Top Hats off to Astaire's Evergreen Lifestyle ... THE WAY IT IS

Article excerpt


FRANK SINATRA changed round the place settings at his dinner party in Beverly Hills and put Elvis Presley next to Ava Astaire - Fred's daughter - so they could talk rock 'n' roll and anything else that came up. Ava, a little beauty, never got star-struck all that time she grew up in Hollywood and lived easily with her father being the biggest star in town.

Like, if anybody else had sat next to Presley, each word spoken would be lasered into the memory. But, the other day, Ava said that whatever it was, well, it had had all gone now. And really, could it honestly be as important as was the rain ever going to stop out in County Cork where they had gone to live and would the courgettes flower in time to make a decoration for the F party she had coming up?

Then there was her husband, Richard McKenzie, the Hollywood artist, but right now he didn't mind the rain so much because he wouldn't have to excuse himself from weeding.

The old Irish farmhouse they lived in now was tucked cleverly into a dip of land so only the roof got swiped by 100mph storms that might blast in, raising the waves to a terrible height. It sounded the same as bombs going off when these waves thrashed the cliffs outside.

Rodeo Drive, that rich shopping paradise in Beverly Hills, a place where a chauffeur used to drop Ava off from Fred's Rolls-Royce, was never like this.

Here were Ava and Richard in the old days: dining with Sammy Davis Jnr and Elizabeth Taylor; having John Travolta over for supper; chilling out with Cary Grant in Cap d'Antibes; Ava always calling Gary Cooper 'Uncle Gary'; having to listen night after night to their friend Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan calls; Richard chatting up Marilyn Monroe, who lived down the block; sinking into another night of Dorothy Parker's chatter; rattling off movie stories with the David Nivens and Gene Kelly on the Riviera, and Ava being a lot with Fred.

Right now, though, the people in their lives were such as the post mistress and the guy who repaired the pump sucking water from their own well, and also someone whose breath was stained with so much whiskey you could set fire to it and use him as a flame-thrower.

Beverly Hills to Cork was a big trip, movie stars to moving statues, and here they were the other day watching more white rain slap against the windows when it sluiced in from the Fastnet Lighthouse.

* n n n n n How could you ever have given Hollywood up for this, Richard was asked when he was writing a piece for a magazine on just that subject?

'The way of life,' he said, or swopping stress for sleepy time in the west.

His early days in Hollywood were spent painting or running his own gallery which that good friend Lucille Ball put money into. …