Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hollywood And Mallorca

They've been remembering the time when Tarzan came to Mallorca just lately. He didn't swing in on some jungle vines and take up residence in a tree house atop a pine. He landed at the airport, no doubt sampled the produce of vines and settled for more comfortable accommodation, such as the hotel Taconera in Cala Ratjada. Tarzan was Johnny Weissmüller. He came to Mallorca on three successive summers - 1971 to 1973 - having first been invited, so it is said, by Errol Flynn.

Remembering is one thing, getting the remembrance right is another. Weissmüller certainly did come to Mallorca in the early 1970s, but as for the Flynn connection, well, the recollection has it that Weissmüller was invited in 1969, which would have been pretty difficult, as Flynn had been dead for ten years by then.

Weissmüller was one of numerous Hollywood stars who found their way to Mallorca in the 1950s and 1960s. It would appear that, unlike some others, he was a pretty much down-to-earth sort of a guy - not something you might have expected for someone who had spent almost his entire cinematic career up a tree. He would go out and meet the locals, even spending time with Sa Pobla's drum and cornet band. But if he hadn't been aboard the Flynn yacht that would typically navigate the summery waters of 1950s' Mallorca, he would, by comparison with others from Hollywood, have been something of a Johnny-come-lately.

Flynn was, to no small extent, responsible for this Hollywood interest, albeit his association with Mallorca was an accident. In 1950, en route to Gibraltar from Monte Carlo, bad weather caused him to seek safe haven, and he found it in Pollensa. He wasn't the first to be captivated by the island's north coast, and so for the remainder of that decade, he became a regular visitor. Flynn's yacht, "Zaca", was about as legendary as the man himself, and this yacht may or may not have had fellow Hollywood legends on board. Orson Welles, Ava Gardner (and maybe Weissmüller) were among those who supposedly joined Flynn on his cruises around the island.

Of these stars' links with the island, the best known are probably those of Ava Gardner because of her not infrequent stays with Robert Graves in Deya. But there is a lesser known story about Ava and Mallorca, and it is one to do with a singer who was big news in the 1960s, Johnny Valentino.

Johnny, who is still with us and still performing, met Gardner in Madrid. He met her and fell in love with her. To this day, however, he refuses to be drawn on what the full extent of their relationship may or may not have been. Johnny, by the way, acquired his stage name because he once lived in Peguera where a neighbour was Natacha Rambova, the one-time wife of Rudolf Valentino. 

Of Orson Welles, not a great deal is known of his association with Mallorca. He was far more intimately associated with mainland Spain. Welles's last film, "F For Fake", supposedly contains scenes shot in Mallorca, but there is no evidence that it did. Ibiza was used as a location.

What can be said of these Hollywood greats is that their relationships with Mallorca and Spain were not the product of the close ties between Hollywood and the wider cinema industry and the Franco regime which developed in the 1950s. Flynn, for example, just happened on Mallorca by chance and then chose it as a subsequent holiday destination. The links with Hollywood were far more formal and systematic than that.

When reference is made to Spain's economic miracle of the 1960s, it is often overlooked just how important American influence had been well before this. US foreign policy plus very specific commercial interests, such as those of American Express and Hilton Hotels, had been at work from the early part of the 1950s. And when the Franco regime looked for an influential means of propaganda, it found a willing accomplice in Hollywood, though it must be said that it was a relationship not without some reservations. The regime's Ministry of Information and Tourism believed that American film studios were "the sector most easily penetrated by Judaism and communism".

Nevertheless, the relationship was such that in 1959 the American film producer Samuel Bronston relocated his entire production operation to Madrid. He was responsible for "The Fall of the Roman Empire" and, more notably, "El Cid". The regime was so delighted with the latter that it was officially declared to be a film in the "Spanish national interest". 

Such epics were a long way from Johnny Weissmüller's output. His Tarzan days were years in the past. When he came to Mallorca in the '70s, he hung out with a drum and cornet band. He was still a star but that star had long waned.

Photo: Errol Flynn and "Zaca".

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