(In the 1990s, while working for Moon Publications, I offered to assist another editor with Puerto Vallarta Handbook. There I encountered a sidebar that presented a seriously bollixed up version of director John Huston’s legendary presentation of gold-plated derringers to his film’s principals prior to shooting The Night of the Iguana. I happened to know a lot about this tale—Iguana, with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire, my favorite transformed-Tennessee Williams films—and in an excess of zeal I rewrote the sidebar . . . and then went completely out of control, adding about five pages of additional material. I thought the author would be pleased. Wrong. He huffily rejected my effort, and I stuck it in a drawer. Where it re-mained until I was up against a deadline for one of the shooting-star newspapers I worked for later in the decade; I dug out the Puerto Vallarta thing, entered it into the tubes, and thereby was done for the week.
(When that paper’s website went dark, together with the paper, I figured the piece was lost. Then today, looking for something completely different, I stumbled across it in this strange ghostly wormhole on the tubes. I don’t know how long it’s going to persist in that place, so I’m bringing it here.
(I am charmed by loose location stories like this one, because they remind me of the lubricious, bibulous mayhem I experienced while working with other young rebels in putting out fine and feisty “alternative” newspapers, back in the day. Of course, no one can live forever in such a manner—the Iguana people who went at it hardest (Gardner, Burton) were the first to leave their bodies. It’s not really necessary, I know now, to live like that at all. William Blake, for instance, managed to behave himself, and he did alright, art-wise. He was even visited by angels.)
Without John Huston’s 1963 film The Night of the Iguana there would not exist today the gringo tourist mecca of Puerto Vallarta. Before Huston & Co. arrived to transfer the prizewinning play of Tennessee Williams to the big screen, Puerto Vallarta was an unknown, “undiscovered” village just entering the age of electricity. As The Night of the Iguana became one of the most publicized film shoots in the history of the movies, the town was transformed from a sleepy backwater on the heat-plagued west coast of Mexico into one of the most attractive jetset destinations on the globe.
Ray Stark brought the Iguana property to Huston. The rookie producer had put but one film upon the screen when he acquired the rights to the play, believing it “would make a wonderful picture, especially in Mexico. John, of course, was the guru of Mexico. I just got him at a lucky time when he wanted to go back there.”
Huston had shot The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Unforgiven in Mexico and had planned to lens The Misfits there until overruled by that film’s writer/producer, Arthur Miller. Williams had specified Acapulco as the location of his play, but Huston scoffed at the notion of staging his film there. He sought a place more wild and forlorn, one that would reflect the torment of the work’s characters, par-ticularly protagonist T. Laurence Shannon. This defrocked clergyman, locked out of his church for fornicating with a young parishioner, finds himself adrift, awash in alcohol, reduced to escorting elderly churchwomen on fourth-rate bus tours through fifth-rate sites in Mexico and the southwest US. The Night of the Iguana is, in Huston’s words, the story “of a man, desperate and full of despair, at the end of his rope.”