James Mason's tropical paradise may not be an accurate portrayal, but you can't say it's not fun.
This nice poster was made for the British produced South Seas movie Tiara Tahiti, which opened in the UK today in 1963. There are a few posters but this one is the best, we think, though we had to do some heavy retouching to make it presentable. An alternate promo appears below. The movie is a comedy-drama about former business partners played by James Mason and John Mills, who clashed in England, fought the Germans in World War II, and have both turned up in Tahiti during peacetime. Part of their dislike for each other is due to their opposite personalities. Mills is the uptight sort who wishes to be respected but isn't, while Mason is naturally likeable and happy-go-lucky. One reason for him to be happy is that his girlfriend is Rosenda Monteros. She's supposed to be an island girl, and though she's Mexican in real life rather than Tahitian, she's smoking hot whatever her place of birth.
The movie is based on a novel of the same name by Geoffrey Cotterell, and we're tempted to acquire it. We've gotten pretty good at filling in between the scenes of vintage cinema, and because Monteros is Mason's girlfriend but has flirtatious interactions with other men, we suspect there's an explicitly sexual aspect to the book that was tossed into the screenwriter's garbage bin. We say that because we've read a couple of novels from the mid-century period set in Tahiti, and in both of those local women were portrayed—and we have no way of knowing whether this was true or a white Western fantasy—as readily available. Sex is only hinted at in Tiara Tahiti, but Monteros has a nude scene in a waterfall pool and another topless sequence, and she looks flat-out astonishing in both. We gather these occurred only in the non-U.S. version. Well, try to find that one.
You won't be surprised to learn that there are a few offensive characterizations here, even up to plastering Czech actor Herbert Lom with makeup and prosthetic eyes so he can play a Chinese islander named Chong Sing. There are some who resent this kind of thing being pointed out, but realizing how anachronistic these sorts of elements are isn't different in essence from noting that old vampire movies have bats on strings. It's impossible to look at it and not see it as kind of dumb. There's a better way to do it now, that's all, and that betterway also offers opportunities in cinema for historically erased groups like the Asian actor who could have played Chong Sing. But movies are still just attempts at entertainment. With notable exceptions like The Birth of a Nation, deliberately harmful portrayals of selected ethnic groups was not a goal. As it happens, Lom is quite good in his role. While he and Monteros are important secondary attractions, it's Mason who provides the real reason to watch Tiara Tahiti. He's perfect as the layabout main character—charming, clever, selfish, and always able to improvise when circumstances require it. His old rival Mills is in Tahiti to develop pristine local land for a hotel chain, while Mason is on the opposite side of this paradise-wrecking business deal. He manages to get hired as the project's local expert, but all the while is trying to sabotage the deal from the inside. Of course, Tahiti eventually became dotted with hotels and barely-used millionaire hideaways like everyplace else, and currently is taking steps to reduce mass arrivals from overseas, but within the context of this quaint movie from a lifetime ago, maybe Mason can win. However it turns out, Tiara Tahiti should give you a few smiles.
It's a tough job but some tabloid has to do it.
Above is the cover of a March 1953 issue of Sir! magazine, and in an example of the ephemeral nature of such items, shortly after we scanned this we spilled a glass of red wine on it. So behold! It's even more rare than it was when we bought it. Above the slash you see boxer Kid Gavilan, he of the famed bolo punch, and on the right is model Joanne Arnold, who we've featured before here, here, and here. She doesn't appear inside. But what you do get is a jaunt through such exotic locales as Melanesia, Tahiti, and Lisbon in search of knowledge and thrills.
We were drawn to the Lisbon story, which the magazine describes as a capital of sin. To us the word “sin” means late nights, good intoxicants, fun women, and excellent entertainment. To Sir! it means being cheated, robbed, framed, and arrested. To-may-to to-mah-to, we guess. We've spent some time in Lisbon and we love it. We don't know what it was like in 1953, but Europe was still coming out of World War II, which means many countries—even non-combatants like Portugal—were wracked by poverty. So we wouldn't be surprised if thieves were out in droves.
Elsewhere inside Sir! you get art from Jon Laurell and Joseph Szokoli, photos of model Jean Williams and Tahitian beauty queen Malie Haulani, a story on the danger of nuclear weapons, anthropological snobbery in exposés about New Caledonia and the Kogi people of Colombia, and fanciful theories about Russian scientists working to keep Josef Stalin alive for 150 years—which didn't work, because he died a mere five days after this issue of Sir! hit the newsstands. Clearly, the magazine is cursed. It certainly cursed our wine glass. We have thirty-five scans below for your enjoyment and other issues of Sir! here and here.
Monteros gives a boost to Tahitian tourism.
The glowing figure you see above is Mexican actress Rosenda Monteros, who appeared in such films as The White Orchid and The Magnificent Seven, and is seen here in a production photo made for the 1962 movie Tiara Tahiti. This really is a beautiful image. Since the movie was actually was filmed mainly in Tahiti, rather than in, like, Long Beach, this shot was doubtless made on the island. A cinema is the closest most people will ever get to that legendary Pacific paradise, but we bet Monteros made plenty of people want to go. If you want to see more of her and more Tahiti you can check a trailer for Tiara Tahiti here, and we have another nice shot below.
Avon turns over a new Leaf for a Maugham classic.
Above, pulp art treatment for W. Somerset Maugham by Avon Books for its Modern Short Story Monthly line. The Trembling of a Leaf was a collection of six tales set in Samoa, Tahiti and Hawaii, and dealing the essential incompatibility of colonial Europeans to island life, and a bit about the nature of travel, something Maugham would return to for his immortal novel The Razor’s Edge. It was originally published in 1921 with a more conservative cover, and Avon produced this sexed-up edition in 1946.
Tourist board taps gringa to lure gringos across the border.
The above photos of American actress Jinx Falkenberg show her posing in costume for her film Tahiti Nights, and she’s holding a Mexican tourist poster for which she had modeled around the same time. This isn’t as a much of a mismatch as you might think. Falkenberg was actually born Eugenia Lincoln Falkenberg in Barcelona, Spain. Being Spanish-born (her parents were American) is of course not remotely the same as being Mexican, but it’s worth mentioning. The truth is she was probably chosen for the poster simply because she was the most famous young Hollywood star associated with Mexico in the consciousness of the American public. She spoke Spanish, of course, and had gotten her start in Spanish films like El carnaval del Diablo, but we doubt average Americans had a clue about that at the time. But once she reached Hollywood she continued to act in films with ethnic themes. For instance, in 1943 she starred in Two Señoritas from Chicago, in 1944 she played an islander in the aforementioned Tahiti Nights, and the next year she played a Mexican girl in The Gay Señorita. So when you add together her birthplace, language skills, and movie roles, she isn’t just some random gabacha the tourist board dug up. While it’s possible it might have been more authentic to use Delores del Rio or Lupe Velez, both of them were much older than Falkenberg, and in any case, maybe they were asked and said no. Below you’ll notice that we managed to find that travel poster, and whatever the reasoning behind its creation, it sure came out looking good. The photos date from 1944, and the poster was used for the years 1944 and 1945.
That's intimation, not imitation. Now guess what I'm intimating.
American actress and model Edy Williams, who featured in such amusingly titled films as I Sailed to Tahiti with an All Girl Crew, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Rented Lips and Dr. Minx, seen here circa 1972.
Silly boys. I wonder if they'd be fighting if they knew that no matter who wins I'm going to lei them both.
This cover for Ed Lacy's 1960 novel South Pacific Affair makes us suspect artist George Ziel was thinking along the same lines as us—i.e. it's interesting that he the island woman with two leis around her neck. Here's a fun fact: while we know several people, us included, who've come to the physical defense of women in danger, we don't know a single man who's ever fought due to romantic rivalry. We asked around. Nobody admitted to it. Is it generational? Every woman we know would stop this fight in its tracks with: “Hey! Idiots! I'm not a 24-pack of Coors! I choose, and it's neither of you!” But the cover misleads, as they sometimes do. There's no literal fight over a woman. There's a fight over a sexual betrayal, but the catalyst is years in the past and 7,000 miles away.
We've read a few Ed Lacy books, and all of them have been about crime and graft in urban settings. South Pacific Affair expands his field of interests to the classic fantasy of life in paradise. Ray Jundson is an American living on the fictional French Polynesian island of Numaga who can't see the beauty of his circumstances. He's torn between staying there, continuing to sail from island to island trading goods, and marrying his island sweetheart Ruita, or letting his wanderlust and desire for riches carry him away toward unknown solo adventures, possibly even back to the U.S. Frankly, for a man with everything he's way too jaded for realism, but you have to follow the author's lead.
We don't know if Lacy ever went to French Polynesia, but the details read as if he did. That's good, because other than travelogue, nudity, and a lot of soul searching by Ray, nothing much happens in the book until, more than halfway through, a smallpox outbreak brings on a countrywide quarantine. One captain defies the law, sails from Papeete to Numaga, and tries to offload passengers, while downplaying the severity of the disease. That's on-the-nose for 2020, don't you think? Turns out he's actually trying to jettison a group of advanced cases and Ray is one of the people fate places in a position to stop this deadly maneuver.
This is Ray's first motivated act in the entire book, but fortunately not his last, which means the final third of the story gets interesting. Too bad that newly found motivation leads him to set up a scam involving a fake Polynesian princess, credulous American tourists, and the island equivalent of pimping. It may sound farfetched, but we can tell you from personal experience: spend enough time on a tropical island and anything can seem like a good idea. South Pacific Affair isn't Lacy at his best, but for knockaround guys like us, it was pleasantly familiar. Overall, we think it's worth reading for its unusual status in the Lacy bibliography. But we offer no guarantees.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1965—UFO Reported by Thousands of Witnesses
A large, brilliant fireball is seen by thousands in at least six U.S. states and Ontario, Canada as it streaks across the sky, reportedly dropping hot metal debris, starting grass fires, and causing sonic booms. It is generally assumed and reported by the press to be a meteor, however some witnesses claim to have approached the fallen object and seen an alien craft.
1980—John Lennon Killed
Ex-Beatle John Lennon is shot four times in the back and killed by Mark David Chapman in front of The Dakota apartment building in New York City. Chapman had been stalking Lennon since October, and earlier that evening Lennon had autographed a copy of his album Double Fantasy for him.
1941—Japanese Attack Pearl Harbor
The Imperial Japanese Navy sends aircraft to attack the U.S. Pacific Fleet and its defending air forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. While the U.S. lost battleships and other vessels, its aircraft carriers were not at Pearl Harbor and survived intact, robbing the Japanese of the total destruction of the Pacific Fleet they had hoped to achieve.
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