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On Tuesday, July 23, 2013, I was one of the lucky people with a ticket to an elegant and enlightening event — Raymond Chandler’s 125th birthday celebration. Hosted by Richard Schave and Kim Cooper — the brilliant minds behind the Los Angeles Visionaries Association (LAVA) — the party started out in the noir glamor of the “Invention” bar at the Los Angeles Athletic Club at 7th and Olive in downtown L.A.

The L.A. Athletic Club is where Chandler, who worked across the street at the Dabney Oil offices, came to exercise — his elbows, wrists, and hands — by drinking at the bar and playing bridge. Lucky for us, since this is where the master gained so much of his insight into Los Angeles and the movers and shakers who ran the town.

The festivities then moved to the club’s ballroom — outfitted with pillars to keep the swimming pool on the floor above from crashing through. (It may not be easy to dance around pillars, but it’s easier than dancing under water.) There was no dancing on this particular evening — though one of the speakers, Sybil Anne Davis, who knew Chandler as a child, informed us that “Ray,” as he liked to be called, was a wonderful dancer.

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Davis’s mother Jean was Chandler’s last secretary — working for the author in La Jolla, California, during his final years . (Chandler passed away in 1959.) As a child and young teen, Davis and her brother spent a great deal of time with Chandler  (photo of Sybil and Ray at left) — and she offered many anecdotes about his humor, charm, kindness, generosity, and wit. From her mother, she inherited Chandler’s library — consisting of hundreds of books — and read us many of the inscriptions that Chandler had written to his wife Cissy as well as Cissy’s inscriptions to “Raymeo.”

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Sybil also showed us a truly iconic piece of art — Raymond Chandler’s silver cigarette case, engraved with his initials: RTC. (See photo at right of similar case.) As all noir lovers know, the cigarette is emblematic of the genre — so I was truly awestruck to be in the same room with this remarkable item. Later, when I had the chance to speak with Sybil Davis, I asked her in a whisper: ” Do you think I could hold, even for a second, Chandler’s cigarette case?” Davis, an effervescent and affable woman — and an attorney by profession — agreed, but by then we were advised to head for the elevators because we were moving across the street for a tour of the Oviatt Building, which served as a setting for Chandler‘s novel The Lady in the Lake.

….to be continued.