couple execute Robert Alton's stunning choreography. This dance - one of the film musical's crowning glories - demonstrated Bremer's skill, precision and athleticism.

MGM then decided to star her alongside Astaire in Vincente Minnelli's Yolanda and the Thief (1945), but its slight, whimsical story of a confidence trickster who pretends to be the guardian angel of an ingenuous heiress needed more charm and wit than either Bremer or the script were able to provide, and its score (by Warren and Freed) was weak. A Dali- influenced Surreal ballet was imaginative, though perceived by many as pretentious, but the one good song, "Coffee Time", a surging jazz riff, inspired the third of the great Astaire- Bremer duets.

Set in a South American plaza, its floor patterned in undulating black and white, the number starts with carnival crowds dancing gaily and clapping hands to the insistent rhythms, who gradually part to leave the way clear for the star pair, who clap, kick, twirl and embrace with escalating elan in variations of jive. It is a totally joyous sequence in the otherwise tepid film, which proved a box-office disaster.

Bremer was one of 13 stars top-billed in the Jerome Kern biography Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), playing the fictitious role of a spoilt girl (daughter of Kern's best friend) who expects a short cut to fame. Bremer's exuberant dance duet with Van Johnson, "I Won't Dance", was a highlight of the film, but she was unable to counteract her role's basic lack of sympathy. Both Freed and Mayer had now lost interest in her, and after a role in one of the studio's "Dr Gillespie" films, Dark Delusions (1947, as a young girl given to bouts of insanity), she was dropped.

Years later, Judy Garland was asked what happened to Bremer. "The studio let her go," she replied, then after a pause added, " . . . and no one cared." In fact Bremer made three more films, including Edgar G. Ulmer's Ruthless (1948), an impressive account of the rise and fall of a scoundrel (Zachary Scott) in which Bremer, wife of Sidney Greenstreet but lusting for Scott, made telling use of her resemblance to Bette Davis, indicating that she might have been able to carve a career as second-lead villainess. She preferred to retire completely from the screen, marrying the son of a former president of Mexico and eventually settling in California, where she raised five daughters and ran a shop selling children's clothes.

Tom Vallance

Lucille Bremer, actress, dancer: born Amsterdam, New York 21 February 1923; married (five daughters); died 16 April 1996.

Life and Style
life
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
News
Joan Rivers has reportedly been hospitalised after she stopped breathing during surgery
people81-year-old 'stopped breathing' during vocal chord surgery
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
health
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
Environment
environmentCrop pests are 'grave threat to global food security'
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
News
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
people
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballAnd Liverpool are happy despite drawing European champions
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Science Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Calling all science teachers! Ra...

Technology Teacher - Food & Textiles

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Food Tech/Textiles Teacher We ...

Head of Marketing (Online & Offline, Media, Digital, Strategy)

£85000 - £100000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing - Slough, Berkshi...

Humanities Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Humanities, Religious Education ...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone