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!


Browse Our Archives