Deborah Kerr’s diary while the shooting of Night of the Iguana – Part 5 (last part).
She recalls an accident on the set and JFK assesination, which occured during the filming of the movie.
I must thank Lisa for the hundreth time for sharing this wonderful insight on Deborah’s work and mind. It was a pleasure to read!
November 18, Monday: Our first night of shooting and it was a bad night. Work went well but afterward an accident occured that shook us all up. Tom Shaw and Terry Morse, our two American assistants, were sitting on the balustrade of the terrace outside the cottage they share when it collapsed under them and they fell ten feet to the ground on their heads. Peter and I had just come down the hill and we saw the whole thing happen. After the initial shock of seeing them fall, I found I couldn’t go near – I was afraid of what I would find. Peter was the first to reach them, and held Tom down as he was semiconscious and trying to move. Terry, poor kid, was completely out, with a huge hole in his head. The Mexican crew all dashed for the doctor who was at the top of the hill and had to be brought down in a jeep. And they managed carefully to transfer Tom onto a bed and lift him into a room on the ground floor. he was obviously the most severely hurt and was in great pain. Terry soon recovered consciousness and seemed in fairly good shape, but of course required stitches in his head. The decision was taken, after much debate, to get them both to the Hospital at Puerto Vallarta.
The operation of taking Tom down the hill to the landing stage, from that downto the floating dock and from the dock onto the boat, and subsequently from the boat up to the beach in PuertoVallarta without moving him too much was a nightmare. The Mexican boys were quite wonderful, carrying him shoulder high, and wading ashore in the sea with him. He was taken to the local hospital for X ray and flown to Los Angeles in the morning. I think the accident serves to show up the basic quality of this location: that the whole place seems to have been put together with chewing gum is all too obvious, and dangerous. Apparently the cement was mixed with beach sand, which because of the high saline content doesn’t cement. It could have been worse – there are balconies that are much higher, and they could have broken their backs or been killed. It has cast a pall of depression over us; night work is tough enough and it’s even tougher with no sleep. We didn’t get to bed until six a.m., and I couldn’t sleep at all- I kept seeing them both fall like rag dolls again and again all night long, and Tom’s terrible groans are still with me.
NOVEMBER 19: All of us were completely exhausted physically and emotionally. I don’t think anyone slept a wink. Work was a tremendous strain. Early in the evening I looked at the balustrade on the terrace outside my cottage ‘with horror- I have sat on it a number of times to watch the iguana that comes out on a high rock every morning to catch the sun… Below me is a sea of jagged boulders. The novels say, “Her blood ran cold.” Mine did! Ropes have been put upon all balconies to stop people f rom sitting on them.
NOVEMBER 20: With some sleep we have all recovered somewhat. Terry is back with us, with his head bound up and a very stiff neck. The word from Los Angeles is that Tom is still in shock – blood pressure very high. We tackled the big scene pretty early on in the evening and completed it. It was ten and a half pages and at the end of shooting I felt I had been talking for a week. I don’t feel I have managed to get any variation in the scene to make it interesting. Not that it isn’t interesting; in fact it contains most of the riches of the play, really all that Tennessee is saying throughout the whole. But to talk for twelve pages is one thing in the theatre and quite another kettle of fish on the screen. John shot it very simply with a minimum of movement-perhaps too little. I hope most fervently it comes off as it should, but I was tired and distracted, and felt nervous and dissatisfied when I got to bed at four a.m.
NOVEMBER 21: The evening went fairly well-bogged down a bit after dinner as we had shots where Richard sets free the igua na and, of course, the iguana didn’t want freedom in the least! He has been in a comfortable cage eating off the fat of the land for t hree months, and getting large and gorgeous and he didn’t see why he should rush off into the jungle at all. In between shots we all did interviews for radio and television. I have never seen so many cameras and recording machines on one picture. And tomorrow two more from N.B.C. Saw some rushes tonight too – good scene between Ava and me – but how I loathe watching myself. I never seem to be able to have my work turn out as I intend it to. Or so it seems to me. I really much prefer not to see rushes. They fill me with total lack of confidence. Marvelous letters from the kids today. They always give me a lift.
NOVEMBER 22: I came gaily down to the beach this afternoon at four thirty, only to learn of the death of the President. The complete flood of disbelief, horror and shock left me with a thumping heart and a knotted stomach. It seemed very hard to go through the usual Buenas tardes* greetings to all the boat boys, who were obviously unaware of the tragedy as yet, and our silence going across must have seemed strange. Ava was in the bar as I came up the hill and we looked at each other without speaking. I fell into the chair beside her and ordered a drink. Everyone around us was the same… silent, stunned and bruised. Somehow, we got to work, and somehow we “carried on.” But tears flooded my eyes and throat when Jaime Contreras, the man who took Tom Shaw’s place as first assistant, called everyone to order and asked John for a minute’s silence for John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
NOVEMBER 23, 24, SATURDAY and SUNDAY: The weekend was spent sleeping and desperately trying to get news on our shortwave radio. Richard and Elizabeth came to dinner on Saturday evening. Peter grilled a wonderful steak that the kindly Wilsons (who own the house that Elizabeth is considering buying ) had sent us, and although all of us were tired and had intended to go to bed early and try to get back to a day schedule, we sat up until three-thirty debating the details of the whole incredible happening. Sunday brought us the further incredible and bizarre news of Oswald’s murder. I began to feel we were all living in a lunatic asylum.
November 26, Tuesday: The end is really here! So suddenly! As always happens in movies! Today we shot the first part of the final scene between Hannah, Shannon and Maxine. All my Mexican chums are starting to get a bit sad. It has been a very happy picture despite everything – and they have been so really marvelous I shall be very sad to leave them all.
November 28, Thursday: Thanksgiving. No one felt very thanksgivingy… I am afraid. But Ray Stark thoughtfully had brought a whoel marvelous Jewish Thanksgiving dinenr from New York: Turkey, pastrami, corned beef, sauerkraut, potato salad, pickles and cheesecake. It all tasted great, and all of us were tremendously grateful. Ava, Richard and Liz didn’t come, which was a pity; they would have enjoyed it. During the afternoon I signed pictures for my “wrecking crew” as I call them and started collecting my bits and pieces from the dressing room.
November 29: Meant to go out to Mismaloya today, just to see the crew, but I felt very tired and let down. I always do when I have finished a job. Completely lethargic and rather depressed. Elizabeth adn Richard came to dinner and we sat and nattered. he told me he had god a bit bad tempered today at work. I think it’s because he too feels the night scene isn’t right. And I know he feels the end scene between Ava and himself is wrong. She was a little too emotional and it is wrong for his character if she is. The end should be more savage, and it isn’t, it’s soft. One should feel that Shannon is left to his purgatory and not that everything is going to be sweet and lovely with a really nice girl from EI Paso.
Novemeber 30: Supposed to be a party this afternoon for the crew, but when I got to the beach to go out, I found that hordes of people from Puerto Vallarta were going and I suddenly couldn’t face a big nonproffesional party. Had it been just us and all our boys, whom I have become so fond of, it would have been a different matter. I just felt I couldn’t cope with Puerto Vallartan society. So I didn’t go.
December 1: Went over to Mismaloya in the evening to see the long scene between Richard and myself cut together. It’s not right. First of all, I have played it too lightly and, secondly, it’s not staged dramatically enough. So we are going to do it again. The prospect of three more nights’ work is hideous, but at least we are fortunate in that we can do it and, consequently improve the whole. So often producers won’t or can’t spend the extra money, and a scene goes out to the public that could have been twenty times better. It can’t be done until Wednesday night so I must kick my heels till then.
December 2: The weather has gone very cloudy and humid, extremely depressing, which adds to my own depression. Reflecting on the scene I was furious with myself for being so undemanding and not examining it further. It’s a fault that one easily can fall into making movies. There’s always a “get on with it” and “get out of here” attitude, which makes one rush and skim the surface of work. I think too we were all depressed that week by Tommy and Terry’s accident and, of course, the shock of the assassination left us as stunned as the rest of the world. Liz and Richard asked us to dinner andwe took Andy with us and had a pleasant, talkative evening. Richard asked me to play Gertrude in the production of Hamlet he is doing in April in New York. He had received a cable from Sir John Gielgud who is directing it, saying, “Deborah Kerr first on my list to play Gertrude.” I didn’t sleep a wink all night, thrashing it around. I would have loved the experience. But I know I cannot be away from the girls at that time, and Peter and I have planned so many interesting things together as soon as he winds up his novel in February. So I decided I couldn’t accept.
DECEMBER 4, 5, 6, WEDNESDAY,THURSDAY, FRIDAY, at night: Reshot the scene. I just feel it is a million times better and my spirits are spinning high. john was full of good ideas and gave me great changes of pace and mood. He is a superb actor himself and can show you so vividly what he wants you to achieve. We finished up the scene on the morning of the seventh, whacked, but a great deal more satisfied. Despite this feeling of content at improving something, I decided (for the umpteenthtime in my life !) that I can’t act and must give it up immediately – it’s a genuine feeling of complete incapability.I think I am not alone in this! Richard agreed with me and said he has identical feelings all the time! Perhaps it will reassure a few people that they are not alone in wanting to “give up”! The most seeminglyconfident and successful people are wracked with self-doubt and self-criticism. This has often been said, but I don’t think it’s often believed!
DECEMBER 8, SUNDAY: Left Los Muertos at nine-thirty a .m. to be ready for eleven o’clock. We had one retake John wanted to do on the end scene, and the other retake of me in the death scene of my grandfather, so I knew I would finish tonight, and it suddenly felt sad to be going out to The Rock, as it was laughingly called, for the last time. It’s funny how you get so close to a bunch of people on a movie. It is a constant making and breaking of emotional relationships-some of the people you work with, and get to know so closely, you may never see again.