"Well, I'm an old lady," says Olive Lange, in her best "big deal" tone. "This seems kind of foolish to me, all this hullabaloo."
For the past 18 years, she has been a cashier for K-B Theaters, first at the Fine Arts, then (and now) at the Cinema. She has wished "enjoy the show" to countless thousands of Washington moviegoers. And she is, by the way, 90 years old today.
Said hullabaloo began earlier this week, when K-B threw a party for her and Olive Lange greeted the assembled with "I guess I've bawled you all out at one time or another." It continues today with a birthday greeting on the Cinema marquee, free cake and punch for all moviegoers and tickets bearing the appropriate price of 90 cents.
But if you're impressed, don't be: Olive Lange isn't.
"People want you to slow up. I don't feel like slowing up," she says. " 'You shouldn't do this,' and 'You shouldn't do that,' till you're sick of hearing it. I've worked all my life. I've never ever quit working. I don't want to quit working, and they don't want me to -- funny as it seems."
The word feisty never seemed so inadequate. Just ask the thieves who have tried to heist the Cinema when she was on duty. "Once, I backed up against the cash drawer and said, 'This is not my money to give you or anyone else!' " she remembers.
Or ask the doctors who took care of her broken hip last fall. "I fought like Sam Hill," she remembers. "When they told me I needed a walker, I said if they made me use a walker, I'd fire 'em."
Or ask Mother Nature, which tangled with Olive Lange, launching the offensive with a stroke early last year, then the broken hip. Mother Nature, needless to say, lost. "You see, my dear, I'm an old bird," she says. "And a tough old bird at that."
She doesn't work a regular shift anymore -- just when the Cinema needs her. "She's one of these type ladies that if it snowed, she'd make it to work," says Jim Moore, now the office manager for K-B, who gave her her first job with the chain. "All the kids don't make it."
According to Lange, K-B doesn't want her to drive at night. That advice, like the word "retirement," sticks in her craw.
"I love to drive at night," she says. "My eyes are good. There's nothing like getting in the car and seeing the lights and the activity, and even the accidents. I look and say, 'That's life, and thank God I'm a part of it.' "
She grew up in Amsterdam, a town in Upstate New York, where she worked in her father's grocery store and went to see Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin movies for a dime. It was there that she met her husband, George Henry Lange, at a dance. "He came with a bunch of fellas, they wanted to leave. My husband said, 'I see something.' " What he saw, from outside the dance hall, was Olive. After the first dance, "He asked me, 'What's your name?' And I said, 'Rosie.' " She laughs. "And from then on there was one man in my life, and that was George Lange."
One day, someone suggested she try the insurance business. "I thought that I'd try and if I couldn't do it, they'd let me off the hook. But I could write insurance! From then on there was no stopping me."
When her husband died in 1955, she moved to Washington as the state field director for the North American Beneficial Association (a company managed exclusively by women), and when she "retired" in 1965, held a couple of odd jobs until a friend recommended her to Moore as a cashier. "He always tells everybody that when he talked over the phone, he thought he had a spring chicken, but he found out he got an old hen," she giggles. "And he's been stuck ever since."
Olive Lange tries to serve as an adviser to those with young children. "I try to tell the people, when they bring the little children, I say, 'This is an R-rated picture.' And some of them are very indignant, but I tell them just the same." If she hasn't seen the movie, she asks the ushers. "I ask 'em, 'It have any sex in it?' And they start to laugh. I told 'em that's what keeps me young -- seeing the dirty R-rated pictures." And then she laughs, too.
She also tries to whip the troops into shape. "I don't like a doorman who puts his head down. I tell them, 'I'm an old woman and I stand up like this. So I tell 'em. Some of 'em don't like it very well. When I don't like a thing, they know it."
"We've teased her about being rather bossy," says Moore. "She's bossed every manager that's been there."
So will Olive Lange ever retire? "No!" she says, with a look of disgust. "Not till I go down below. Old age is for the birds. It's not my cup of tea, not a bit. No sir, not a bit. I'd like to be doing what I always do, the day the Lord calls me home."
And later she says, "I can't do everything like I used to. It makes me mad."