In public, the legendary dancer Fred Astaire - who was born 117 years ago today - was a stage, film and TV sensation. And in private, he was a closeted cannabis smoker, according to a former co-star.

In 2012, Petula Clark - the British invasion singer who rose to fame with hits like Downtown - opened up about life behind the scenes in Hollywood during the 60s.

"There was a lot of Flower Power going on" she told the BBC Radio 4 show The Reunion, adding that she and other actors were "smoking certain substances."

Her fellow guests - 60s singers Sandie Shaw and Helen Shapiro - were audibly shocked at the revelation. But Clark scoffed at their surprise that she would smoke marijuana. "Oh, please," she said. "And Fred Astaire, too."

Clark co-starred with Astaire - whose birth name was Frederick Austerlitz - in the musical Finian's Rainbow (1968). Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the movie features Astaire playing an old Irish schemer hoping to get rich by stealing gold from a leprechaun and burying it in enchanted soil that will make the coins multiply.

That plot is pretty far out, but it's not Astaire's trippiest performance. That honor goes to famous scene from Royal Wedding (1951), where Astaire danced on a ceiling 35 years before Lionel Richie borrowed his moves.

h/t The Telegraph

banner image: wikipedia.org