From the crowd, it looked more like Hecht's the day after Christmas than a late summer afternoon at Schwarzschild downtown. But Wednesday, Sept. 13, behind closed shades at the venerable jeweler's Broad Street emporium, patrons stood two-deep at the center sales island. The mostly middle-aged (and up) gaggle of shoppers was polite, but determined. Fifteen sales people responded smoothly to relentless requests to examine this or that dazzling piece from the company's annual estate- and antique-jewelry show.
This year's by-invitation-only sale had an extra dose of glamour with the inclusion of pieces once owned or worn by actresses from Hollywood's golden age baubles that had touched the epidermis of Kate Smith, Gene Tierney, Janet Leigh or Joan Fontaine.
But something else lent considerable Tinsel Town oomph to River City reserve. This was the presence at Schwarzschild of Terry Moore, 71, a child actress who grew up to be Oscarnominated for her role in "Come Back Little Sheba." She is perhaps better known as the widow once disputed of Howard Hughes, the industrialist, aviator and film-studio tycoon who was as famously reclusive as he was rich.
Moore had placed a number of her own pieces including gifts from Hughes in the sale.
"She'd heard we wanted jewelry with some provenance," said sale official Stephen Singer, observing the excitement from the sidelines. "She has a lot of jewelry different periods, different prices. Big things, delicate things all collected over a period of 30 to 40 years."
"Richmond is very sophisticated and has always appreciated good things," he added as champagne and Perrier were served, and canapes were passed on silver trays. "They already have their solitaire and a good strand of pearls: They want a wider wardrobe."
A wardrobe of jewelry. Nice concept.
I asked the jeweler what was his favorite piece in the sale.
"She's wearing the necklace," he responded, leading me across the store toward Moore. The petite blonde was wearing a tight black sweater with a plunging neckline, dressy tight black slacks and black velvet pumps: All the better to show off a figure many women a third her age can only dream of.
She held a stemmed goblet with diet Coke in one hand and the aluminum can in the other. One of her fingers was burdened by a huge and blindingly brilliant emerald ring. The stone was as big as a quarter.
"Thirty carats, it came from my relationship with Howard Hughes," Moore offered.
"Marriage," injected Jerry Rivers, her current husband, a handsome New York native and collaborator who was always at her side. His hair was slicked back, and he wore a black suit and silver tie.
"Well, it was from that period," she shot back as if caught in a faux pas. Details.
But it was the necklace we had come to examine.
"He just knew I loved diamonds," gushed Moore, batting her attractive eyes as she referred to Hughes. I took a closer look at the creation of intertwined gold and diamonds. I had to ask.
"One hundred and thirty-five carats," she replied. "He knew I wanted diamonds all the way around my neck."
At that moment, if Moore had popped a high kick and belted out a verse from "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," I wouldn't have thought twice. In the 1960s, when women's lib was sweeping the country, the movement obviously escaped her: She was sweeping up.
"I wanted him to give me a belt made of diamonds so I could have diamonds all around my waist," she continued, with a perfectly straight face. "But I didn't get it." She thinks for a minute and adds philosophically, "But I'm still living, there's still time."
Those who think Californians are laid-back would reconsider after meeting Moore.
She talks nonstop engagingly but nonstop.
She talks about summers in Idaho where she was riding bareback by age 4.
She tells me she's the first girl, ever, named Terry. "Previously it was a boy's name."
She relates how Howard Hughes taught her to fly that she's the third woman ever to learn to pilot a jet. She promotes a movie she's co-producing with husband, Rivers, on the story of her life and they're rereleasing her book about life with Hughes.
Then, there's the book about 10 steps "to forever staying young." Secrets Cary Grant and George Hamilton shared with her.
She says being in Richmond set her back on her running schedule she recently completed her first marathon.
She talked about her two sons, one a producer/director, the other a real estate developer and her grandchildren : "My granddaughter loves to go through my jewelry every time she comes over and she never leaves without something. But I must admit, I prefer little boys."
She talks about raising horses and says she's off to Middleburg to stay with friends after leaving Richmond. And she really gets excited about Boo-Boo, her Bichon Frise. "He's a circus dog, and he e-mails me when I'm away."
Life, to Moore, is fabulous.
"On Labor Day, we went to a party at a friend's in Beverly Hills," said Moore sipping her diet Coke. "She had every star there. I wore a battery-powered blinking light in my navel. It flashed red-green, red-green. All the guys Red Buttons, Jack Carter, Milton Berle and Sid Caesar were standing around joking. It kept flashing: red-green, red-green, stop-go, stop-go."
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