John Huston presenting Derringer pistols to Ray Stark, Ava Gardner, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Deborah Kerr and Sue Lyon on the movie set in Playa Mismaloya…Production of The Night of the Iguana moves to Mismaloya, where the actors mimic the lives of their onscreen characters for the next three months.  Temperatures rise; romance blossoms and tempers flare in this primitive jungle setting.  Cast members prepare to set sail from the beach:

Looming over the sand was the modernistic architecture of the Hotel Tropicana, which seemed strangely out of place between the traditional Mexican-style bars and restaurants.  The radical-shaped structure was symbolic of the city’s culture clash – one style competing against the other.  A gaggle of American and European tourists crowded the shore, taking photographs of the stars with their pocket cameras.  Unlike the shouting fans of today, these privileged onlookers were too timid to ask for autographs – they merely stood there in hushed reverence.

In the same way that circuses have clowns to entertain the crowd, so carnivals provide an amusing sideshow.  Like a scene from a Fellini movie, several muscular young men with pompadour hairdos, sporting imitation leopard and zebra-print bikinis, their muscles rippling, pranced and posed for a group of aging female admirers who sat under a palapa drinking Bloody Marys.  The pixilated women laughed and giggled like schoolgirls at the sight of gyrating hips, clenched buttocks and wriggling torsos.  Elizabeth Taylor gently steered Richard Burton away from this tawdry exhibition, but he turned back in bemused fascination.  “Everyone seems to turn queer down here,” he remarked.  “I hope it’s not catching.”

Then, mimicking a philharmonic conductor about to lead his orchestra from the podium, John Huston walked out into the sun.  Bowing courteously, cigar firmly in mouth, he showed everyone the way by rolling up his trousers and wading barefoot into the ocean.  Under cloudless skies, with elegant brown terns and white and gray gulls hovering overhead, the cast bravely followed Huston’s example.  The powerful undertow was an intimidating experience for those present, many of whom were unused to the ocean’s ebb and flow.  Wading into the swell, Deborah Kerr nearly lost her balance but was caught by Peter Viertel.  Sue Lyon sank up to her thighs, gasping at the water’s coldness, and clung to Hampton Fancher, while Grayson Hall joined hands with Skip Ward and boldly took their first steps into the foaming sea…

Huston, John


NEXT: Epilogue

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