"My grandfather was Fred Astaire"
By Steve Shay
If you ask Tyler McKenzie about his grandfather, he might dance around the topic. That's because his grandfather was Fred Astaire, and he is shy about discussing it. But he did, with the West Seattle Herald, and seemed to develop a bounce in his step recalling hanging out with perhaps the greatest dancer in the world.
Full disclosure, they were related through marriage, but Fred and Tyler were as close as any grandfather and grandson, he said. Tyler's father, Richard, married Fred Astaire's daughter, Ava, (pronounced AH-vah) who raised him.
"My parents divorced when I was very young, and my mother passed away when I was seven, so my brother and I then lived with my father in West Hollywood and that's when he married Ava," said McKenzie, 50, a real estate broker with Windermere, formerly at their Alaska Junction office and now manager at their Green Lake office. He lives in West Seattle and serves as Delridge Neighborhood Development Association Board Chairman.
Richard's McKenzie Gallery was very successful. He painted realistic portraits of stars including Barbara Stanwyck, Tyler recalled, adding that they moved into a relatively modest home in Beverly Hills.
"I'd see Fred frequently when we were living in Beverly Hills." he said.
"In 1972 when I was 11 my parents went on a trip to Europe, came back, and said, 'Kids, we're moving' and just packed us up and we went to London where we lived for three years," said Tyler. "They found a home in Ireland. We moved there from London. I finished my high school in Ireland. My parents still live there, in County Cork.
"He actually came to Ireland to do a film, Purple Taxi," said Tyler of his famous grandfather. "We spent a significant amount of time together traveling around there then.That was in 1977. My mother was his closest confidant, especially after his sister Adele died." (in 1981)
Long before Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire began his career performing with his sister Adele when he was just four and she was six. They were born in Omaha. They toured the country with their mother, Ann and Ann's sister.
"They were a performing dancing dual," Tyler said. "Many people don't realize that until Adele retired she was the bigger star.
"I knew him well," Tyler said of Fred. "We played pool together and talked about stuff. He was a lovely, considerate, interesting man. But I was very cognizant of the fact that despite the fact that he was my grandfather, he was something else that was very meaningful to everybody," said Tyler. "We'd be walking down the street on our way to dinner and the world would stop because people would stop on the street and gasp when they recognized him. It was a bizarre feeling to be moving with the spotlight, and to be just outside the shadow of it.
"I think Fred Astaire embodies elegance," Tyler continued. "He had gravitas in that he was gifted, a physical genius. My mother would tell me he didn't work out, didn't adhere to any physical regimen to be any stronger or more nimble. But he rehearsed constantly and with absolute deliberation over and over again so that by the time a number was on the big screen it was indeed perfect.
"It was a product of excruciating difficult work and very long hours," he said. "And so that grace is the embodiment of hard work. He was a hardworking man who was able to manifest that in absolute elegance. But he did have a gift. He was imbued with a natural precision that was his genius. Where his craft came into play was his ability to tap it, to release it. He performed since age four. That's all he knew."