When Fred Astaire went mad – UDPDATE

From inside I heard [his wife] calling, “Fwed, Fwed, come quickly!…There’s aperfectly dwedful man at the door without a shirt…he says he knows your sister and has a letter from a bookie called Gwaves.”
From these unpromising beginnings, a friendship grew which perhaps meant more to me than any other in Hollywood.

Fred was such an honest person that he could not believe it was fair that he should be getting such real pleasure out of working. More than 90 percent of the people of the world, he reckoned, were slaving away at jobs they hated in order to support themselves and their families. The most balanced of men in every sense of the world, he only once to my knowledge went mad. At dawn one day Fred called me and announced his mental aberration.
“I’ll never know what made me do it,” he moaned, “but I had this overpowering urge…so I got up in the middle of the night and drove all over Beverly Hills painting the mailboxes with my racing colors.
— David Niven in his brilliant, funny and poignant book Bring on the Empty Horses, published in 1975 and now sadly out of print.

Never throw a good book away. You never know when you’re going to want to read it again.

UPDATE: The reason I posted this – because some are rightly wondering – is because I read that and thought…how wonderfully innocent and eccentric. If someone were to do that today, (Astaire painted all of his neighbor’s mailboxes, not the US ones) there would probably be high drama and lawsuits. The more “tolerant” we get, the less we “tolerate” the odd little moments of those around us. Or maybe these days our “odd little moments” are a little less charming? I dunno. Worth pondering.

Okay, yeah. I’m a sucker for tap dancing. Makes me happy. And good books! They make me happy, too!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • JuliB

    I’ve never seen a Fred Astaire movie, but something moved me to buy a book of what other people said about him last week. I got it on Saturday, and it is amazing.

    I found out that he was fascinated by John Travolta and did his own version of Travolta’s dance moves. That must have been a sight.

  • Gayle Miller

    Astaire, Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and even Bob Fosse (his choreography is almost impossible for normal people to do – although he always seemed to find dancers who could manage it) – relics of a gentler and more enjoyable age I think. But I do agree with you about hanging onto good books. And good films as well. As erudite as I sometimes imagine myself to be, two of my favorite movies are an antique called “Gumball Rally” which still makes me laugh, and “Blazing Saddles” (especially the campfire scene – I really do love that kind of lowbrow humor).

    So, Anchoress, are we just getting older or are we just not appreciative of today’s arts? Or both? Of course, you’re young enough to be my daughter so maybe I should lump us together.

  • Maggie45

    Oh, and don’t forget James Cagney!!

    JuliB, will you let us know the title of the book you have? I’d love to read it also.

    I got hooked on John Nolte’s old place, Dirty Harry, and he in turn got me hooked on the Classics. You should see my Netflix Queue. LOL. He’s now the editor at Big Hollywood, which is a wonderful site put up by Andrew Breitbart. I highly recommend it. One of the films John reviewed was “Stage Door”. I can watch it over and over. Just marvelous.

  • JuliB

    Maggie45 – It’s called – Fred Astaire – His Friends Talk. The ISBN-13: 978-0385247412.

  • JuliB

    I could let you have it for shipping costs. If interested, I can be reached @ yahoo.com – technochick66 is the first part.