In this installement, Deborah recalls her first day of work on “The Night of the Iguana” and the, now famous, gift John Huston gave to all the actors in his movie.
(Continues from previous post)
OCTOBER 26: By the time we got to Mismaloya it had stopped raining – although it was still grey. Everything pretty muddy with the rain and steamy with the heat. I climbed into my dress and “wimple” and hat and gloves, etc. – and John and Ray Stark came to have look. Ray felt it looked too elegant. And John felt it was not quite humorous enough. The latter is hard to achieve – a “funny” dress, one that is funny at first sight, but isn’t funny when the scenes don’t call for the dress to distract by being slightly comic. Anyway, after a great deal of hemming and hawing it was decided to use it as it is. we haven’t any time to change it really. And I would rather not. I don’t want her to be a ludicrous figure, and I feel that although she is broke, her original taste is that of a quite good artist – individual and with a style of her own.
Peter came out to the location with Tony Veiller (who has done the script with John Huston) in time to take me home. We trolled back in the boat as Armando [in charge of transportation to the set and back], had a line out. He hooked a dorado – a sort of dolphin – with the most exquisite green and yellow and blue colorings, but it gave him a long fight and when he got it in, the boy missed with the gaff. Poor Armando! he was ready to kill either the boy or himself! I was secretly rather glad. It was such a beautiful fish.
We swam when we got back, and Ava turned up at the beach practicing her water-skiing. Peter had managed to get a surfboard sent down from Mazatlán. He paddled out to her boat and decided to have a turn with the skis. he went round and round in great style and I was very proud of him. Then at last he had to let go and fall because two kids were swimming out and he thought he was going to slice their heads off. Ava followed us home for a drink and we all sat n the kitchen and ate peanuts and sardines on crackers, and she told us how happy she was – how much she enjoyed working. For the first time in her life she was really enjoying the business of “acting”. she is such a beautiful woman – intelligent and shrewd, particularly about people. She spots a phony ina second. She has courage and guts. Courage and guts to say what she feels and to kick out against what she feels is wrong for her. Kick out – at the risk of making enemies and at the risk of being thought “difficult”. She has little vanity for that. She adores Burton, who has helped her enormously, made her feel at ease. And as she rightly says, he makes everyone else act well, he is so good himself.
OCTOBER 28, MONDAY: At ten-thirty a.m. we had a visitor in Ernie Anderson, who is John Huston’s personal publicity man. He sports a kind of eternal “blue-period” air… bright blue shirt, bright blue pants, bright blue lenses in his glasses and, poor man, masses of bright blue insect bites. He came back to explain that John was going to make a presentation to the cast and would I be ready at one p.m. I had decided to wash my hair and had no sooner got my head in the basin than he came back in a rush to say the message had come through and would I please come at once as they might get to my opening scene! So I finished it and dried it as quickly as I could and Peter came with me and we rushed to the beach, into the dugout and onto the boat. I suppose I shall become expert at this maneuver – I hope so. I am absolutely terrified I am going to fall int he sea, or get my foot crushed or some other horror.
We thought the boat was going to break down on the way; it stopped, chugged, snorted and started again and veered dangerously toward the rocks! But we made the landing stage at Mismaloya and once again I went through the agonizing process of getting off the damned boat! John then took us all up to the set: Ava looking lovely, Richard in his beat-up get-up as Shannon; Elizabeth vivid and tanned, in purples and pinks, with Liza Todd, her six-year-old, quite the most ravishing-looking little girl I have ever seen, her eyes the color and shape of her mother’s, but twice the size; Sue Lyon, young, cute and blonde; dear old Cyril Delevanti who looks so perfectly the part of Nonno; John, Peter and myself. We all had to sit around a table, and John made a speech which we started to take seriously at first but finally felt must be a joke! Sure enough, as tokens of his esteem for us he presented us with gold-plated derringers, with five bullets and each bullet marked with the other’s name on it. Not John’s name, needless to say. I sensed a certain nervousness in the laughter and the thanks of everyone concerned. It was almost like the start of an Agatha Christie murder novel. After this somewhat uncertain episode, work recommenced. Ava was shaving Richard as he lay in a hammock. I slipped away to try out a little darker make up and a slight change in my hair. I also wanted to watch Dorothy Jeakings draw. She is going to do the drawing for Hannah’s sketch of Shannon and I wanted to see how she works – how her hand moves and what she does with her head. She is a brilliant artist; there is a strength and force in ehr work – all of it very simple – that is a little at odds with her intensely romantic outlook. I hope one day she will put down her dress-designing tools and draw and paint seriously.
OCTOBER 29: Actually worked! Hannah finally appeared! One small shot coming out of the old man’s room, and overhearing the fight going on between Shannon and Charlotte. But it was a nice way to “break the ice” – it’s funny how nerve-racking and terrifying the very first shot in a new picture can be! usually it’s a huge long scene, “masses of black stuff” (as my old chum David Niven puts it), intimidating blocks of black print on the page. And t is rare to be able to break the ice by just one shot in which not a word is spoken.
I went up to the location a little later, and I was able to sit with Dorothy again and watch her sketch: how she holds the pencil, what her face does and the tensions in her other hand. Richard and I ran lines int he scene that follows, in case we should have to continue with it. But I think Ava will be back tomorrow and we shall proceed in continuity. Terrific thunderstorm ont he way back – we were drenched transferring from boat to canoe and I arrived home like a wet, smelly spaniel. Peter had shot some quail which we had for dinner. Bed gratefully at nine-thirty.
OCTOBER 30: Eight a.m. at the beach. Arturo, one of the many good looking boat boys, took em over in Ava’s speedboat, which does the trip in fifteen minutes. A really unbelievably lovely morning. I enjoy this breath of air each morning before work and again at the end of the day – it’s a godsend. I think the reason I get so tired working in a studio is the total lack of fresh air. Lunch wasn’t called until one-forty-five, so we were all very hungry. Elizabeth adn Richard had brought hamburgers (flown from somewhere exotic and healthy) complete with cheese, onions, and tomatoes and they asked Peter adn me to join them. The hamburgers were delicious. Elizabeth also had a huge jar of Boston baked beans, which we delved into as if we had never eaten beans before in our lives. After a constant diet of fish and guacamole they tasted wonderful. We rehearsed a long and complicate shot after lunch, but we weren’t able to get it in the can, so it will be the first shot in the morning. I was glad to be through. Ava and I will meet at the beach at seven in the morning – her call is the same as mine so we can whizz out together in ehr speedboat. Elizabeth and Richard gave us a ride home in their boat which is christened Taffy. She is such a generous, sweet woman, friendly and warm and impulsive, and the Welshman kept us all laughing all the way back to Puerto Vallarta.
OCTOBER 31: On the set at 9 a.m. We rehearsed a couple of times and did quite a few takes. Various things spoiled one or two takes – airplane noises, dogs barking and one mike shadow. Then a close up on Ava into which I came – a two-shot of Richard and ava with words off from me – and then I was able to go down to my cottage, as they had a retake to do on the day before yesterday’s stuff with the teachers and Sue Lyon. sue seemed rather disgruntled this morning, I don’t know what about. I was absolutely starving by eleven o’clock and John told me to try the chili beans that Sam, the property man, makes in his little office. Good and hot and washed down with a little cold beer. I felt bursting but renewed. John and I sat chatting and he reminded me of an incident in Tobago when we were making “Heaven Knows Mr. Allsion. His Tobagonian maid brought her daughter to the set to visit. The daughter had just had a baby which he brought with her and John ahd his picture taking holding the baby. He described hilariously how, in later years, when traveling on planes and inevitable seated next to a “talker” who would eventually bring out pictures of his wife and children, John, when asked, would produce this picture. His description of the halfhearted laughs, the looks of suspicion, the attempts at jocularity, all followed by dead silence for the rest of the trip, were marvelously funny – sadly revealing too.
… to be continued. 😉