Rod Taylor was born on this day — January 11 — in 1930. The Complete Rod Taylor Site was launched on this date in 2001.
Rod, who passed away on Jan. 7, 2015, would have been 91 today. The website is a robust 20 years old, which I must say is quite a milestone in internet years!
Last year, I had resolved to do a renovation of the website to make it more modern and mobile responsive. That goal was going well, but was derailed by a combination of stresses both global and personal.
Nevertheless, the Rod Taylor site remains a tribute to the actor, his life and his work. This blog will pick up steam again in 2021. And TCM is airing a daylong tribute to Rod Taylor!
Rod Taylor produced one film during his long career: a 1967 Western titled “Chuka” in which he also played the title role. I’m putting together a post (or two?) about the film, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share some special snapshots from behind the scenes.
Rod’s parents, Bill and Mona Taylor, made the trek from Australia in 1966 while Rod was making “Chuka.” These photos are from a small photo album that had once belonged to Bill Taylor and were acquired through the magic of eBay.
In “The Liquidator,” Rod Taylor’s character was duped into a mission to bump off the Duke of Edinburgh. In real life, their encounter was a much more civilized affair.
Fifty-five years ago, on June 16, 1965, Rod Taylor attended a gala reopening of the Theatre Royal Windsor, a venerable London-area establishment that had been undergoing much-needed renovations.
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, attended the event with his wife, Queen Elizabeth II. Rod Taylor was there with his wife at the time, Mary Hilem.
The royal party included 37 people who were the queen’s guests at Windsor Castle for Ascot Week. Among the dignitaries were the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, Princess Alexandra and Angus Ogilvy, and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester.
In addition to Mary, Rod’s entourage consisted of his friend, assistant and stunt coordinator, Fred Hakim, and Fred’s wife, Delores.
The queen was patron to the Theatre Royal Windsor Trust, which raised about £75,000 to support the renovations that were unveiled at the event. Rod was a donor to the cause.
The Royal Treatment
Movie-making, royal and real worlds collided as Rod was completing work on “The Liquidator.” The schedule for the spy romp had begun on April 5, 1965, with four weeks of filming at locations along the French Riviera and in Monte Carlo.
Production moved to London on May 1 and later, Rod was joined by his wife, Mary, and baby daughter, Felicia, for a three-week visit.
Rod described the royal invitation in a letter to Hedda Hopper, the empress of Hollywood gossip columnists: “Mary and the baby are enjoying London and we are getting very social and kissy next week by being presented to the Queen. Mainly I think because I donated some dough to improve the dressing rooms at the Royal Windsor Theatre, which is under her patronage.”
An article in the October 1965 Rod-Lore fan newsletter reported that the “dough” amounted to $1,000 (about $8,000 in today’s dollars).
Rod discussed the event with another grand dame of the Hollywood gossip scene, Sheila Graham, in an August 1965 column.
“The queen brought her guests from Windsor Castle,” Rod said. “We didn’t actually meet her. But we saw her.”
“And the queen saw Rod. She smiled and whispered to Prince Philip who whispered to Princess Margaret and they all smiled in the direction of Rod Taylor.”
Sounds like a scene straight out of “The Crown”!
All the gentlemen in the audience wore black tie, Rod said, but “the people with the queen were in white tie, black tails, with their coats featuring red lapels and red cuffs.”
What Rod was describing is the Windsor uniform, a piece of royal attire introduced by King George III in the 1770s. Early versions featured a bicorne hat with ostrich feathers, and heavy gold braiding on the coat. In more recent times, the Windsor men have sported dinner jacket versions, like the one Prince Philip is wearing in the portrait below.
Renovations and Reopenings
For the reopening festivities, Rod and the royals enjoyed a production of “The Rivals,” a classical comedy of manners by Richard Sheridan that, like the Windsor uniform, dates to the 1770s.
Their surroundings were somewhat more modern. The theater was built in 1910, albeit on classical 18th century lines and rather austere.
The renovations in May 1965, funded by contributions to the Theatre Royal Windsor Trust, added decorations in a color scheme of crimson, white and gold (suggested by the Queen Mother). Work also included installing a crystal chandelier from Paris, improving refreshment service areas, upgrading the air conditioning and wiring, and modernizing the dressing rooms (thank you, Rod).
More Theater Royalty
The Theatre Royal Windsor has undergone ups and downs over the years, but it seems on the upswing right now, with another reopening of sorts. After closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the venue has begun “socially distant” rehearsals for a production of “Hamlet” that will star Sir Ian McKellen as Shakespeare’s moody Danish prince.
More information about the theater and its history can be found at its website.
Remember in Part 1, there was an idea for a sequel to “The Time Machine” that featured going back in time to Atlantis?
And in Part 2, scripts were being developed that would have the Time Traveler rescue his friend Filby from perishing in World War I?
Well, Part 3 brings some of those ideas together, based on five pages of notes that were hand-written by Rod Taylor in the mid- to late-1990s.
Rod’s notes are fragmentary, but we can puzzle out a bit of the story.
What if, Rod muses, we duplicate but improve upon the Time Traveler’s return to the laboratory as depicted in “Time Machine: The Journey Back”? But this time he would go earlier, to 1911, to talk to a newspaper friend and somehow trick Philby out of dying in World War I.
Spoiler alert! That may actually be the end of the movie.
The film would open with Filby giving a lecture to a “pompous scientific gathering of fuddy duddies.” He’s reading from the journal of his friend George, the Time Traveler, as he fights to preserve George’s house as an historic monument. “The property is not for sale,” Filby declares amid jeering, mustachioed audience members. “I believe in my friend.”
But the fuddy duddies don’t believe. They demand proof of time travel! What will convince them? A photograph from the distant past! Maybe Henry VIII. Elizabeth I. Stonehenge.
From there, Rod proposes scenes that would show how the Eloi had progressed after George returned to the future and built a life with Weena. The Morlocks have been vanquished and the Eloi have become artists and craftsmen – kind of “brilliant hippies.” George has taught them with the benefit of “the three books” from the original 1960 movie.
This idyllic existence is shattered when the Morlocks return and kidnap Weena, George and their young son and daughter.
It appears that only George survives. Another scene would show a solemn group of mourners, with George’s narration telling us, “It was over. I felt not like a man, but the empty shell of a man. I had lost my children and now my beloved wife.”
After the funeral, George and an Eloi friend, Acron, travel in time to the distant past. (For this sequel concept, the time machine now has a passenger seat, as Rod mentions at the end of Part 2.)
On one of their first stops, they meet the druids in 1500 BC, but move on at George’s insistence.
Then, it’s on to visit the survivors from the submerging of Atlantis. George and Acron arrive at a white temple (Stonehenge location?). The people of the distant past are giants – gentle web-footed servants who saved the Atlanteans from drowning when Atlantis was engulfed. The Atlanteans are beautiful, tall good guys, Rod writes. He proposes that there is only one villain: a beautiful aristocratic woman perhaps.
Rod’s notes do not describe what happens next, but he writes that Acron will remain in the past to create a statue of the Time Machine and George, wearing the costume of Atlantis.
Then, George changes into his familiar 1890s jacket for the journey in time to get Filby. The idea possibly was to take Filby with him back to Atlantis. As Rod said in a 1994 magazine article, “We’ll go backward in time instead of into the future.”
Rod’s notes also refer to the Great Fire of London. It’s unclear where this would fit into the plot, but his notations are fun.
Rod suggests a location that could be used – the Wig and Pen Club in London. The Wig and Pen was a members-only club, located across from the Royal Courts of Justice, where lawyers and journalists exchanged court gossip. It was built in 1625 and survived the Great Fire in 1666. It’s one of the last standing examples that era. Perfect for a movie about time travel!
Plus, Rod notes, “I was an honorary member.”
As mentioned in Part 2, many people involved in the creation of “Time Machine: The Journey Back” were enthusiastic about going on to produce a full sequel to “The Time Machine.” They included director Clyde Lucas; Rod Taylor and Alan Young; film historian Bob Burns and his wife, Kathy; and screenwriter D.C. Fontana, famed for her work in the Star Trek universe.
Fontana wrote an outline for a sequel, as did Alan Young. Lucas has said that he, Rod and Alan Young continued to meet to discuss story ideas. Rod’s notes are likely a result of those meetings.
As I’ve taken this recent deep dive into Time Machine sequels, I’ve been delighted to find a lot of new-to-me resources. I also have been disappointed by a promising lead.
What I really need is a time machine to go back and ask questions! But until one comes along, I’ll keep digging and hope to unearth more treasures.
Part 1 of this series explored director George Pal’s efforts to follow up his 1960 version of “The Time Machine” with a sequel.
Part 2 will look at the making of a sequel scene within a 1993 documentary directed by Clyde Lucas.
And because this part became longer than I expected, there will be a Part 3 that describes Rod Taylor’s own notes and ideas for a sequel film.
“Time Machine: The Journey Back” (1993) is a 48-minute documentary narrated by Rod Taylor and featuring many of the creative and technical geniuses behind “The Time Machine.”
The project was the brainchild of Clyde Lucas, a producer/director/composer who first saw “The Time Machine” at a drive-in theater at the age of nine. He was dazzled. The allure of the Time Machine remained a constant in his life as he moved toward a career in filmmaking.
The Time Machine also had quite an odyssey, as detailed in the documentary. The prop was sold at the infamous MGM auction in 1970. After years as a traveling sideshow attraction, it was discovered in shabby condition in a thrift store in Orange County, California.
Enter film historian, collector and performer Bob Burns. He had been immensely outbid on the prop at the MGM auction, but the Time Machine was his at last. Parts of the Machine were missing or damaged, but Burns had the aid of blueprints from George Pal and a restoration team that included special effects artist Tom Scherman and renowned “Star Trek” script writer Dorothy (D.C.) Fontana, among many others.
Their work paid off when the Time Machine became the centerpiece for Burns’ annual Halloween show in 1976, with a delighted George Pal in attendance.
One of the people who saw the Time Machine at Burns’ house in the mid-1970s was Clyde Lucas. When they met again in the 1990s, Burns “started to tell me about the places the Machine had been, and that’s how we came up with the concept of making the (documentary),” Lucas said in a Starlog magazine article, January 1994.
The documentary, filmed in June 1992, has three key segments. First, special effects wizards Wah Chang and Gene Warren describe how they achieved the 1960 movie’s Oscar-winning special effects. Next, the film shows how the Time Machine prop was created and the ways it has been put to use over the years, including details about its painstaking restoration.
But third and most endearingly, “Time Machine: The Journey Back” includes a 13-minute sequel featuring three of the original’s actors, penned by its original writer.
The Sequel Scene
To write the sequel scene, Lucas went to the source, locating retired screenwriter David Duncan in Washington state. According to Duncan, “The scene was supposed to be a prologue but ended up as an epilogue.” (Don Brockway’s Time Machine Home page, 2000.)
An epilogue is more fitting, as the scene stars Rod Taylor and Alan Young – 32 years after they appeared in “The Time Machine.”
Filming for most of the documentary took place at the home of Bob Burns. There, Rod did the narration and introductions that connect the segments. The opening of the sequel scene, with Whit Bissell reprising his role from the 1960 film, also was shot at Burns’ house.
Then, production moved to a soundstage in the San Fernando Valley.
On the first morning, the Time Traveler’s workshop was constructed at the sound stage, replicating the set from the 1960 movie. Shooting began later that day, filming the actor who portrayed “young George” as he invents his time machine. (So, there is an element of prologue to the scene!)
The next morning, the stars came out. First, Alan Young arrived and filming began on his solo part of the scene. Rod Taylor arrived sometime in the morning and was in wardrobe. “He had brought with him the smoking jacket that he had worn in the original film, and it still fit him,” Coleman exclaimed.
Meanwhile, the Time Machine prop was being trucked from Bob Burns’ basement to the workshop set.
After lunch, Rod and Alan performed their scene together. Here’s a brief summary:
The Time Machine materializes just as Filby is reminiscing as he closes up his friend’s house. George has been gone for 30 years, building a “magnificent” future with Weena and the Eloi.
For Filby, only 15 years have passed, but this is a key moment in time. He has his orders and is flying to France in the morning.
Knowing Filby’s fate in The Great War, George implores him to get in the Time Machine and accompany him to the future. “We can leap the years … Leave this war in the past.”
But Filby wants no part of time travel. “I don’t like a device that might alter what the fates have in store for us,” he says. Filby threatens to destroy it, but George calms him and Filby bids his old friend good-bye.
George gets back into the machine, pledging to return. He knows that Filby is destined to die on May 15, 1916. Next time, he muses, he’ll travel to May 14, 1916, to try to persuade Filby again. “Maybe then my friend will come with me.”
“Time Machine: The Journey Back” is easily found. It’s included on the DVD and Blu-ray editions of “The Time Machine.” It also can be streamed on Amazon Prime.
A stand-alone version of the 13-minute sequel scene, titled “Time Traveller: What Fate Has In Store,” also is included in a compilation called “Victorian Tales” available on Amazon.
A Sequel Movie?
After filming this epilogue scene, Clyde Lucas was brimming with enthusiasm for a full-length sequel to “The Time Machine,” as captured in his January 1994 Starlog interview.
“The Time Machine is the Enterprise and Rod Taylor is Captain Kirk. And Alan Young is a combination of McCoy and Spock,” Lucas said, employing some apt “Star Trek” analogies. “Anybody who ever has a chance to do a full sequel to this movie is out of their minds if they don’t put those people in it — not in cameos, but as part of the movie. … Somebody ought to pick up that torch (from George Pal) and run with it.”
That “somebody” turned out to be Clyde Lucas himself, with help from Bob and Kathy Burns, Alan Young and Rod Taylor, and D.C. Fontana of “Star Trek” fame.
“D.C. wrote the first outline,” Lucas said in a subsequent interview. “Then, later, Alan wrote one. Rod, Alan and I had several meetings about story ideas.”
By October 1994, Rod was anticipating co-producing and acting in a sequel.
“The plan is to recreate (the Time Traveler’s) role at a later period in the character’s life and include his former buddy, Alan Young,” Rod said in an Oct. 29, 1994, ActiveTimes magazine article. “This time, the Time Machine will have a passenger seat so I can take my friend along. And we’ll go backward in time instead of into the future.”
“I, as producer, along with Gross-Weston Productions, made pitches to every major studio, including MGM and all TV networks, including the SciFi Channel,” Lucas said. “But at the time they did not want to do any Victorian time travel movies or series.”
Up Next, Part 3
In Part 3, read ideas for a sequel from the pen of Rod Taylor, including a trip to Atlantis.
COMING SOON! “Return of the Time Traveler,” starring Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux! Produced and directed by George Pal! Special effects by Ray Harryhausen!
Ready? Just hop in a time machine, create an alternate reality, and you’re all set!
For a while after the release of “The Time Machine,” it appeared that a follow-up was on the fast track.
But a direct sequel – one that included George Pal and Rod Taylor – never came to pass. Ideas, scenes, books, notes and drawings have surfaced over the years. George Pal and Rod Taylor both tried their hand at writing or producing a follow-up. Bad timing and lack of financing thwarted their efforts.
This post will take a look at George Pal’s attempts at a sequel. Part 2 will look at “Time Machine: The Journey Back” (1993) and Rod Taylor’s turn at writing.
In July/August 1960, “The Time Machine” opened to critical acclaim and audience enthusiasm. Its pre-release buzz prompted MGM to put a sequel on its roster for 1961.
Director George Pal was eager to do it. According to an item by Los Angeles Times film critic Philip K. Scheuer on Aug. 9, 1960, Pal moved up the filming of a sequel to January 1961 while pushing back the making of “The Brothers Grimm” (1962).
Initial plans for “Return of the Time Traveler” included reuniting Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux and adding newcomer Anthony Hall to the cast. Hall, a.k.a. Sal Ponti, had just completed work on another George Pal project, “Atlantis, the Lost Continent” (1961).
Scheuer wrote that one sequence in the sequel would have the trio go back in time, overshoot their mark and find themselves in Atlantis. “Smart, huh?” Scheuer wrote. “The sets are already made.”
However, Pal never got a script together, and time marched on.
“George wasn’t quite sure what the plot was going to be,” Rod said in a July 1986 Starlog magazine interview. “He had some marvelous ideas, but he kept changing the concept. He told me about five different storylines, but I never read any completely finalized script.”
To the Future
Some of the early concepts for the sequel appear in comments and drawings by George Pal.
In a 1975 interview for Castle of Frankenstein magazine, Pal was asked if he’d ever thought of doing a sequel. He replied:
“Yes, yes. I would have, but we just never got to it at MGM. We had very difficult times with just the changing management. I would have loved to make a sequel having the Time Traveler go back in time, or — there was a great sequence which … just didn’t fit in our plot [of the original] — to go back to the same place [A.D. 802,701] and then go further into the future when the crabs took over.
“It was very beautiful. I can just see Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux, just the two of them there, go in there where the crabs are and the ocean is flat and doesn’t move any more and the sun is hot all the time. I think we could have developed a very interesting story of the loneliness of these two people.”
In his book, “Keep Watching the Skies” (1986), author Bill Warren described the first-announced sequel script:
“The Time Traveler was to go on into the future even farther, as in the novel: Pal prepared moody sketches of this unimaginably distant time, with the prescribed crabs and the huge, dim sun on the horizon. But he also included giant insects, and human beings who hide from them in huge honeycombs. The Time Traveler was to do for these people what he wanted to do for the Eloi.” That is, help them escape their oppressors and become peace-loving and self-sufficient.
As time went on, Pal reportedly got his old friend Ray Harryhausen involved. (The renowned visual effects artist and filmmaker got his start in Hollywood working on Pal’s Puppetoon films in the 1940s.)
“George and I were going to do a sequel to ‘The Time Machine,’” Harryhausen said in the afterword to David Hughes’ book, “The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made” (2008).
Harryhausen was to do the stop-motion animation and creature designs based on a story that Pal and he were working on. But, Harryhausen lamented, the real-life space program was going on at the time and computers were becoming a big thing. MGM decided that the Time Machine sequel needed to be more “modern.”
Pal went back to the drawing board, this time with screenwriter Joe Morhaim (who worked with Pal on “Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze,” 1975).
Son of Time Traveler
In a December 1977 Starlog article, Pal said that he and Joe Morhaim were busy writing a new screenplay as well as a novel. You can sense Pal’s excitement as he relates the story:
“This is actually how the film will begin,” he says, relishing every moment of his storytelling. “We open it up with the Time Traveler and Weena rushing back from the future. They’re both in the time machine, Weena is pregnant, and the Time Traveler … wants his son to be born in his own time, his own place. He drives so recklessly and so fast that the machine hits the wrong moment and place and freezes during the London Blitz of 1943. It cracks. Tumbles and cracks. Weena runs out into the street in panic. He runs after her to try to protect her from the bombing with his own body. He gets killed and, then, she gets killed. The planes leave. And there’s a long, long silence. Suddenly, we hear a baby cry. Then we pan over to the time machine and next to it is a 1977 version of the machine. A brand new one. A young man stands there … He has just witnessed the death of his parents and his own birth. That’s the way we start!
“From then on in, it’s the story of the young man trying to find his parents in the future and warn them not to try to go back in time. Because if they do, they’ll be killed. He would rather not be born than to have his parents die. Isn’t that a great idea?” Pal asks gleefully.
A Starlog article a few months later (May 1978) reports that the script was ready, the book version was near completion, and Pal was eager to bring the production to the screen.
What was Hollywood’s reaction to the spin-off? “Nobody is interested right now,” Pal sighed. “They all say it’s impossible to bring to the screen. That’s Hollywood for you.”
Unfortunately, time was running out for George Pal. He died in 1980. But the idea of a Time Machine sequel lived on.
A Novel Idea
The novel “Time Machine II,” by George Pal and Joe Morhaim, was published in 1981, a year after Pal’s death.
It includes the exciting opening scene Pal described and a story focused on the son of the Time Traveler. He’s an orphan who learns the truth about his parents, builds a time machine and meets up with them in the year 802,701ish. He finds George and Weena living a peaceful life among the Eloi. But this reunion is short-lived and he is whisked off millions of years into the future. This is where the son encounters the monstrous crabs, the dying sea, the big red sun, the huge insects and the honeycomb people from Pal’s original script concept. Perils ensue, followed by timeline paradoxes. The novel ends with the George, Weena and their son united. But it also raises the question, what world is this? Have they created a parallel universe?
The description of the second time machine, circa 1970s, seems to fit the studios’ demand for Pal to make the Time Machine more techy and modern. It has dials, a time traveling radar detector and a canopy that looks more like the machine in the 2002 “The Time Machine” movie with Guy Pearce.
[The “Time Machine II” novel is described in great detail and with insightful analysis by RJ Onyx Moonshadow in a May 10, 2018, article for the Time Travel Nexus website. Don’t forget to travel back here after you’ve read it!]
Genius with a Broken Heart
Rod Taylor has expressed his admiration for George Pal on many occasions, and he also has been able to offer perspective on why the filmmaker’s lovely qualities were a handicap when going up against hard-nosed studio types.
“George Pal was a genius,” Rod said in a 1986 Starlog article. “He was a lovely, warm-hearted man. I thought of him as a funny little elf. He was surrounded by tiny puppets and toys, which he brought to life in his movies.”
But, Rod added, “He had so much trouble getting his movies made, because he lived in another world. The studio executives treated him like a weird little fellow who couldn’t make money. He just didn’t inspire confidence in the moguls, who were only interested in profit.”
Rod echoed his sentiments in a 1994 Starlog piece. “Pal tried to schlep around town to do ‘The Time Machine II’ and a few other movies, and they told him, ‘You’ve had your time, George. It’s all over.’ I honestly believe he died of a broken heart.”
But Wait, There’s More!
In Part 2, we’ll visit an epilog to “The Time Machine” in a scene from the documentary “Time Machine: The Journey Back.” Plus, we’ll take a peek at Rod’s notes about his own attempt at fleshing out a sequel screenplay. Stay tuned!
Another script that Rod pushed extremely hard to make was “Last Bus to Banjo Creek.” His efforts on that project enjoyed considerable coverage throughout the 1960s and ‘70s.
Another script, “Black Opal,” has not enjoyed such attention despite thrilling action sequences, dazzling Australian scenery and a touch of the supernatural.
A draft of the screenplay, dated Jan. 11, 1997, tells a great story. It starts with a vivid description for the opening shot: The camera swoops down, past “the monstrous coat-hanger shape of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and on over the shining bug wings of the Sydney Opera House” and descends on a scene of seafaring action. Despite the obviously modern-day establishing shot, the action features pirate ships of bygone days.
The next scene reverts to the present day, as preparations are being made for a major sailing competition from Sydney to Auckland (modeled after the famous Sydney Hobart Yacht Race).
Opening conversations at the yacht club In Sydney establish the characters. Personalities and rivalries are established and then it’s off to the races, with 25 boats setting sail. Our protagonists are in one called Black Opal.
Soon after the start, two competitors almost collide. But this bit of danger is a mere taste of the trials to come. A fog bank rolls in and engulfs all 25 boats. They vanish from sight. Radio communications turn up nothing but static.
Back in Sydney, a group of concerned family and friends decide to take off after the sailboats and find out what’s going on. One of this group is a newspaperman named Eddie Collins – likely the part Rod wrote for himself.
The would-be rescuers enter the fog bank and find the Black Opal and their friends. But the danger is just beginning. Ghostly figures emerge, with evil intent. These phantoms from another time gradually eliminate the present-day sailors and rescuers.
Meanwhile, back in Sydney, spectators are amazed to see that the racing boats have re-appeared. Everyone is stunned, including all the crew members. One boat remains missing: the Black Opal.
Back at sea, one survivor of the spectral murders rushes back to Sydney Harbour. Just before he is about to emerge into the dazzling light of home, one of his crewmates appears, begging him to stay, dragging him back into the fog.
Real-life tragedy and local myth likely inspired Rod in the writing of this screenplay.
In 1979, the five-person crew of the yacht Charleston set sail from Hobart, Tasmania. Their mission was to bring the sleek new boat to Sydney to enter the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Several days went by after the crew’s last communication, near Flinders Island (between Tasmania and Australia). The Charleston failed to arrive at Sydney, and searches commenced. No evidence of the yacht or its crew has ever been found.
Australia also has its version of the Bermuda Triangle — the Bass Strait Triangle, which lies between Tasmania and the Australian mainland. Boats have gone missing for centuries in this treacherous area. The first aircraft that went missing, in 1920, was engaged in a search for a missing schooner. Of more recent vintage is the disappearance in 1978 of Australian pilot Frederick Valentich, a UFO enthusiast. Alien abduction, in addition to human error, has been investigated as a possible explanation of his fate.
Receiving rare items is a sure-fire spark for a treasure hunt.
The rarities this time came in the form of snapshots taken in Jamaica during the filming of “Dark in the Sun” in 1967.
“The photos were taken by my Dad when we lived in Irish Town, Jamaica,” Michelle Holland wrote to me recently. You can see four of the snapshots she sent in the gallery above, along with screenshots from “Dark of the Sun” that provide a glimpse at what was actually filmed at that location.
“I remember that the film crew was on our private road. It was no more than a one-vehicle-wide dirt road. Two vehicles could not pass.” Their property was located off the main road that led up from Kingston toward Newcastle.
Michelle explained that one day, “My Dad and Mom loaded my brother and me up into the back of our Volkswagen pickup van [another rarity!] and we stood on the back and watched the filming.”
Her father, Charles V. Ogilvie, captured photos of the stars strolling by and the crew working on scene set-ups. “I actually recall seeing Yvette Mimieux, as she was stunning,” said Michelle, who was 11 or 12 at the time. “I wish I had paid more attention, but I was a little kid then.”
Credit to Jamaica
Receiving these snapshots inspired me to take a further tour of Jamaica, which stood in for the Congo in “Dark of the Sun.” The plot involved mercenaries on a mission to rescue refugees (and seize diamonds) during the early 1960s civil war in the Belgian Congo. The subject matter proved to be too hot for African nations to handle at the time, leading producer George Englund on a search for a suitable substitute. His checklist included tropical scenery and access to a steam train.
Jamaica fit the bill. With about 40 percent of the film taking place on a train, the Caribbean nation’s retired but revered steam engine No. 54 rode to the rescue.
Thus, in mid-January 1967 Rod Taylor and company arrived for three months of filming on location in Jamaica. In mid-April, production moved to MGM studios in London for interior scenes.
Jamaican newspaper writers were excited to see previews of the film in early 1968, and they predicted that local viewers would enjoy spotting familiar actors and extras. However, despite being dazzled by the way the landscape was photographed so beautifully, they were crushed that the film credits made no mention of Jamaica or the contributions of its citizens.
The trains used in “Dark of the Sun” are a story for another day, but you can get a sense of their glory and other aspects about the film from this this Feb. 17, 1968, column in the Kingston Daily Gleaner. There’s also a DVD about Jamaican Railways that includes behind-the-scenes footage from “Dark of the Sun.”
Filming on track
Filming for “Dark of the Sun” started Jan. 16, 1967, near Port Royal at the old Palisadoes Airport (now Norman Manley International). A diner was converted into the airfield terminal where the mercenaries (Rod Taylor as Curry and Jim Brown as Ruffo) arrive for their Congo expedition. The scene included hundreds of extras and several local actors.
In a report for the Kingston newspaper, The Daily Gleaner, writer Harry Milner provided the extras’ point of view. His article titled “On the set” (Jan. 22, 1967) described the “hurry up and wait” experience of filmmaking:
“The scene to be shot dealt with refugees at a small airport in the Congo waiting for a plane to arrive. Method technique was used on the first day to get the extras in the right mood [to portray refugees]. They were kept sitting on their suitcases in the sun for some two hours before the filming began! And certainly by the end of the 10-hour working day they all looked very much like the real thing.”
After the airport scenes, filming began in Kingston, with portions of the city getting a new look as business and street signs were blocked out and replaced by signs in French to give the appearance of a city in the Congo.
Two days of filming took place at the home of Abe Issa, a local businessman who was acclaimed as the “father of Jamaican tourism” and who was a key leader in the nation’s economic development after independence in 1962.
Issa’s home, with its colonial architecture and formidable white columns, stood in for the palace of the Congo president, Mwamini Ubi, played by Calvin Lockhart. Most of the filming was done on the east verandah and lunch tents were set up on the lawns for the crew. The famous Hope Gardens in Kingston also represented the president’s estate.
Then filming really got on track, literally, as the production moved to the Jamaica Railway Corporation train yards and continued for about a month in and around Kingston. Members of the Jamaican Defence Force portrayed Congolese soldiers throughout the movie.
Shots of the train were captured at a key junction, May Pen. Then, filming moved up the Frankfield line, near Suttons. The famous chainsaw fight was filmed there, in a day-for-night scene.
In mid-February, production headquarters moved to Port Maria on the north coast for at least six weeks of shooting. The northeast coastal town of Port Antonio provided access to jungles, mountains and waterfalls, which played a large role in the climactic chase and fight scene.
Filming continued to take place in towns along the railway lines, including Albany and Richmond in St. Mary Parish. Albany was the location for Msapa Junction, where Curry, Ruffo & Co. stop to use the communications set-up and also encounter a couple of children.
Richmond stood in for Port Reprieve, where the refugees were located. A local retail/wholesale business establishment owned by Samuel Kong was used as the exterior of the hotel where Curry and Ruffo have to go to retrieve the diamonds. The Kong family still own the building, which is an automotive supply shop.
And a house 5,000 feet up in a remote corner of the Blue Mountain range was revamped with Gothic church windows and an 8-foot cross mounted on the roof. This served as the mission where Dr. Wreid (actor Kenneth More) helped a pregnant woman.
I’m working on a post with behind-the-scenes snapshots taken at a location in Jamaica during “Dark of the Sun.” But in researching information about the production of that movie, I found a few entertaining items that I thought I’d share while I’m pulling the other material together.
For about a month, Rod Taylor took a helicopter from Kingston to a remote location on the north shore of Jamaica. Always one for adventure, he took advantage of the situation by taking flying lessons. He got his learner’s permit and the pilot installed dual controls.
“Apparently I have to do eight hours dual flying and 40 to qualify,” Rod was quoted in a newspaper article March 30, 1967. “The only drawback I can see is that once I get the license I’ll probably go out and buy a chopper … and that’s an expensive drawback!”
Producer George Englund tried to get Noel Coward to make a cameo appearance in “Dark of the Sun,” as the witty actor/writer had retired to the island. Coward declined the cameo, but he did serve as master of ceremonies at a lavish birthday bash for one of the actors at the Casa Maria Hotel, just 10 minutes from his estate in Port Maria.
One Hollywood columnist called it the “swingingest party of the Jamaica season.” It was hosted by Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux and Jim Brown to celebrate the 25th birthday of their co-star, French actor-singer Olivier Despax. Apparently it also included Playboy bunnies teaching guests to dance to ska music, a precursor to reggae. (Dorothy Manners column, March 10, 1967.)
Rod Taylor liked Jamaica so much that he had his business manager fly in to close a deal on a resort hotel and apartment house he purchased there. He later traded the properties for an island where he and two partners planned to build a resort hotel and golf course.
The filming of “Dark of the Sun” was riddled with accidents, injuries and near-misses. One significant incident happened when Rod vetoed the use of a stunt man for a jump from a balcony into a jeep. The jeep moved too soon and “I took the full weight of my body on one knee,” Rod said. “I felt the tendons tear. The pain was excruciating.” A doctor prescribed surgery and a six-week rest. Rod vetoed that, too. Three days later, he was back on the set, fortified with a tight bandage and pain-killing injections. (Miami Herald, June 23, 1968.)
“Dark of the Sun” was shown to Jamaican audiences in a special preview in April 1968, but its official world premiere was held in Chicago in June of that year. Rod attended with Yvette Mimieux.
Yvette had her own share of injuries during filming. One scary misfire happened during a scene that calls for her to jump aboard a moving train. She slipped, and wadding from a blank rifle shell cut a deep gash in her forearm. She was back on set the next day, however.
In an interview after filming was wrapped, Rod called Yvette a “beautiful, frail little thing, with lots of pluck.” (Pittsburgh Press, Aug. 27, 1967.) But apparently she had been miscast. “Her role called for a lusty, earthy quality; needed some woman like Ava Gardner,” Rod said. The script was rewritten to suit Yvette, but further changes were made in editing.
By the time the film premiered, romantic scenes between Rod and Yvette had been eliminated. Rod lamented to an interviewer: “Poor Yvette. She worked so hard every day and her part’s been cut way down.” (Fort Lauderdale News, June 22, 1968.)
A treasure arrived in my email this week! Thanks to a gentleman in Australia, we can now travel back in time and listen to 24-year-old Rod Taylor speak about his first major motion picture role in “King of the Coral Sea.”
The audio recording was done in advance of the film’s release in September 1954. It’s sort of a one-sided conversation: You hear Rod and director Lee Robinson give answers, but you don’t hear the questions. The recording was distributed to radio stations along with a script that allowed local broadcasters to serve as the interviewers. Although there’s no record of the questions asked, you can guess from the context pretty well.
Here is the interview, via YouTube. I edited out the long pauses (where the interview questions would have been) and added some still images and video clips from the movie’s promotional material — just to provide some visual interest. Many thanks to Bill Ayres who shared this audio gem from his collection. Keep scrolling below for more insights.
Lee Robinson provides the first answer, then Rod comes on. He describes his role in “King of the Coral Sea” as “an American ex-GI who settles in the islands” and notes — with a Yankee twang — that “I’ve sort of specialized in American accents on radio.”
Indeed he did, and throughout his Hollywood film career he often called himself a “phony American” because of this very talent. But his rather British voice in the interview is somewhat of a put-on too.
I often get asked if Rod uses his “real” voice in his role as an Australian in “The VIPs.” In that movie, his Aussie accent is probably a bit of an exaggeration because director Anthony Asquith asked Rod to play up Australian phrases and mannerisms.
Rod’s manner of speech has had many influences, from his family life and his professional training.
Author Stephen Vagg pointed out in “Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches” that at the time Rod began working, Australian actors were influenced by British styles of performance. Case in point: Rod repeatedly cites Laurence Olivier as being his inspiration to pursue acting. Moreover, Rod chose to use the more British-sounding “Rodney” as his acting credit in his early days.
Rod’s early recorded voice exudes the “cultured, smooth-sounding tones that attempted to hide any Australian inflections,” Vagg wrote. He also noted that Rod’s speaking voice had an even earlier divided influence: He was raised in a household featuring a refined English mother and a rugged Australian father.
His dad was a big influence in a much later role — that of Daddy-o in 1994’s “Welcome to Woop Woop.” Regarding his broad Aussie accent and attitudes in that movie, Rod said, “That was my father.”
Back to the 1954 interview… The missing question likely asked Rod whether he preferred radio or film work. Rod says that he enjoyed the film work because it gave him an opportunity to concentrate on one role.
In another interview promoting “King of the Coral Sea” (ABC Weekly, Nov. 28, 1953), Rod expressed a similar sentiment in regard to radio, stating a preference for sustained character work. At the time he was playing Paddy Carmody, the lead role in a Sunday night serial, “Sundowners.” (That’s the role Robert Mitchum had in the 1960 film version.) In his earlier work, he raced around from station to station recording radio plays and guest roles.
In the interview, Robinson relates that no stuntmen or doubles were used during “King of the Coral Sea.” Although Rod did not have any of the scuba scenes, he still experienced some dangerous diving moments off camera. He said when he first tried the diving gear, “I turned the wrong valve and got water instead of air.”
He confessed to another misadventure when he was “crayfishing between scenes.” He saw a dark shape below him in the water. Fortunately, it wasn’t a shark but a quick-thinking swimmer who spared him from landing on a giant sting ray!
Planning and punches
In discussing the business of movie-making, Robinson described the long process that went into creating “King of the Coral Sea.”
“There’s about six months’ work to plan and prepare the production,” he said. “Five and a half weeks shooting at Thursday Island for the main story. About two months at Green Island on the Barrier Reef filming underwater shots.”
All that for a movie that’s about an hour and a half.
That compression prompted Rod to talk about a fight scene in the film. He lamented, “We were two months planning it, two weeks rehearsing it, two days filming it, and it lasts about two minutes on the screen.”
The filmed fisticuffs between Rod and Lloyd Berrell took place in waist-deep water, which posed more of a hazard than you might imagine. ABC Weekly (Sept. 12, 1953) reported that Rod got too close at one time and took a “beautiful right from Lloyd!”
A report in the Sydney Daily Telegraph (Aug. 30, 1953) had a similar account. As seems typical for Rod Taylor fight scenes, “their blows became too realistic, and they knocked each other half-unconscious.” The two actors had to be dragged out of the surf, and Berrell said, “We were very sick for an hour or so while they pumped a few pints of seawater out of us.”
Take a bow
In the interview, Robinson has much praise for Rod, saying toward the end, “We think he’s the best potential star material in Australia today.”
Indeed, within a few months, Rod had won a radio prize and took off for Hollywood.