The Day I Met Fred Astaire

Fred AstaireIt is 1976. I am in the theater at MGM with Chris Callard, Mark Walker, Bob Eldon, Win Maynard and 200 other high school students for a screening of ‘That’s Entertainment!, Part II’. The Q&A session with Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and choreographer Hermes Pan has just concluded. We watch as the 200 other high school students crowd around the three men waving the 8×10’s from the press kit for autographs.

We decide not to wait. We head outside, wanting to hit the restroom before the drive home. We ask the guard for directions.

“Restrooms are that way.” He points up the street running between a sound stage and the commissary. “But I can’t let you back there.”

We really need to use the restroom.

“Why can’t you let us back there?”

“Because King Kong is back there.”

This would be the 100 foot-tall animatronic King Kong for John Guillerman’s remake, best remembered for introducing Jessica Lange.

He could not have said anything that would have made us want to go back there more.

“We REALLY have to pee.”

“O.K. But if you’re not back in ten minutes, you’ll be thrown off the lot.”

We are leaving anyway. We beat it up the street and around the corner to the restrooms. Then we take a walkabout. We see a little of what remains of the MGM back lot, but no King Kong.

After a half hour we returned to the gate. The guard is not happy.

As we approach the door to the theater, it opens. Fred Astaire steps out into the sunlight. Alone.

We have our press kits. Mr. Astaire signs a photo for each of us as he waits for his ride. He asks us where we’re from. He is every bit the Fred Astaire we want him to be. While we are doing this, Win Maynard records it all on Super-8. Somewhere, there is Super-8 film of me hanging out with Fred Astaire while he waits for his limo.

The limousine arrives. It is the longest I’ve ever seen. The driver is wearing full black livery, including a cap. Very old school.

The driver opens the door. We wave good bye to Mr. Astaire.

This was so much better than King Kong.