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Tom Runyon, Ali MacGraw and the end of an era

September 21, 2009 |  5:35 pm
Runyon Tom Runyon ran a restaurant-saloon called the Old Place in an Agoura canyon that was known for its ramshackle Western character, the Hollywood crowd who frequented it — and the character who ran it for 40 years with his wife.

Runyon, 89, died of cancer July 17 at his Malibu home.

Actress Ali MacGraw shared her memories of Runyon and the Old Place, which she frequented with Steve McQueen when they were a married couple in the 1970s. There was room in the story only for snippets of the colorful commentary by MacGraw, who now lives in Santa Fe.

Here’s most of what MacGraw had to say on July 29, 2009, about Runyon and a slice of life that she lamented as "long gone":

"It was such an important place. I loved the Runyons and Tom. Of course, I worked with him in 'The Getaway.' He was so remarkable. Steve and I went up there all the time when we lived in Trancas. Because it was just sort of 10 minutes up the canyon from where we lived.

"He had this most extraordinary collection of people — Robert Mitchum, Bob Dylan, Steve McQueen types and bikers.

"He was adored, and he was a total character.

"You got there (to the Old Place) and the first night, there was steak and steamed clams. The second night, the steak had been turned into a really hot stew. The salad was three-bean salad. There was a whole lot of wine and a whole lot of craziness.

"There were Western-frontier swinging doors. They would burst open and in would come God only knew who. It was just the polar opposite of Malibu. A lot of the people in there were very well-known. They quite honestly weren’t looking (to be noticed). They just wanted a fabulous time.

"Sam Peckinpah put him in a wonderful part in 'The Getaway' — in the scenes with Tom as one of the bad guys. He steals ’em.

"There was a sort of madness about the Old Place. I’ve never been to any other place like it in my life. It was completely authentic. It stands for an era in that part of Malibu that’s so long gone. It’s a different population now.

"He knew everybody and everybody knew him. It was some of my best times with Steve.

"The family is artistically and intellectually very special. They were the best of old Malibu, with a place that invited the most interesting people you could imagine for fairly wild nights up there, which was big fun. They attracted the most incredible people. None of it was about the 'beautiful people.' They were ’60s, ’70s, Malibu renegades. It all worked.

"You’d sort of watch those swinging saloon doors and you’d say, 'Oh my God, guess who’s coming in now?' No one was in stilettos or a haircut of the week. It was a hide-out.

"There will never be another Tom Runyon."

-- Valerie J. Nelson

Photo: Tom Runyon, character and restaurant-saloon keeper.