It was just a small sleepy fishing village on the west coast of Mexico until Hollywood happened along.

Joe just returned from a cruise where the featured stop was the hopping resort town of Puerto Vallarta. Up until the 1960s the big Mexican resort town had been Acapulco.

But then the world discovered “Vallarta.” That’s because director John Huston had discovered it, and decided to shoot his 1964 film The Night of the Iguana there.

And perhaps, more importantly — because the film was starring Richard Burton, who was in the throes of his international love affair with Elizabeth Taylor — Taylor and Burton had the international media following their every move.

Recalls director Huston: The press was attracted in great numbers. There were more reporters on the site than iguanas — I don’t think any picture I’ve made has called forth as much interest.

And no wonder. Taylor was still married to Eddie Fisher. To complicate matters, Taylor’s ex-husband, Michael Wilding, was on hand — to publicize Burton.

Costars Deborah Kerr and Ava Gardner contributed to the offscreen intrigue.   Peter Viertel, Kerr’s second husband, tread gingerly around the set since he had once had an affair with Gardner.  As for the ever feisty Ava, she was followed everywhere by two local beach boys.

The Night of the Iguana was, of course, based on the play by Tennessee Williams about a disgraced Episcopal clergyman reduced to working as a guide of cut rate Mexican tours. Huston described the character (Burton) as a broken man drinking heavily and at the end of his tether. Kerr plays a traveling artist while Gardner is the blunt-spoken proprieter of the hotel where the tour party is stranded.

Although the movie’s crew and staff set up headquarters in Puerto Vallarta, the site for much of the filming was a few miles south in Mismaloya, a short hop and skip by boat from (then) Puerto Villarta’s only pier.

Huston had a hotel set built and living provisions installed for the visiting ensemble  — except for Burton, Taylor, Kerr and Gardner, who chose to rent private homes in Puerto Vallarta and commute by speedboats to the location.

Huston reported that the hotel set and adjacent structures in Mismaloya were still there in the early Eighties but largely abandoned.  All that remains are shells of houses and piles of rubble.

But Puerto Vallarta is, of course, that hopping resort town that recently welcomed Joe among its many international visitors. And despite all its press-provoking star power, The Night of the Iguana was filmed sans offscreen tumult.  Recalled Huston with a touch of irony: The making of this picture was a serene experience.

 

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