If a certain author ever visits Hollywood, he is hereby advised to wear false whiskers and call himself "O'Donovan" instead of "O'Brien." This author once wrote a book -- such a glamorous book about the South Seas that aged millionaires and staid college professors and hardened movie produceres dreamed, after reading it, of tropic moons and bare brown limbs whirling in the hula hula, and flowers as large as hogsheads. He wrote about lovely -- and loving -- ladies with such charming names as Gaga (Love Talk) and Pepi (Some Kid), who offered bowls of poi while one reclined langudly on a mat in a thatched hut. He wrote of an earthly paradise where one has not a care in the world.
He neglected to mention that the tropic moonlight was malarial, the bare brown limbs were pudgy, and the thatched hut was inhabited by scorpions and centipedes. He kenw, did Mr. Frederick O'Brien, that all civilized people are hungry for romance and homesick for the jungle, and he gave them what they wanted. After all, the South Seas were a long distance off, and Cook didn't run a tour there.
The Metro-Goldwyn company that has been in Tahiti for five months filming "White Shadows in the South Seas" would like to meet Mr. O'Brien personally. They have read his book, and they want to talk it over with him, somewhere where the police won't interfere. Not, of course, you understand that Director W.S. Van Dyke or Monte Blue, or any member of their company of sixty went to Papeete to see hula dancers or to have native belles hang wreaths around their necks. Their purpose (you understand) was solely to produce some Art. But they can't help feeling that Mr. O'Brien had his tongue in his cheek while writing that book. Instead of being a place where one forget his troubles, the South Seas, so far as thy are concrned, is a place where one discovers a whole lot of new troubles he never even thought of before.
After five months of being rained on, scorched dry by a fierce sun, bitten by the entire collection of Tahitian insectivora, exposed to leprosy, elephantiasis and other interesting diseases, bored almost to murder point by the unmitigated company of each other, fed on tinned salmon until the very sight of a can opener turns them pale, the exiles from Hollywood have returned with an interesting theory.
The South Seas of romance exist only in books like Mr. O'Brien's and in motion pictures such as they have brought back with them.
Says Monte Blue feelingly, the South Seas are the bunk! The legend of their loveliness is a lie. The romantic beachcomber is in reality a shiftless tramp, the natives who once fished with a spear for their living have degenerated since the coming of the white man. The white man's diseases are fast depopulating the islands. It was well that they had brought their "beautiful native girl" for thepicture from Hollywood, for the author of "White Shadows" was either a poor judge of feminine beauties or he fibbed!
"Many a time," says Director Van Dyke, "I said 'when I get back, I'm going to buy myself a corner lot in Death Valley, build a bungalow and settle down in comfort.' I've never felt such heat, wet heat, steamy. I'd put on a fresh suit of white ducks in the morning, and ten minutes later they'd be wringing wet. At night the bed sheets would be sodden a few moments after I got between them. I didn't even try to sleep. I'd get a few drinks just to cast a rosier light over the propsect of more months in Tahiti, and then I'd read or write all night. The next morning it would be raining. It rains every minute of the day, somewhere on the island, and between showers the sun would burn us up. We all had 'rain-tan.' It is much more painful than ordinary sunburn. Inside of a week we were all mahogany-colored."
Fresh from reading "White Shadows," the company came ashore with visions of living an idyllic life in a village of thatched huts. But the French settlers who met them laughed at the suggestion. No, no! A white man could not live like a native, unless he had gone native himself, as some few had. They took them to the best hotel of the town. The open public sewer ran, gurgling prettily outside their windows. When Monte Blue drove a nail into the wall of his room to hang his coat on, an astonishing procession of insect life swarmed out. Scorpions scuttled out of their boots in the morning, cockroaches as big as mice ran across the dining room table.
"I got used to eating raw fish," Monte says. "All except their eyes. Tahitians consider fish eyes a great delicacy, but they oook at one so reproachfully I honestly hadn't the heart! I even got so I could eat poi, and when I tell you that it is a mess made out of decayed breadfruit, you can see we didn't have a lot of choice on the menu card. The fruit is gorgeous to look at but it all tastes alike -- bananas, plantain, apples, melons -- you can't tell the difference."
But the native feasts, described so rhapsodically by the lyric Mr. O'Brien? Those charming social affairs where all sorts of delicacies are served on leaves by native belles with flashing smiles?
The South Sea islanders have inherited with other white man's vices, his addiciton to tin cans. Canned salmon is their favorite fish now, the delicacy they serve their guests. And those native beauties promised faithfully by O;Brien, those innocent light hearted damsels who bathe in the shallow lagoons and dance in grass skirts, those café au lait ladies who win the hearts of white men awawy from their Helens and Gertrudes at home, what were they doing when Monte and his friends attended a feast?
Here is the saddest news of all brought back by the "White Shadows" company. There are no native beauties! There are no flashing smiles and long clouds of silken black tresses. The inhabitants of Tahiti lose their teeth early. The most coquettish smile lacks something in seduction when it discloses four front teeth missng. The costume considered stylish by dusky flappers, a simple square of tapa cloth wrapped about the middle and tied carelessly behind, displays the figure remarkably, but -- I have the word of all the men in the "White Shadows" company -- there is entirely too much figure to display.
Monte Blue, Director Van Dyke and the rest of the company have a list of hardships. Smells, squeaky tin phonographs grinding out ten year-old tunes, cockroaches in the stew, centipedes in beds, poor champagne at a terrific price, daytime in the South Seas, night-time in the South Seas, a mail steamer once a month, lack of barber shops. A man may climb steep moutains and swim fierce torrents without complaining, but to go around with a week-old growth of whiskers and needing a haircut takes real heroism.
It should be some consolation to those who see the finished picture to remember this - after they have witnessed it. For thereby they may get a double thrill. The first will be one of delight in the beauty and romance of the setting as it appears on the screen, and a yearning some day to go there themselves, splash about in the baby blue water of the lagoons and watch the native girls dance beneath the palms, black against the moonlight. And the second will be the consoling thought, when they reach home and have to remember about leaving a note for the milkman for only one bottle tomorrow morning, that they will not have to sleep between sodden sheets or have in the morning to make their breakfast of canned salmon, decayed breadfruit and fish eyes.
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