She would probably disapprove of me of saying this but there was something magical about actress Anne Francis. Even the way I first met her had a tinge of the supernatural.
I was the longtime manager of Max’s Restaurant on upper State Street in Santa Barbara. One day, on the way to the restaurant to work the lunch shift, I stopped off at the Santa Barbara Public Library and I came across her book Voices from Home: An Inner Journey.
I hadn’t thought of Anne in 40 years but like many young men I had a crush on Honey West. On the cover of the book she looked just as beautiful as I remembered her from the television series. I looked at my watch and noticed that if I didn’t hurry I would be late for work so I jumped back on my bike and made the trek up State Street. I quickly changed clothes in the office and walked into the restaurant, and to my complete and utter surprise Anne Francis was sitting at Table 32 having lunch with a friend.
If ever there was an opening to talk with a famous customer this was one. I walked up to her table and said, “Miss Francis, I was just looking at your book in the Santa Barbara Library and here you are.” She smiled and said she was surprised that her book was in the library. I assured her that it was but that I hadn’t had time to check it out as I was late for the lunch shift. Two days later in the restaurant mail was an autographed copy of her book.
Anne was infrequently a customer but when she did come in she always invited me to sit at her table to talk with her and her friends. Anne would listen to what I had to say as if the day-to-day operations of a small neighborhood restaurant were just as interesting as her memories of the old days of Hollywood. Her secrets were usually safe with me because I didn’t know who she was talking about. Anne was always kind when the public intruded or stared. Once when I was walking Anne out to her car a mother with a small child said, much too loud, “Look, honey, a movie star!” Anne smiled and gave a small wave and I asked, “Does that bother you?” She replied, “Should it?”
On Sunday mornings when there was a line outside the restaurant she resisted being allowed in before the other customers, saying that she would wait. And sometimes if I came in late there was Anne leaning against her car waiting for the hostess to call her name. When I called her name ahead of other customers she would chastise me and say that she was perfectly willing to wait her turn.
My favorite “Anne story” happened on the streets of Santa Barbara. I was riding around town on my mountain bike in sweat pants and an old t-shirt. I saw Anne drive up to Paradise Café with a gentleman friend so I took a quick turn, dropped my bike, and yelled “Hey, Anne!” Her friend stood in front of her waving his arms as if I was some sort of wild animal that needed distraction. Anne didn’t miss a beat. She bent over and looked under his arms and said, “Hey, Chay”. From the smile on her face I could tell she enjoyed the confusion.
When I left Santa Barbara and moved to Key West I worked with at-risk kids for a couple of years. When we opened a youth center Anne came to rescue with a donation, pictures, and a letter welcoming the kids. I have to give Anne partial credit for our success. She was not stingy with her magic.