Friday, May 21, 2010

Booksmith Recollection II: The Blue Max

In another life, I worked in an independent bookstore, when St. Augustine still had one; it was called the Booksmith and it was without any doubt a magical place. It sat in a picture-perfect spot, on the corner of St. Augustine's central plaza, overlooked the beautiful bay and Bridge of Lions, and had as a sort of back door (this has its own stories) the famous Trade Winds, where more or less everyone in St. Augustine has gotten drunk at least once. There are so many Booksmith stories that I have a list of the ones I want to tell you sooner or later, in this here blog.

But tonight's tale, my little ones, is about one of the Booksmith's frequent visitors. Like most of the other almost- or once-famous people who frequented the store, he was humble and quiet about his accomplishments and we were always glad to see him. He was the author of several books, the most famous of which was a novel called The Blue Max, which was made into a movie. Like the stupid young person I was, I never got around to reading the book, but today, I happened to see the movie. It was good. And I found I was a little ashamed of myself for not having paid attention any sooner.

When he came into the Booksmith, he was always called "Mr. Hunter" and he never corrected us or encouraged any more familiarity, though as I've said, he was quiet about his own accomplishments. He was unassuming, friendly and kind. By the time I knew him his big moment of fame had passed, I think. He'd served in the second World War and had published his famous book perhaps a decade later; the movie of the same title was released in 1966. Twenty years and more had passed, and he'd continued to write and had also re-invented himself as a fine artist, building a sort of second or third career as a painter of historic aviation. I only knew this in the sketchiest of ways. Diana, who owned the store and was (and is) a master at The Art of Detail, knew it well and understood how it all fit together. I relied on her for cues. But basically Mr. Hunter was an ordinary-looking person behind whose average face I was too young and ignorant to see. And there's a sub-plot.

Mr. Hunter was married to a sweet, smart lady named Tommie. By the time the MadriGalz began their affectionate career at The Cafe Alcazar, I'd developed my own love affair with Miss Tommie's antique shop. It was called The Blue Max and was located, along with our beloved cafe, in what was once the swimming pool of the Hotel Alcazar, around the turn of the last century. Tommie had a collection of some of the most beautiful pieces you ever saw, and most of the ones I bought came from a jewelry case at one end of the shop. She had a small lamp of the sort you might have on a bedside table, and under this magical light you could look at her collection of jewelry. She would give you the most astonishing discounts, and would keep things for you for MONTHS while you figured ways to trim your grocery budget...oh, but these are other stories, my dears: this is only a sub-plot, after all.

Completely accidentally I stumbled across The Blue Max, the movie, today. It starred George Peppard and Ursula Andress, the latter of whom was dressed in a fabulous early 20th century wardrobe, which is, admittedly, what caught my eye, about halfway into the film. I'd missed the beginning, where the writing credits had appeared; thank you, The Internet (as your Aunt Becky would say)and Matt Cribbs, for giving me According to good old imdb, Mr. Hunter's personal dream of being a fighter pilot did not come true because he was green/red color blind. Color blind. Imagine. So he became a respected writer (he continued to serve as a writing coach to local writers well into his 70s) and painter (his original work continued to sell, and he considered The Blue Max cover art, which he did himself, to have been his first sale). Beyond my imagining when I was a young bookseller was a complex life, built brick by brick and lived in fullness, and this was Mr. Jack Hunter.

It's almost a better story than The Blue Max. Almost.


  1. St Augustine sounds like a VERY cool place

  2. Oh, boy, Michelle, it IS. But in the interest of full disclosure, seen through my eyes you're seeing the present St. Augustine laid over the decades I've lived here, during which much has changed. Still, you should come on down.
    Love, love.

  3. Incredible to be so near someone famous and to realize they are like everyone else. I hope one day I'll get a chance to brush sleeves with someone like that.

    To think, despite being color blind and not able to live his aviation dreams, he was still able to do so in his paintings. There's a lesson to be learned in that.

  4. Michelle, you're probably brushing sleeves with people right now, with your work online and off, your clear understanding of yourself as a writer (something that comes to many of us only with age) and your constant effort to refine yourself in that discipline. Thank you for pointing out how lucky I was to know Mr. Hunter, and for always, always reading. Love, love!

  5. D'oh! I meant, "...with people like that right now...", in reference to people who achieve their dreams. But in correcting the sentence, I have to correct myself as well: my suspicion is that you'll BE one of those people. Other people will be glad they were able to brush sleeves with YOU.


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