THE INFAMOUS MGM scouting report on Fred Astaire's screen test-"Can't act, slightly bald, can dance a little"-was essentially wrong in one respect. They gave him an Oscar for nothing in "The Towering Inferno," which is merely Hollywood's odd little way of making amends. But he did a first-rate job of acting in "On the Beach" and another in "The Pleasure of His Company," where he played a gilded romantic returned form Arcady to entrance his daughter on her wedding day. The portrayal of a man who knows he has not been faking a life that ought to have been faked was stunning. As, in fact, was his acting in the great movie musicals, where he became the only screen lover never (or rarely) to kiss the ladies.

Otherwise, little dance, and no sing-at least none mentioned. Well, not exactly no sing. In the movies he always managed to hit the notes, even though he did it so tentatively that half the time he could have been talking. Half the time he was. Yet you could not prove that to George Gershwin or Cole Porter, who preferred him above all others to sing their songs; or to Miss Rogers, or Miss Charisse, or Miss Hepburn or Miss hayworth, or any of the other partners whose lives he graced. He really didn't need to sing that loud anyway, since he was the music.

Which brings up the dancing-a little. And there the screen-test report was right on the money, as Mr. Astaire has only ever danced "a little" in the sense of never thumping or hurling his limbs to play catch-up to an orchestra. For most others, dancing is something you do with your feet in response to music. Mr. Astaire simply dances by moving; even today as he turns 80, the perfectly graceful man.