She wore black, soft summer black. I remember the pearls.

It was a very hot summer night in Beverly Hills. A soft rain had just ended. It was in the late ’60s, a blurred decade, like pieces of a cookie, only small crumbs remain.

I was the closing night manager at Martindales’ Book Store in Beverly Hills. Nobody else wanted to work nights, but I had day auditions for television, and nights were perfect for me.

It was about 10. I had closed the big glass doors. I was just about to click off the window lights when she appeared with two men. I recognized her at once, and certainly both men who were with her.

She comically pressed her nose against the glass, and her smiling lips moved.

“Are you closing now? Are we too late?”

What would you say to Olivia Mary De Havilland at 10 o’clock at night when she appears at your door, presses her face to the glass and smiles?

Actress Olivia De Havilland toasts her fiance, Pierre Galante, with champagne while he in turn proposes a milk toast to his prospective bride at Nino’s La Rue restaurant on Dec. 21, 1954 in New York. De Havilland died July 25 in Paris at age 104. Matty Zimmerman/AP photo

It was the same smile she gave Robin Hood, Ashley Wilkes in “Gone With the Wind,” and Jimmy Cagney in “Strawberry Blonde.”

With no hesitation I replied: “No, ma’am. Of course not.”

So in she came, followed by the heavy man with a 6-inch cigar between his lips.

“You’re very generous, bless you,” Orson Welles said.

Orson Welles. Olivia alone was enough, but “Citizen Kane” and “Harry Lime” walking behind her?

And just behind them, their dinner friend, the great character actor Albert Dekker.

The men smelled of smoke. She, of the rain.

Martindales’ Book Store was, in those days before Amazon, the watering hole for Hollywood elite. Stars came and went through our doors like holograms.

But this night when I was alone, bored and ready to go home, Olivia and Orson walked into my quiet space and provided me with a memory I treasure.

“We won’t be long,” she said.

“Take all the time you want,” I probably said. I’m sure I did.

Dekker went immediately to the art book section and stayed there.

Orson spotted the magazine rack behind the counter where we had to keep Playboy, Esquire and the raunchiest of the pinups. The city officials insisted that they not be out front.

Orson’s eyes lit up, and he just shoved things aside and thumbed through them. “These are classics,” he mumbled. Those were among the only words I can remember him saying.

Olivia walked through the aisles, picking up and moving books from side to side with mumbled comments.

I’m sure I smiled and chuckled politely. I wanted to remember every word. I knew She, who was Kay then, would ask.

This I recall. At one moment, she turned, touched her cheek and said, “Orson, what did I do with the candy?”

He pointed to the counter. Those kinds of things I remember.

She found the box and tossed the cover.

“They’re chocolate-covered cherries. Someone at the restaurant pushed them on me. Come, have some.”

Then she lifted herself up — shoved all the pads and pencils, the stapler and Scotch tape dispenser aside, and like a high school girl — pushed herself up on the counter.

I can still see myself standing there, gobsmacked.

She popped one of the candies into her mouth, licked her fingers, and patted the space beside her.

“C’mon, join me.”

Of course I did, and there we sat, the young “wannabe” and the “surely was.”

For the next half-hour, surely longer, we chatted. The conversation, but for a few words, a sentence here and there, has long turned yellow like old newspaper photos, and has gone unretrievable.

I was often asked, “Did you get her autograph?”

Please. Really? An unthinkable amateur move. I was a professional, even then.

We just sat there like two strangers on a bus, chatting, while Orson chuckled and blew cigar smoke around us.

I asked her about the park bench scene in “Strawberry Blonde” with Cagney, and then about Errol Flynn.

She lost her smile at that.

“Oh, Errol. A sweetheart, but what a sad man.”

I vaguely remember telling her about Kay and the girls, asleep at home, and then of course, I had to add, “I’m an actor, and this is a good job for that.”

She looked at me for such a long moment, I think I blushed, and she touched my hand.

“An actor. Of course you are.”

Orson asked to use the “Loo,” and then they went to the door. The boys shook my hand and moved to the street.

Olivia — and this moment will never fade — gave me a quick soft kiss on the cheek.

Since then, I’ve had Kentucky Fried Chicken with Jack Nicholson, shared eggplant lasagna with Burt Reynolds, and split a box of popcorn and cold coffee with Suzanne Pleshette.

All of those moments are stored in the black and white memories at the back of my brain. But my evening with Olivia and the kiss on the cheek?

Goodnight, Olivia Mary, and thanks for the memory.

All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all
— John Lennon/Paul McCartney

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 


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